howard Sackstein – Johannesburg, South Africa

There is a bus stop with my name on it somewhere in Katherine Avenue, Sandton. On the side of the shelter, it implores me “Howard Sackstein Stop Doing Start being”. Several people called me asking if they were hallucinating while driving through rush hour traffic, I assured them that semi-legalised weed was probably the cause.
But “Doing” is part of my nature, and besides who is crazy enough to listen to a bus stop, especially as my mother keeps on reminding me, I don’t even listen to her. If I were in the habit of following the adverts I read on bus shelters, I would probably have followed the instructions of one of those penis enlargement posters plastered onto the side of most bus stops instead.
I am still not entirely convinced that my target demographic stands at public transport nodes in Sandton, but hell, Shabbos is Shabbos, and all are entitled to a day of digital drought.
And so, in the spirit of “Doing” rather than “Being”, and feeling slightly guilted into action by all of those commuters standing waiting for their mini-bus taxis in Sandton, I decided to organise the Shabbat Project Communal Dinner for Melrose North.
Whatsapp erupted as residents of Westwood Ave all started offering assistance. Chairs, tables, urns, flags, lights, wine, when you set off on a communal enterprise, the community joins in. Lisa Tolkin, my architect neighbour reminded me that I am a man lacking in aesthetic taste, so she would take over layout and design.
In typical fashion everyone loved the menu but required slightly amended versions. Please put the dressing on the side, don’t forget a veg option, can we do this but in vegan, I want the exact menu but with fish and don’t worry ill bring my own dinner in a Tupperware. Now I know what broke Stan & Pete.
What was most heart-warming was that many of our non-Jewish neighbours were delighted to come share a shabbat dinner with their fellow residents, some for the very first time. The great grand-daughter of President Paul Kruger sipped Un-Orthodox kosher wine with guests from London and Australia.
And while the gin and tonics flowed, the colonies were heading for a potential clash of civilizations as my Hindu neighbours newly arrived from India hosted 60 people in a competing dinner to celebrate the upcoming festival of Diwali.
Some of the guests wandered between the very flat signing of Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) and the festive lights of the Diwali celebration in Apartment 2. Soon some of our Hindu neighbours joined our shabbat dinner to celebrate the multicultural marvel that is South Africa, with a strong toast of Scottish whisky.
Kids played with Shabbos Project balloons, and threw branded frisbees as they cavorted under the warmth of a balmy Joburg night. Little Mika Uria, described it as the best Shabbat she had ever had.
The last time the neighbourhood had gathered together was about six years ago as we watched the thatched house next door mysteriously burst into flames, the highlight of that evening being saving the poor parrot which was otherwise clearly destined for a spontaneous braai.
The Melrose North Shabbos Project was about sharing and community, and now we can go on ignoring each other until the Shabbos Project 2019.

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The Shabbos Project