Imagine thousands of people in Baltimore – and a million worldwide – coming together to celebrate the faith and culture of the Jewish community.

That’s what will happen the week of November 6, when Baltimore, and more than 1,000 cities around the world, will join together in the weeklong event known as the International Shabbos Project.

This year marks the third year that Baltimore’s Jewish community has participated in the project, which is strictly a grassroots effort, organized and run by lay people. In Baltimore, the week includes four events:

  • Sunday, November 6: Shabbat through the Senses, a family-oriented event at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC
  • Wednesday, November 9: The Great Challah Bake at the Baltimore Convention Center
  • Sunset Friday, November 11 through sunset Saturday, November 12: Shabbat, at various synagogues, agencies, organizations and private homes
  • Saturday, November 12: One Day Havdalah Concert featuring Matisyahu at Ram’s Head Live!

“It’s a big deal,” says Nisa Felps, the project manager who organizes and oversees the Baltimore branch of the project, dubbed the Baltimore Shabbat Project. “It’s going to be in over 1,000 cities around the world. That’s what is just incredible, to know you’re not just doing this alone.”

She says each event will be both fun and inspiring. “Shabbat through the Senses is for families who want to bring kids. Each will get a ‘Shabbat box’ and go around and collect all these things for Shabbat.

“The second event is the largest. Last year, we had about 4,000 women coming together to braid challah. It’s really unbelievable and inspiring, there’s all this positive energy. We sing, dance, braid, mix. It’s all different types of people and all different ages, from kids to great-grandmas.”

During the Shabbat itself, individuals, synagogues and organizations all over the city organize dinners and other events. After sundown on Saturday, the week culminates with a Havdalah ceremony followed by a Matisyahu concert at Ram’s Head Live!

“In Baltimore, we have a beautiful, big, engaged Jewish community with over 100,000 people,” says Felps. The goal this year is to involve 40,000 people in Baltimore-based events.

The events are self-funded and organized and run by a crew of volunteers. “Right now, we’re recruiting,” says Felps. “Right now, there are about 100 volunteers. By the end, there will probably be 800 to 1,000. If people want to be involved they can! It can be as little as an hour to as much as you want.”

Felps emphasizes that the Baltimore Shabbat is open to all and not affiliated with any particular denomination. She also notes that the events are financially accessible – the Sunday event is free, the challah braid is $10, the concert is $15 and there is scholarship money available for those who can’t afford the ticket prices.

“It’s all about unity and coming together and a love of people,” she says. “It’s really something very special. We encourage anyone even thinking about coming to make an effort. It will be worth the time.”

For more information about the Baltimore Shabbat Project, or to get involved, visit www.baltimoreshabbatproject.org.

Kit Pollard

Kit Waskom Pollard is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributing writer. She writes Hot Plate every Friday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.