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Crowds gather for Shabbat in Forsyth
Rabbi Levi Mentz welcomes Fred and Carol Warshofsky who traveled from Gainesville for the Shabbat. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Studio Forsyth: Crowds gather for Shabbat in Forsyth

By: Bradley Wiseman

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Last Friday, more than 180 locals gathered at Sexton Hall in Southeast Forsyth County to celebrate Shabbat — the Jewish day of rest — with a night of eating, singing and family time.

“Tonight’s theme is family,” said Levi Mentz, rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Cumming. “Of course, it’s Shabbat and we are coming together in an unprecedented way … But, the message is family. We want people to walk away from tonight re-inspired to dedicate themselves to their families. The family is the core of happiness and the source of all blessing.”

At the dinner, families gathered to break fresh Israeli pita bread as a community, and as the sun set over Forsyth County, all electronic devices in the hall were shut off leaving the community to eat and talk by candle light, undisturbed by buzzing and beeping devices.

“Our culture tells us to run after other things — a bigger house, a nicer car, our business — but the truth is it’s our mom, our dad, our siblings our children who are at home that really is the source of all the blessing we have in life,” Mentz said.

Raviv Genosar, left, cuts the Jewish pita for the tables during the Shabbat. From middle left, Scott Cooper, Connor Clark and Jacob Weiss help pass out the cut pita to each of the tables. - photo by Bradley Wiseman
He said that by pushing away distractions for 25 hours each week and focusing on family, they celebrate life and each other.   

“When was the last time that you didn’t look at your phone for a day,” he asked. “We can be sitting together with our loved ones and not even notice that they are there.”

He says that this tradition is one of the factors that have helped the Jewish people to survive through the years.

“There’s a great quote that says, ‘More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat; Shabbat has kept the Jewish people,’” Mentz said.

Mentz said the night was also important and historic because it was the largest gathering the Jewish community has seen in Forsyth County.

He said creation of Beth Israel connected Forsyth County Jews who were traveling out of the county to find a worship community.  

One Beth Israel member at the event, Raviv Genosar, said that before he moved to the congregation he only knew a small number of other Jewish people from Forsyth County.

“The Rabbi was absolutely right; as soon as we opened up our gates it was almost like you put a magnet and it attracted so many people. Within the first day of opening we had a full house,” Genosar said. 

He said people were coming to Beth Israel for the same reason they were celebrating Shabbat that night: community and family.

“You can see the community in action right now,” he said, pointing at the room, quickly filling with people. “It’s not about religion, it’s about community.”