“We want to share Shabbat with those who are alone, or those who might have difficulty cooking for themselves. Plus, we want to help every Jew feel connected and part of the community,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad of Richmond, who started the Light of Shabbat program in 2011. “This is not tzedakah; it’s about making a connection with other Jews and helping them celebrate the mitzvah of Shabbos.”
With help from devoted community volunteers, full kosher Shabbat meals are cooked and delivered to those who are elderly, alone, recovering from illness, or homebound. Currently, deliveries are done every other week to about 10 people in Richmond. Each Shabbat box contains challah, grape juice and Shabbat candles, plus a meal of soup, salad, chicken, vegetables and dessert – all homemade. They even include a little card with the blessing for lighting candles, the Torah portion for the week and information about why Jews celebrate Shabbat.
“The boxes are personalized, depending on the needs of the recipient, so some boxes contain more than one meal,” said Grace Jampolsky, coordinator of the Light of Shabbat program. Chabad of Richmond has delivered 495 boxes to date.
“I like to bake the challah myself, but other volunteers make the soup, cook the chicken and vegetables, and bake the desserts,” added Jampolsky.
Richmond resident Courtenay Cohen and her friends, some of whom aren’t even Jewish, bake cookies, cakes and brownies for the Shabbat boxes. Cohen started volunteering a year or two ago. Asked why she recruited non-Jewish friends to help bake, Cohen said: “They’re very involved in their own religious community, but when I told them what I was doing, they wanted to help. It’s a great way to teach them about Judaism.”
Taking on a bigger role this year, Cohen now oversees the baking part of the Shabbat boxes. Not only does she bake, but she also helps pack the boxes and deliver some of them. “Delivering the boxes gives me a chance to visit elderly Jews and others in our community and make a person-to-person connection with them. It’s also a way to check in on them and make sure they’re living in safe and suitable conditions,” added Cohen. “Plus, they really love talking to young people.”
Pam, one of the Shabbat box recipients, said: “It’s fantastic! It’s very generous of Chabad to do this.” Pam said she especially likes when the kids decorate the boxes, and she enjoys the short visit with them. She said that, with the recent snow and an elevator that wasn’t working, she couldn’t leave her apartment for a week, so the Shabbat box was very helpful to have.
Rabbi Yeshurun Blumenfeld, along with his 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, make volunteer deliveries of a Shabbat box to a couple in their 90s every other week. “Not only do I create an ongoing relationship with this couple, but it’s a way to teach my kids about the importance of doing mitzvahs,” said Blumenfeld, who added that promoting a mitzvah is a sanctification of G-d’s name.
Blumenfeld also shared a story of how, one day, when he was at a Richmond bakery buying challah for his family, he happened to bump into the wife of this elderly couple to whom he delivers a Shabbat box. She was shlepping a bunch of groceries, and he asked her how she was getting home. She told him she had called a taxi. He immediately said they should cancel the taxi, and he would drive her home himself. He said it was a very special moment for him, to make that connection with another Jew.
The Light of Shabbat program began in memory of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, shluchim who started the Chabad House in Mumbai, India – the couple was murdered by terrorists in 2008.
Supporting the Light of Shabbat program is a huge mitzvah on many levels. And, as there are a lot of seniors and others in Richmond who would appreciate a good Shabbat meal, Chabad of Richmond desperately wants to expand the program, but needs more donors, sponsors and volunteers to sustain it. Their goal is to substantially increase the number of meals they deliver every week. Each filled Shabbat box costs approximately $25 to $28. To donate to the program on an ongoing or one-time basis, contact Baitelman at 604-277-6427 or [email protected].