When 2,000 people sit down to eat Shabbat dinner this Friday night at Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv port, they’ll be setting a Guinness World Record. For real.
“It’s an incredible statement,” said Jay Shultz, the founder of the Am Yisrael Foundation, an umbrella group created to manage the nine organizations founded to enhance the lives of English-speaking immigrants in Tel Aviv. “We have a mandate to make sure that Tel Aviv is a place where people can have Shabbat.”
Creating the world’s largest Shabbat dinner wasn’t the original aim of TLV Internationals, the organization handling the event. As one of the nine organizations founded by Shultz, it put together many of the English-language, content-based events building up the community of English speakers in Tel Aviv, which includes some 20,000 young people from Europe, South Africa, Australia and the US.
Besides salon evenings, an arts council, Adopt-a-Safta and holiday gatherings, the group holds monthly Shabbat dinners that have grown to accommodate 200 people and are held at the Goren Synagogue on Modigliani Street.
The idea, said Shultz, is to encourage immigrants who want to live in Tel Aviv, Israel’s ultimate secular city, that the Big Orange can be their home as well.
“Coming to Tel Aviv, you can be who you want to be, but be part of the Jewish world,” said Shultz. “I just want every young Jew in the world to move to Israel, ideally Tel Aviv, and it doesn’t matter what your observant level is. That is the fabric of White City Shabbat, no matter what type of Jew you are, you are welcome.”
The Internationals group includes a full mix of participants, said Jonathan Javor, a TLV Internationals organizer who also works at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, in the Aliyah Division. Members are religious and secular, Ashkenazic and Sephardi, English-speaking, French, Italian, German.
“It’s just the ingathering of the exiles at its finest, it really is,” he said.
The group established an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to pay for the record-setting dinner and the Guinness requirements, which include flights and accommodation for the Guinness adjudicator. Within a few months, it had raised more than $1,000 over the $25,000 goal.
Still, getting Guinness to agree to come required months of negotiations, said Shultz, an attorney. “They had never done a Shabbat dinner before,” he said.
The historic dinner has become a blend of the limitations of 2,000 people, Guinness regulations and the Jewish law strictures of Shabbat observance, added Shultz. They needed, for instance, a rabbi present with the Guinness adjudicator, as well as being sure that everyone was served a full meal.
Former chief rabbi Meir Lau will be in attendance, as will Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
The dinner, by the way, is sold out.
“This is to remind the Jewish world that Tel Aviv is the most exciting place in the Jewish world today,” said Shultz. “The best answer to the Pew study is Tel Aviv,” he went on, referring to last year’s comprehensive survey of American Jews that showed a significant rise in intermarriage and Jews who don’t call themselves Jewish.
“It would be incredible if next week,” said Javor, “another Shabbat dinner would beat our record.