SPRING HILL — Even though it happens every week, Rabbi Lenny Sarko believes that Shabbat is the most important day on the Jewish calendar.
"The idea that there is a day of rest, a day of prayer, a day of study, a day to share with family and friends has been a paramount and foundational concept in the Jewish religion since its advent of over 2,000 years ago," said Sarko, of Temple Beth David in Spring Hill.
In Jewish custom, the Five Books of Moses, or Torah, are divided into 54 segments. Biblical readings from the books, called Parshiot, are assigned by date.
"This means that whatever synagogue or Jewish service you walk into around the world, we will all be doing the same reading from the Jewish bible on that date, on that Shabbat," Sarko said. "This connects the Jewish people around the world."
A newer custom that unites Jews in North America is the celebration of Shabbat Across America (as well as in Canada). This year, the program, which was conceived and organized by the National Jewish Outreach Program in 1997 for the purpose of revitalizing Sabbath observance, will be celebrated Friday.
Temple Beth David will be one of several hundred synagogues across the continent to participate.
"This is the fourth year that Temple Beth David is hosting Shabbat Across America," said event organizer Marlene Shaw. "The response from those who have attended before has been overwhelmingly positive."
The evening at Temple Beth David will begin at 6 p.m. with a candle-lighting by the women, a blessing of the children and parents by Sarko, and the blessing of the wine and bread. The meal will include traditional matzo ball soup, followed by salad, herb-roasted chicken, orzo pilaf and green beans almondine.
A topic of Jewish interest will be discussed by each table and shared with the group after the service.
"Hosts at each table will make each guest feel comfortable, so those who have never come to the temple before should feel at ease," Shaw said.
The rabbi will conduct an abbreviated Shabbat service, and the evening will conclude with singing and an Oneg Shabbat (dessert and fellowship).
"(The program) causes us to pause and recognize our connection to the Jewish people, wherever they are, and to do so by coming together in prayer and study and by having a meal together on the same day, on Shabbat, within our own communities," Sarko said.
The connection to Jewish people around the world is important to Sarko.
"Our synagogue recognizes the importance not only of participating in our religious activities locally, but in our connection with other Jewish people around the world," he said. "We are making a statement that there are common goals, issues and needs to be addressed that go beyond our local condition, and that we here at Beth David wish to be part of that larger discussion and participation."
Shaw believes that observing Shabbat is a keystone to the Jewish faith and that Shabbat Across America provides a means for people to reconnect with their faith.
"We feel that it is an opportunity for Jewish and interfaith families who may not have had a Shabbat experience in a while to join with our members in a warm, haimish (homey) environment," she said. "The fact that hundreds of synagogues all across American and Canada will also be hosting similar programs gives this event an even broader appeal."
Sarko hopes people outside the temple will come.
"Shabbat is a wonderful experience, even if you are not Jewish," he said. "Hospitality is one of our foundational principles, and this particular program includes educational and social interactions, not to mention good food, which is always a way for the community to get together in peace and friendship."
Breaking bread together promotes communication and begins to build bridges toward a broader, stronger and better community, Sarko said.
Recently, Sarko has initiated some different types of Shabbat services with a broader appeal, including a Tot Shabbat, designed for children ages 8 and younger and their parents, and a "rock'n" musical service featuring a guest pianist along with the rabbi on guitar.
"Religion can be approached in any number of ways," Sarko said. "Different people, depending on age and background, have different needs religiously, spiritually, educationally and socially. By providing different programs of Shabbat, we are trying to fill the needs of the diverse Jewish population that lives in our community."