A few years ago, my former student, Immanuel Shalev, described to me some of the more reflective moments he had as a founding member of YU's hit a cappella group, the Maccabeats. He told me about the way in which, at the height of their fame, his group would come to a community for Shabbat and people who hadn't stepped foot in a shul in years - or perhaps ever - would flock to the local Orthodox synagogue to hear them. He told me about the emails they'd receive from non-affiliated Jews who were inspired to take new steps in their own religious development by the joy and warmth conveyed in the group's viral videos.
And then he told me about the Shabbos After.
Shalev, now the Chief Operating Officer of the highly successful online Torah learning site Aleph Beta Academy, told me about the disappointment these same individuals described when they came back to shul the Shabbos after the Maccabeats had visited and experienced something so drasticly different than what they had encountered the week before. He described emails from people who visited Orthodox friends for Chanukah and didn't find the spark conveyed in Candlelight; Jews who went to a seudah looking for the joy of their Purim Song,but found something far less uplifting.
I fear that this coming week Jews across the globe - in more than 212 cities and 33 countries - may experience the Shabbos After. For if their communities are anything like mine, they experienced something truly special and genuinely inspiring this past week as they participated in the remarkable outreach initiative known as the Shabbos Project. But if their community is anything like the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jewish communities I have ever encountered in my lifetime, this coming week will feel distinctly different than last. Less energy, less enthusaism, less inspiration.
Of course, human nature is such that we couldn't possibly live in a state of perpetual spiritual highs. These moments, much like the Rambam's description of Shalosh Regalim of old, have to be occasional to be impactful. But if we recognize the need - the overwhelming need not of the outliers but of the everyday shul-goers - to nurture not just the head but the heart, perhaps we can increase the frequency with which this type of event takes place. If we use this week to remind ourselves that shuls and schools ought to be places not only of education but of inspiration, places that nurture not only relationships with educators and rabbis but a relationship with God, places where we don't merely go through the motions but connect deeply with our emotions, we might find that our ability to reach out is infinitely strengthened by our ability to reach within.
It may, therefore, do us well to consider a Shabbos After Project.
Head of School, Kohelet Yeshiva. Chief Academic Officer, Kohelet Foundation. Fascinated with the Jewish future.