On Friday May 30th, at 18 minutes to sundown, a little girl in Oklahoma City will light her first Shabbat candle ever. Down the block a young mother will be doing the same thing. A Russian immigrant in Magdeburg, Germany, and a university student in Austin, Texas, will too.
In a dramatic global campaign to illuminate the world with possibly a million tiny flames, this act will be repeated by Jewish women and girls who’ve never lit Shabbat candles before.
ShabbatPeace, as the campaign was named, will call on hundreds of thousands of Jewish women and girls from across the U.S.A., Canada, Europe, and the Far East, to unite in the mitzvah of Shabbat candle-lighting, on the designated Friday, praying for peace at home and in the Jewish homeland.
“It’s a very easy mitzvah to fulfill,” observes Mrs. Tzivi Greenberg, a coordinating member of the campaign. “And yet the warmth and light of the Shabbat candles have a tremendous spiritual impact.”
Launched by the International Conference of Shluchos and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters(which sponsored the campaign), and coordinated by the Shluchim Office–the Chabad-Lubavitch resource center serving Shluchim around the world–, the multi-media campaign is being publicized by Shluchim in their respective cities, to promote an ancient mitzvah, one that may be considered a definitive experience of Jewish femininity.
When Lisa Barham, of Greenwich Connecticut, learned of the Divine promise stated in the Midrash: “If you observe the candles of Shabbat, then I will show you the candle of Zion,” at a class with her local Chabad representative, a message flashed across her mind, “E.T. phone home.”
“I thought ‘that’s all’?” she says, incredulously. It seemed so feasible to Barham, whose own candle-lighting experience began recently through her exposure to Chabad. The weekly ritual is now her primary connection to G-d, the one opportunity when “I can close my eyes, light those candles, try to connect with the words, and bond with something beyond me.” It suddenly dawned on her that “if every Jewish woman and girl would do this we could really make this world a better place.”
When Goldie Plotkin, Chabad representative to Markham, Toronto, came along discussing the need for a united Jewish action in support of Israel, the idea was born, and presented to the Shluchim Office, where the campaign was developed. Today, at Chabad centers from Hawaii to Hong Kong, shluchim are working round-the-clock, utilizing the media and other venues to maximize participation.
Back in 1975, the Lubavitcher Rebbe called for a global Shabbos candle-lighting initiative to spread awareness of the mitzvah, unique to Jewish women. The act of lighting candles, explained the Rebbe, would not only add physical light to the world, but would bring spiritual light and warmth as well, to every Jewish home, and by extension, to the world at large. Commonly observed only by married women, the Rebbe’s campaign emphasized the importance of encouraging even young girls, from age three and up, to participate in the mitzvah. Since then Mivtzah Neshek, the Chabad-Lubavitch candle-lighting campaign, directed by Mrs. Esther Sternberg, has actively advanced the observance of this mitzvah worldwide, and continues to do so today.
Building on the success of Mivtzah Neshek, ShabbatPeace hopes to achieve maximum impact by concentrating its campaign around a single Shabbat. An attractive campaign kit includes brochures, which have been translated into French, Dutch and German, ShabbatPeace labeled boxes containing three candles (a married woman lights at least two, a single girl only one), and the blessings to be recited at candle-lighting, in addition to posters and display stands for exhibition at public sites, to raise awareness and reach even the least affiliated. The campaign’s website, shabbatpeace.com, created by Chabad Online, features information on the campaign, instructions for candle-lighting and a city-by-city listing of candle-lighting times, with a Wall of Honor for participants to sign.
“The idea of Jewish women taking action to achieve peace in Israel and the world is very inspiring to Oklahama City’s Jews,” says Mrs. Nechama Goldman, the local Chabad representative. And in Greenwich, many were surprised to learn that single girls are being included in this mitzvah, says Chabad representative, Maryashie Deren.
Throughout his years of leadership, the Rebbe spoke volumes on the value of a single mitzvah and the significance of each singular act. It was during a period of low morale for Israel and the larger Jewish community, following the Yom Kippur War, that the Rebbe pointed to Shabbat candle-lighting as an effective way to dispel darkness.
Today, with Israel still reeling from the pain of the last few years, and Jews in the Diaspora looking, more than ever, for a meaningful way to help, ShabbatPeace draws it inspiration from the Rebbe’s vision, its success in the hands of the individual, who will brighten the world, one light at a time.