A group of young professionals in Tel Aviv are taking Shabbat to the next level. White City Shabbat, in conjunction with the Am Yisrael Foundation, is planning the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner to attempt gain recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records. The dinner will be held in Spring 2014 at the Tel Aviv Port and will be 100% Kosher and uphold the highest levels of shomer Shabbos. We recently spoke with Washington, D.C.-native Victoria Kimmerling of the Am Yisrael Foundation via e-mail about the event, interning in Israel, and singular nature of Shabbat.
Why did you want to intern in Israel through Masa Israel Journey? What led you to get involved with the Am Yisrael Foundation?
I had come to Israel a few times since I graduated high school, once on a family mission trip in 2005 and once with my mom on a women’s mission in 2011, and both experiences were great but very centered on sightseeing and learning about the history of Israel. When I came to Israel on Taglit in 2012 on a DC community Shorashim bus, the trip had an element of self-reflection that I had never experienced on a previous trip to Israel. I was forced to confront questions like “What does Israel mean to you?” and “What do you want your relationship with Israel to be?” and when I thought about those and other topics I realized that 10 days was not enough for me to answer those questions satisfactorily. On the last day of Birthright we were given a presentation about coming back to Israel on Masa and I filled out a card saying that I was interested in possibly returning for a longer Israel experience.
A few months passed and as I was entering my last semester of my master’s degree and trying to decide what I was going to do when I graduated I received a phone call from a Masa Israel representative asking if I was still interested in coming back to Israel. The call couldn’t have come at a better time and I made the decision that if I was ever going to explore my relationship with Judaism and Israel by living in the Jewish homeland, now was the time.
While I was doing research on different Masa Israel programs I reached out to a friend of mine, Natalie Solomon, who had made Aliyah recently and her nonprofit organization, the Am Yisrael Foundation, actually had an intern at the time from one of the programs I was looking into. After talking with Natalie and learning more about her nonprofit and the work they do to build community for the young-professional international community in Tel Aviv, I knew that going on Career Israel and interning with AYF was the right fit for me.
I feel so lucky that I was recruited for this position because it’s given me a chance to see Tel Aviv through the lens of passionate, highly motivated young pioneers who are working tirelessly to improve the city and the community that we’ve chosen to call home.
Was this event your idea? What is your role in setting up the event?
It’s actually a funny story, no one really knows who exactly came up with the idea. People within our organization had been playing around for a while with different ideas to inspire Jewish unity with some type of global Jewish communal effort and that is where the idea to attempt a Guinness World Record came from. White City Shabbat and Am Yisrael Foundation are led by passionate young professionals who devote their free time to run these programs & we wanted a way to involve Jews from around the world in the incredible work that we’re doing.
My role in the event is currently centered on fundraising. In order to make this dinner happen and be free of charge for over 1,000 people, we need to raise $25,000. We decided to do this fundraising in the form of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign because this way it will be not only 1,000 Jews sitting down for a Shabbat dinner, it will be thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide coming together to create a piece of Tel Aviv, Israeli, and Jewish history.
What did Shabbat mean to you before, and what does it mean to you now that you’ve lived in Israel for five months?
For me Shabbat is not about how religious you are or aren’t. To me it doesn’t matter if you ride the elevator or take the stairs, whether you use your phone after dinner or not. Shabbat is about putting the rest of your busy life on hold and taking the time to appreciate the world around you.
My fondest memories of Shabbat growing up were the times celebrated at my summer camp in northern Georgia, Camp Barney Medintz. I never celebrated Shabbat regularly at home, but every summer from the time I was 8 until I was 20 years old I spent at least 4 weeks at camp celebrating Shabbat every weekend. During Shabbat at camp we were able to sit wherever we wanted at dinner, a privilege reserved for this special day each week. A group of my friends & family of different ages from Birmingham, AL and Nashville, TN would sit together every Friday night and it was always a unique dinner that we looked forward to with anticipation and excitement. Shabbat at camp meant friends and family, lots of singing, and quality relaxation time, which is actually very similar to what Shabbat in Israel means to me now.
Since I’ve been living in Israel for the last 6 months, I feel so fortunate that I’m able to celebrate Shabbat with my friends every week. In the Olim (new immigrant) community here in Tel Aviv we have a saying that your friends are your family, since many of us do not have family living in Israel or if we do they’re far away, and I’ve definitely been living by that statement since I got here. Every week I either go to a friend’s apartment or to a White City Shabbat event for dinner, and, wherever I am, I know that Shabbat dinner will be filled with people that I love expressing their gratitude and happiness that we are together in Tel Aviv, in the homeland of the Jewish people, being able to share in the beauty of Shabbat.
Want to get involved? Check out the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner Indiegogo page.