Just what does it take to set a Guinness World Record for the “Largest Shabbat Dinner?”
How about 2,226 people all being seated and served their first course within five minutes of each other? Not to mention, 2,000 loaves of challah, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef, 800 bottles of wine, 80 tables and a visit by an official adjudicator from the Guinness World Records to verify the results.
All of which and more were needed for Chabad on Campus at Tel Aviv University—led by Rabbi Shaye and Chava Gerlitzky—to break a world’s record, which they did on Friday, June 13, at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv port.
The record-breaking evening was co-sponsored by White City Shabbat—a nonprofit in Tel Aviv that provides Jewish programming and Shabbat dinners for olim (new immigrants) and Israelis—the city of Tel Aviv, the Tel Aviv Rabbinut, Golan Wineries, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and several other groups.
It was the first time that the Port of Tel Aviv, not known for religious observance, hosted a Sabbath observed strictly in accordance with Jewish law. Thousands of students joined in the Sabbath prayers, and later made kiddush, washed and made the blessing over bread before the meal. All of this was done without microphones, without cell phones and without cameras, in keeping with the laws of Shabbat.
Jewish women light Shabbat candles prior to the event.
The event opened an hour before Shabbat with greetings from various rabbis and public figures, who urged an increase in Sabbath observance in Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Joseph Gerlitzky, the Chabad head shaliach in Tel Aviv-Yafo and founder of Chabad on Campus in Israel, said that this huge event proves that the youth of Tel Aviv defy the accepted notion that Tel Aviv is anti-religious and embraces Shabbat observance with open hearts. “May this event be a source of strength and encouragement to observe all other mitzvot,” he said.
Officially, Guinness only required 1,000 people to have dinner at the same time to set a Shabbat dinner record, according to Deborah Danan, co-director of White City Shabbat, who noted that the event was an entire year in the making.
All of the food was kosher, and the dinner followed a traditional Shabbat dinner meal, including recitation of the blessings before the wine and challah, all of which was explained to the Guinness judge, Pravin Patel.
Patel, who was flown in from London for the event, was impressed by what he saw: “This is my first time visiting Israel and first time experiencing a Shabbat dinner. It has been ‘officially amazing.’ ”
When the record was certified, “it was a really exhilarating moment,” said Danan. “The whole room erupted in cheers, and everyone started singing ‘Am Yisrael Chai.’ The unity in the room was absolutely tangible. We had Jews from all walks of life there.”
A certificate issued after the Shabbat validates the record.
“For a lot of people, even if they don’t have much Yiddishkeit, they are used to having Shabbat dinner with their family. If they have no place to go, then they end up at coffee shops or pubs for Friday-night dinner, which is really sad,” she said.
Larger Goal in the Works
Though officially 2,226 people were counted to make the record, some 3,000 people were actually at the event, including local politicians, dignitaries and guests. Among those who came out to support the massive Shabbat celebration were Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, Israeli basketball star Tal Brody, Canadian Minister of Parliament Irwin Cotler, former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and others.
Dershowitz reminded the crowd that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—would often cite the teaching: “ ‘He who has 100 wants 200,’ therefore we must double the number next year to 4,500.”
Cotler praised Chabad activities the world over, and recalled the special relationship he had with the Rebbe and members of the Chabad movement in Montreal.
The chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Meir Lau, also had high praise for the event and urged the crowd to pray for the teens who were abducted near Hebron only hours before. Special prayers were recited for their safe return.
Some 1,000 women and girls were vividly moved when they lit the Shabbat candles before sundown to usher in Shabbat. They were assisted by the students of the Girls Seminary of Tel Aviv, “Beit Shoshana.”
The MC of the event was Rabbi Zev Raskin, the Chabad shaliach in Cyprus.
Donning tefillin and reciting prayers before entering the hall for the Shabbat meal.
Ambassador Oren urged the students to participate in Chabad events all year long and recalled the days when he was a student at various universities. “Chabad on Campus was always there for me; it was like a second home for me. I owe them a lot; they are true friends,” he said.
Following the meal, many students remained for a Chassidic farbrengen (gathering) with the Rebbe’s emissaries, including Rabbi Nehemia Wilhelm from Thailand.
Organizers of the event, Rabbi Shaya Gerlitzky and Rabbi Adi Elephant, an energetic shaliach with Chabad on Campus, promised that “this historical event is the beginning of a revolution, as our Sages promise: ‘If Israel keeps but only two Sabbaths properly, Moshiach will come.’ ”