All Israeli Jews are members of the same tribe, but they like to move around in two different packs: religious and secular.
This reality is made very clear in a promotional video from Beit Hillel for its new “Israeli Shabbat” initiative. Beit Hillel is a national-religious organization founded in 2012 to counter religious extremism and bridge the secular-religious divide. The video is a parody of a classic National Geographic film in which an anthropologist provides voiceover commentary for film footage of the “natives” observed in their natural setting.
“The clip is a fun, amusing way for us to publicize our upcoming ‘Israeli Shabbat,’ ” said Beit Hillel spokesman Meir Sterman about the organization’s idea to bring secular and religious Jewish families together for a Shabbat dinner.
Sterman told The Times of Israel that several thousand families have already signed up to host or be hosted on October 25.
“We’re still working on placing the 250 people who called in yesterday,” he shared. Registration continues through next week.
“Religious and secular people see each other every day and say ‘Shalom,’ but they don’t get to know one another well, or take the opportunity to sit down and eat a meal together,” Sterman noted. “The point of this initiative is to connect people and bring them closer together to discover what they have in common, while at the same time recognizing and respecting their differences.”
So, which idiosyncratic Shabbat-related customs and behaviors of religious and secular Jews would catch the eye of a satirical anthropologist?
At the home of a religious family living in the concrete jungle of Gush Dan, it would be how the mother marks her territory by mopping the floor an hour before Shabbat and warns the children not to dare tread on it, and how the father grunts at the Shabbat table while gesticulating with his hands. The custom of not speaking between making the hand-washing blessing and saying the Hamotzi blessing over the challah is clearly unfamiliar and fascinating to the video’s narrator.
Over at the nearby home of a secular family, it appears that one of the Shabbat rituals is documenting everything with a cell phone camera. The anthropologist narrator also observes that the mother of the family gets the last word when it comes to deciding what the family will do Shabbat morning (she marches her reluctant brood, lugging backpacks, down the street on their way to a nature hike).
The different packs meet by chance in the street and the religious invites the secular to its home for a Shabbat meal. The religious mother urges everyone to run to get the Shabbat elevator, with the secular mother asking with genuine curiosity, “What’s a Shabbat elevator?” She is promptly enlightened as both families are squeezed comically into a tiny lift that stops on every floor before reaching the religious family’s 13th-floor apartment.
“On Friday night, everyone takes a break, so it’s a perfect time for people to get together and get to know one another,” said Sterman.
“We’re hoping to make this an annual thing. But really, why should anyone wait to do this only once a year?”