When we thought of doing this mega Shabbat dinner, we were not quite sure what we were taking on. Standing here tonight feels quite surreal and I'm so grateful that we are all here together, celebrating Shabbat.
This week is especially auspicious as it is the 6 year anniversary of our arrival in California to start Chabad of El Cerrito. We were younger and more naive than we are now but we had big dreams and it is emotional to see so many of you that mean so much to us all together this evening.
I was at the library last week and a book caught my attention, it was titled "The Opposite of Loneliness" it was a collection of essays named for the first essay, a talk given to the graduating class of 2012 at Yale.
The graduate, Marina Keegan talks about the feeling there is no word for, the opposite of loneliness, which she felt during her time at Yale.
I'd argue that Hakhel might be a word that encapsulated the opposite of loneliness. It is coming together, whether 2 people, 10, 100 or 1000 and connecting at a soul level. There is even an internal hakhel when all the parts of ourselves accept each other, are integrated and at peace with each other.
Hakhel is an essential part of our well being and even survival, studies have shown that loneliness can cause physical illness and shorten our life span. Much of Jewish life and practice revolves around coming together in community. But every seven years, the gathering is commanded, it's on the calendar and brought to the front of our attention for the whole year.
Our mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that the Hakhel year is a call of action to not only participate in gatherings but to create them. We are each in a sphere of influence be it our family, group of friends, workplace, community, city and more. We can each be ambassadors of light and connection and bring people together. Many of us are already doing this in different ways.
This Shabbat dinner is not an end unto itself but a beginning. The purpose of Shabbat 100 is to initiate a year long Hakhel project in El Cerrito. We are calling on each one of you to create your own Hakhel by inviting over one person or 10 to your home for Shabbat dinner this year.
We will create a chain of connection and light in our city. We will bring Jewish pride and life to new heights with the power of these circles of gathering happening throughout El Cerrito and the surrounding areas.
Our unity as a Jews has always been our greatest strength. The Hakhel page on our website (coming soon) will have a form for submitting your gathering so we can all see the impact. In the next few weeks and months you can look out for a challah baking class, a discussion on Shabbat, and cooking class to help you bring this into your life.
Take a moment to think of someone you can invite, whether someone you met tonight or that isn't here.
May these gatherings be a source of light and strength to each of us personally and communally.