Shabbat in the White City

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz, in a spoof of a well-known advertisement, plays “The Most Interesting Jew in the World.” At least his friend seems to be buying into the idea.

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv – usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture – as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

He hopes it leads to a Guinness world record.

(To find it online, just google indiegogo White City Shabbat dinner and follow the link.)

The free kosher dinner, scheduled for June 13 at Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv port, is expected to seat at least 1,000 diners. Invited guests include Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai; its chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, and Israel’s deputy minister of religious affairs, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Both Mr. Huldai and Rabbi Lau have joined in past White City Shabbat dinners, which have attracted more than 10,000 people in total and average about 200 at each monthly meal.

But it was not enough for this colorful entrepreneur to go public with his appeal to raise $25,000 by April 9 to cover his costs. Mr. Shultz enlivened the campaign by starring in a tongue-in-cheek takeoff of the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials, dubbed “The Most Interesting Jew in the World.”

The clip, made on zero budget thanks to donated services, shows a debonair Mr. Shultz with an unlit cigar in his hand and a beautiful blonde model at his side, inviting people to partake in the world’s largest Shabbat dinner. “I don’t always keep Shabbat, but when I do, I prefer White City,” he intones, keeping his face straight.

Tel Aviv is nicknamed the White City; it’s earned that sobriquet because of its many white Bauhaus-style buildings.

Funny though the video may be, Mr. Shultz is dead serious about this project. He even secured a matching $5,000 grant for it from the ROI Community, of which he is an alumni.

“We’re not breaking, but setting, a record,” he emphasizes. “We petitioned Guinness to create a new category called ‘Shabbat,’ and it took months. They came back to us with thick guidelines about what makes a Shabbat dinner and what rules and regulations we have to follow to prove it. We’re getting rabbinical guidance on how to balance that with the laws of Shabbat.”

For example, they have figure out how to have the event filmed without violating Shabbat, and how to count participants without writing down names or stamping hands.

But these details are not what float Mr. Shultz’s boat.

“For us, what makes it interesting is that we are highlighting to the entire Jewish world that Tel Aviv is important for the Jewish people today. It has always been a mandate of White City Shabbat, since I started it six years ago, to make Tel Aviv a portal for religious life in Israel.

“It’s not turning ‘sin city’ into something holy, because Tel Aviv is already part of the Holy Land. It’s revealing the true DNA of the city.”

In fact, the next promotional video for the “mega international blockbuster event” will feature Rabbi Lau inviting people to the meal and talking about the history, beauty, and importance of Sabbath observance in Tel Aviv. He’s holding a copy of a 1933 poster that the first mayor, Meir Dizengoff – despite his own secular leanings – posted all over Tel Aviv, teaching the value of keeping the Sabbath holy.

Mr. Shultz and his committee of volunteers – including Eytan White, a former student at the Torah Academy of Bergen County – hope that Ashkenazim, Sephardim, new immigrants, native Israelis, and Tel Avivians ranging from the ultra-Orthodox to the ultra-secular all will feel welcome to attend at no charge. (Of course, donations will be accepted with dinner reservations.) Ordinarily, the dinners cost NIS 80 per person, or about $25.

“At any given White City Shabbat dinner, you’ll hear about 10 languages spoken, and the world’s largest Shabbat dinner will be no exception,” said Natalie Solomon, a new immigrant from Alabama who is one of the event’s organizers. “We would like to see Jews from all over the globe take part in this event, either to come and enjoy this spectacular demonstration of Jewish peoplehood in person or by donating to our fundraising efforts.

“After all, Shabbat is the soul of the Jewish people, and Tel Aviv is a focal point of the Jewish world.”

Mr. Shultz said that his umbrella group, TLV Internationals, strives “to be a lighthouse to shine to Jews around the world to come home, specifically to Tel Aviv, which was the first Jewish city of modern times.”

A proponent of “observant proactive Zionism – something far more than eating chicken soup and buying Israel Bonds,” Mr. Schultz graduated from Fair Lawn High School, Rutgers University, and Fordham Law School. He is the son of Howard and Sabina Shultz of Fair Lawn.

UK Toremet is the fiscal sponsor of the world’s largest Shabbat dinner. Other partial sponsors include the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, Hangar 11, Golan Heights Winery, and the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry.

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