Yoga, Rock Music and Challah Baking

by Brie Stimson August 24, 2017


shabbat-sdShabbat San Diego is going into their fourth annual year with high expectations. Last year’s crowd was around 16,000 people and the organizers are hoping to bring in at least 20,000 this year. The Shabbat event, hosted in association with 1,200 other cities in 95 countries, will be the weekend of October 26 this year.

For program coordinator Simone Abelsohn, the event is a way of bringing the community together.

“We have hundreds of volunteers, and it’s community members working together to unite our community,” she tells the Jewish Journal during a lunch meeting at a French café. Even though that one weekend in October is the focus of their year-long planning efforts, there are events throughout the year aimed at fostering Jewish community in San Diego.

“We’re working with various partners and congregations and organizations and schools and camps, all the different Jewish organizations in the community to bring events for everybody so everybody can find their niche,” Simone adds.

Shabbat San Diego was born out of the Shabbos Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. When San Diego joined the global Shabbat weekend it was originally an Orthodox event, but “the Orthodox way wouldn’t have worked here,” Simone explains. “We wanted a way that would truly just be inclusive … It was San Diego that made it more cultural. We still have the spiritual side of it. We still are open to all … people, but it’s San Diego that created it in a way that was welcoming to everybody.”

Now other cities are adopting San Diego’s more inclusive model to use in their celebrations.

“South Africa’s now taken on our model as a role model for other cities and other cities are now calling us as advisers to help them create it in their cities,” she said.

During this year’s event some of the rabbis have also taken a slightly unique twist on services.

“Some [rabbis] will do a yoga class for their service and go through the Torah portions with different yoga moves,” Simone explains. “One [rabbi] does a nature hike and then we have also the traditional Saturday morning and Friday night services and the Saturday afternoon lessons.”

Simone and co-chair Michelle Lyons are excited about the new prospects that had not yet been confirmed at press time, but they assured me there’s going to be plenty that’s new this time around.

“This year some of our partners are showing up with fun little extra activities at a few of our events,” Simone teases during lunch. “We do have some surprises that we’re working on to make this year different!”

This year, along with the large challah bake, there will be several smaller challah bakes. The bake is on the Thursday preceding Shabbat, and with the addition of the smaller ones, “more people are able to participate because they don’t have to travel so far from home,” Michelle explains. “We really want to create an event where it’s easy for everyone to participate.” The locations for the bakes are Carmel Valley, Del Cerro, Oceanside, South County and one near SDSU for women and girls only.

The internationally acclaimed American-Israeli rock group Moshav will play after Saturday’s communal Havdalah service. The group was originally discovered by a group of American students who, after hearing them play, decided to raise money to bring the band to America for a college tour in the ’90s. Eventually the band relocated to Los Angeles where they continue to perform and record. They soon caught the eye of producer Ron Aniello, who has worked with bands like Lifehouse, The Barenaked Ladies and Guster. With Aniello, the band recorded the album “Misplaced” in 2006. They have now produced eight albums in total, most recently “Shabbat Vol. 1” and “New Sun Rising,” recorded in 2014. The band was at the first Shabbos Project in Johannesburg in 2013.

Another thing that’s new this year is the video contest. Participants are asked to make a one to two-minute video explaining why they love Shabbat. Videos might include challah baking, a Moshav song as background music or show Judaism around the world. Every participant will win a prize and first place receives $250. The winners’ videos will be shown at the Shabbat dinners. More information about the contest can be found on Shabbat San Diego’s website.

Four years in, the event still has room to grow and change – and the organizers want to improve the weekend every year. “We learn as we go for sure,” Lyon tells me. “We’ll see what works and what doesn’t work and what the community’s interested in and not interested in.”

Emailing from a trip to Israel, fellow co-chair Tamara Klein was still completely focused on the event.

“We started off with very little time to get the project going [originally], she writes. “And we have learned a lot over the past few years. We had great success our first year and have continued along the same pattern making small changes along the way.”

Along with the challah bakes, she explains the other ways the celebration has grown.

“Each year the community involvement including communal and home hosted Shabbat dinners has increased. We are sure that this year will be our largest attendance to date,” Tamara says.

The timing of the event isn’t random either.

“It’s 100 percent intentional!” Michelle confirms. She explains that Rabbi Goldstein, who started the Shabbos Project in South Africa, deliberately scheduled the event soon after the High Holidays to keep people engaged.

“It’s the same Torah portion every year,” Simone adds. “It’s the Torah portion where we were promised the Holy Land. We were told we’ll always have this community to build on.”

Michelle wants the event to refocus people’s minds for the next year.

“We’re hoping that this reconnect is something that doesn’t just happen on the 26th of October,” she states. “That weekend, it’s something that can energize people throughout the year. And then the following year we sort of reenergize again.”

Almost every congregation has joined Shabbat San Diego as a partner, as well as Jewish schools, camps and preschools.

“We have few chances in San Diego to actually come together and show our Jewish pride and show our unity and show that we are one,” Simone says. “Whether we’re affiliated, not affiliated, religious, reform, conservative, orthodox, whatever we are, we’re still Jewish.”

Simone and Michelle say Shabbat San Diego  is for absolutely everybody and anybody. “We have Holocaust survivors down to teens,” Simone told me. “We have a place for everybody and so there’s no reason not to come.”

The challah bake starts promptly at 6:16 p.m. on Thursday, October 26. There will be services and Shabbat dinners across the county on Friday, October 27. On Saturday there will be services, lectures and study, a communal Havdalah service and a performance by Moshav. For more information go to

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