As 2, 322 Jewish men and women gathered around tables Friday night for what has officially been declared by the Guinness World Records to be the largest Shabbat meal on record, Shneur Volfman says he and his fellow Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students were on a mission: to make sure that each attendee had a meaningful Shabbat experience.
“There was much more than meets the eye, ” reports the native of Oak Park, Mich., who studies at Chabad schools in the United Kingdom. “Even giving out kipahs. It may seem simple, but when you realize how many people there were, you see it’s a big deal.”
The meal was preceded by prayer services. Speaking to some of the worshippers, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, rabbi of the Berlin Jewish community and the head of Chabad of Berlin, shared the significance of that particular Shabbat.
“This Shabbat is the Shabbat of Nachamu, which means ‘comfort, ’ ” said the rabbi to the crowd. “Following the destruction of the Temple on the ninth of Av, we now rise up and G‑d comforts us. It is also the 15th of Av, the day the decree that the Jews wander in the desert came to an end and one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar. From the terrible suffering comes joy and comfort.
“Of course, this is truest in Berlin, ” he continued. “Just decades ago, this was the source of horrors beyond imagination. Yet in this very same city, thousands of young Jews can gather to celebrate, fraternize and explore their heritage.”
Once everyone (or almost everyone) was seated their tables and had broken bread, Volfman says he and the other rabbinical students—part of the Merkos Shlichus “Roving Rabbis” program—were encouraged to fan out into the crowds to sing, dance and engage the athletes in Jewish conversation.
“The crowd was much too big to be centrally conducted, ” states Teichtal, “but through song and dance, we were able to coalesce into one giant display of Jewish pride.”
“It was a beautiful scene, ” reports Volfman. “Some people were celebrating Shabbat for the very first time and others had celebrated for every week of their lives, but everyone was talking, laughing, sharing and singing.”
Many of the songs were from a special booklet produced by Chabad of Berlin that had both Hebrew, German and English versions of some popular Shabbat melodies, in addition to the “Grace After Meals.”
The Shabbat meal was part of the 2015 European Maccabi Games, which run through Wednesday. The meal was the project of Alon Meyer, president of Maccabi in Germany, and Robby Rjber, vice president of Makkabi Deutschland (Maccabi in Germany).
Throughout the week, Chabad students have been operating two tefillin and information booths—one of them at the stadium where the games are being played, the same site where Hitler sought to bar Jewish athletes and other minorities from the 1936 Olympic Games. In the end, he was only able to disqualify the German athletes.