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Retiree Tzipi Eldar was tapping along to the music, and full of praise for Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who replaced his Haredi predecessor in 2008, and promised to broaden the city’s cultural character.
Eldar credits him with overseeing the opening of the venue — which as its name implies is an old renovated train station — and with ensuring that the atmosphere was welcoming for the event. “Jerusalem has needed this kind of event for years,” she said.
The organizer of the Kabbalat Shabbat is a local non-profit group, the interdenominational Ginot Ha’Ir Community Council, which started the event to build a sense of unity in Jerusalem.
“The idea is to create a place for all the different kinds of people in Jerusalem — religious, secular, Reform and Conservative, and to create a sense of community with everyone feeing a sense of belonging,” said the council’s director Shaike El-Ami.
Ginot Ha’Ir has run Kabbalat Shabbats on and off for three years, but only this summer with the opening of the First Train Station has it come in to its own, and attracted hundreds.
Despite the local emphasis, word has traveled fast and people come from far and wide. Ned Lazarus, a Washington-based researcher, was enjoying the “feeling of renaissance.” And Rali Even, a kindergarten teacher from Modi’in, a city 15 miles from Jerusalem, attends every week.
Until she found out about the event, Even and her husband and four children did “nothing connected to Shabbat apart from a meal.” The event provides a focus for the weekend, and also a shared experience with her father, with whom she attends. While she is secular, he is more traditional.
“I listen to the music while to him it’s something more as well,” she said.
On stage, the group leading proceedings was well aware of the different ways that different people relate to the event. This week it was the ensemble of Jewish Renewal rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan, who stressed to the Forward that she doesn’t see the event as “religious outreach.” She said: “Outreach means ‘I know the way and you don’t so I’ll give you something to bring you in so that eventually you’ll see things how I do — this isn’t what we’re about.”