This was different. I’ve run many shabbatons. As I walked into shul on Friday evening, I felt that this was different, that we were connected with Jews celebrating Shabbos all over the world.
The frum community loved it. One unexpected outcome was how energized the frum community was after the Shabbos. One shul is now thinking of having a Carlebach style davening once a month. I think that the benefit of this program to the frum community exceeded the benefit to the non-frum.
There were some heroic stories.
One student stood up to his Jewish fraternity and came to the Shabbaton instead of doing some community service. Only a few days before Shabbos, one student told his parents that Shabbos was more important than his previously planned Friday night birthday party.
One great local story occurred at Winston Towers, a condominium in the neighborhood, with mostly secular seniors. One of the young, frum residents went door to door and invited everyone for a Friday night meal and 60 people attended!
Two connected ideas. One: each city is different. Chicago is set up demographically that most non-observant Jews do not live within walking distance of the central frum location, where the main event occurred.
Two: it’s a simple fact. The hardest part of getting people to stay for Shabbos is that non-observant Jews do not want to sleep overnight in someone else’s house.
As a result, despite the fact that the frum community was inspired by the idea of the Shabbos Project and many invited their non-observant family, friends and colleagues, very few came. (It probably raised awareness of how difficult the job of kiruv organizations really is.)
The people who did come were invited by the two major kiruv organizations in West Rogers Park, JET and CTN. They were students and young professionals and attendees of the JWRP trips, already connected to us and aware of Shabbos in the ‘hood.
As a general comment, I have found that it has become increasingly difficult to get even students to come for a full Shabbos. In our living room on Shabbos afternoon, three students told us the same thing. The reason why students don’t want to come for Shabbos is that they cannot be disconnected from their phones for 25 hours. A big event like the Shabbos Project is a vehicle to encourage kiruv professionals and the community to invite non-observant Jews for Shabbos. My suggestion is to have additional “Shabbatons with a theme” over the course of the year culminating in the grand Shabbaton, the Shabbos Project.
The same applies to the Challah baking. By all accounts, the Challah baking was incredible. No need to do it only once a year.