Shabbat of Love brings thousands together for a very special celebration

Jan 22, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

Sara Stevenson-Benn did not think twice before signing up for the January 19 Shabbat of Love. That same level of enthusiasm carried over to her two daughters when the JEWISHcolorado Jewish Explorers “Shabbat of Love Box” arrived at their home on Thursday, January 18.

“The girls are accustomed to getting packages from Amazon, but this was something different, something special just for them,” Stevenson-Benn says. “They insisted that we open it early!”

Benn family receiving challah in JE box for Shabbat of Love

Once four-year-old Shoshana and 2-year-old Indi saw what was inside the box—including beautifully braided challah, a challah cover they could decorate, candles and candlesticks, and juice—there was no stopping them. They pulled out their Kiddush cups and created a new tradition—“Shabbat Eve”—celebrating Shabbat on Thursday night followed by Shabbat on Friday with their grandmother included in the group.

Two little girls marked two Shabbats in two days—with their parents’ blessing.

“We always want Shabbat to be fun,” Stevenson-Benn says. “We sing a song Shoshana wrote every Shabbat, we try to make Shabbat our own, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

The Stevenson-Benn family joined 30,000 people from more than 230 partner organizations participating in the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Shabbat of Love.

Benn family celebrating Shabbat of Love at home

“This was an historic Shabbat,” says Jewish Explorers Director Cindy Coons. “It was particularly meaningful and uplifting to celebrate because we joined thousands of people across North America.”

“With everything going on—the crisis in Israel, the migrant crisis in this country—sometimes things feel hopeless,” adds Stevenson-Benn. “This gave us a sweet and inspiring way to send positive energy and extra love into the world.”

Shabbat of Love Boxes

Through two JEWISHcolorado programs—Jewish Explorers and PJ Library—282 people from 77 families participated in the JFNA Shabbat of Love. Supported by micro-grants from JFNA, JEWISHcolorado sent each family the “Shabbat of Love Box,” filled with brightly wrapped Shabbat Judaica including candlesticks and candles, Shabbat-themed activities, a fresh hand-braided challah from Challahrado Hearth, Shabbat blessings, and a welcome note from JEWISHcolorado.

Jewish Explorers Shabbat of Love boxes with challah from Challahrado Hearth

“We felt that receiving the box was the start of their Shabbat experience,” says Coons. “Celebrating in an authentic way would start with exploring the items in the box as a family and talking about how they would be used in a Shabbat celebration. Each family received an identical Shabbat box, but how they chose to engage with it was unique to them.”

“My husband and I were impressed by the quality of the items in the box, how thoughtfully they were chosen, and how well it was packed,” adds Stevenson-Benn. “And the challah was delicious!”

The celebration of Shabbat was the first of two experiences offered by JEWISHcolorado programs. On the Sunday after Shabbat of Love, families gathered in-person to learn how to braid challah, using dough generously donated by Luisa Hagemeier, owner of Challahrado Hearth.

Family braiding challah at Jewish Explorers class for Shabbat of Love

“We talked about how one strand of dough represents family, one represents friends, and one represents community,” says Coons. “When they are braided, they hug each other, acknowledging the importance and strength of a connected Jewish community.”

“It was awesome because each of the girls got to braid their own dough,” says Stevenson-Benn. “We baked one right away, and we froze the other one for our next Shabbat, so we talked about the challah all week long.”

Shabbat of Love connections

After Shabbat of Love, Coons heard from families who had never before invited anyone to Shabbat dinner, but, after receiving their “Shabbat Box” and with encouragement from JEWISHcolorado, decided that they wanted to share the experience with others. She also heard from families that had never celebrated Shabbat and had such an incredible experience they now planned to make Shabbat a tradition.

Jewish Explorers families sharing the Shabbat of Love experiences

“People said things like, ‘I didn’t realize that it could be so much fun—that it could be simple and meaningful at the same time,’” Coons says. “This Shabbat opened authentic opportunities for families to experience the joy and beauty of Shabbat and celebrate in meaningful ways, making Shabbat their own for their family.”

For the Stevenson-Benn family, Shabbat of Love created new community connections. The morning after their “Shabbat Eve” celebration, the girls walked into their art class, still excited about painting the challah cover with fabric markers. Their art teacher stopped short and said, “Wait a minute! A Shabbat Box? I got one too!” Until then, the family had no idea that their teacher was Jewish and part of the Jewish Explorers community.

Ben Tal family and friends celebrating Shabbat of Love

“When we say the Shabbat prayers, we talk about how people have been saying these same words for thousands of years,” Stevenson-Benn says. “Shabbat of Love reminded us that this is part of our history and that we are members of a worldwide community, everyone celebrating Shabbat in their own way.”