Birmingham natives part of world record Shabbat dinner venture in Tel Aviv

Two Birmingham natives are helping organize what is expected to be a world-record Shabbat dinner, certified by Guinness World Records.

Natalie Solomon, daughter of Barbara and Eric Solomon, moved to Israel in December 2012, and Victoria Kimerling, daughter of Sheryl and Jon Kimerling, spent the past year on a Masa “Career Israel” program.

They are both working on White City Shabbat’s June dinner, which will take place at the Hangar 11 port in Tel Aviv.

A non-profit organization entirely run by volunteers, White City Shabbat is hoping that the Guinness title will encourage Jews worldwide to celebrate Shabbat in their own communities. “While White City Shabbat is going to be the first organization to attempt this record, our hope is that in years to come communities around the world will come together to try and surpass the standard we set this year,” said Jay Shultz, one of the event’s organizers who is often dubbed “the international mayor of Tel Aviv.”

Over 10,000 people have already attended White City Shabbat’s meals, and each one is packed to capacity with over 200 people in attendance and another 100 plus on waiting lists.

Kimerling said White City Shabbat is “the portal for Jewish life in Tel Aviv.” In addition to its monthly dinners, they also host holiday celebrations and meals, Jewish learning series, learning minyans and inter-community programming.

“At any given White City Shabbat dinner, you’ll hear about 10 languages spoken and World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner will be no exception,” Solomon said. “We’d like to see Jews from all over the globe take part in this event, either to come and enjoy this spectacular demonstration of Jewish peoplehood in person or by donating to our fundraising efforts. After all, Shabbat is the soul of the Jewish people and Tel Aviv is a focal point of the Jewish world.”

According to the group, to break the record they need at least 1,000 Israelis and new immigrants to attend the dinner. Because their mission statement proclaims “Shabbat for All,” the dinner will be free and is being funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which includes a video by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

White City Organizer Deborah Danan said there are a few larger events out there, including a Chabad Seder in Nepal for 2,500, but no one has officially set a record with Guinness. After researching, they set a figure of 1,000 for the record, and they hope to dramatically exceed that.

Whether that is enough to set a record may be up for debate in New Orleans. On March 21, Chabad at Tulane held its seventh annual Shabbat 1000, which brings together around 1,000 for Shabbat dinner each year.

Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin of Chabad at Tulane pointed out that last year, Chabad at the University of Florida did a Shabbat 1800.

Regardless, “the goal of White City Shabbat’s Guinness meal is to spur Jewish communities all over the world to mimic our efforts, in a bid to restore Shabbat as the symbol of Jewish unity,” Danan said.

Kimerling said nobody recalls who came up with the idea, as some in the organization were trying to figure out a way to “inspire Jewish unity with some type of global Jewish communal effort, and that is where the idea to attempt a Guinness World Record came from.”

Solomon said her Israel experience started at age 15 when she went to the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. When she moved to Israel, she became manager of Israel programs for Birthright Israel alumni, having worked for Birthright in New York and splitting time between New York and Israel. Within five months she was profiled in Time Out Israel magazine.

She is co-director of the Am Yisrael Foundation, which funds and organizes social and philanthropic initiatives to assist and empower young adults, especially in Tel Aviv.

Kimerling started visiting Israel after graduating from Mountain Brook High School in 2005. Her Birthright trip in 2012 “had an element of self-reflection that I had never experienced on a previous trip to Israel,” and she realized “10 days was not enough for me to answer those questions” about what Israel meant to her.

As she finished her master’s degree, a Masa representative called to ask if she was still interested in returning to Israel, and she decided that was the time to go. While researching Masa programs she contacted Solomon and learned more about the Am Yisrael Foundation.

“I knew that going on Career Israel and interning with AYF was the right fit for me,” Kimerling said. Though her internship ended two months ago, she is still working with the group. “It’s given me a chance to see Tel Aviv through the lens of passionate, highly motivated young pioneers who are working tirelessly to improve the city and the community that we’ve chosen to call home.”