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Israeli Seeks Guinness Record For The Largest Shabbat Meal

'The International Mayor' of Tel Aviv makes a bid for a world record.

Can a Shabbat meal be worth a cool $1 million and a beard worth $25,000? Perhaps when it’s the idea and the beard of “The Most Interesting Jew In The World.” Jay Shultz, dubbed “The International Mayor of Tel Aviv” by some Israeli press, is planning to go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest Shabbat meal at Hangar 11 on June 13 in Tel Aviv.

To promote the event, Shultz grew out his beard longer than usual to look like actor Jonathan Goldsmith, who stars as “The Most Interesting Man In The World” in the famous “Dos Equis” commercials. He made a YouTube video spoofing the commercial and championing his nonprofit organization White City Shabbat, which has hosted about 10,000 Jews at Shabbat dinners in Tel Aviv over the last five years.

Shultz started a campaign on indiegogo.com seeking to raise $25,000 for the kosher dinner, which is free, though people may make donations. He’s raised about half the money so far.

“This will put us in the book,” Shultz said proudly in a phone call from Tel Aviv. “People think of Tel Aviv sometimes as Sin City or only a secular place. But they don’t know its DNA and its history; [it’s a place] where Mayor Meir Dizengoff spoke about the power of Shabbat. I am aiming to do a Kiddush Hashem for Tel Aviv. I am not trying to make people shomer Shabbat. What I am trying to do is highlight the beauty and the gravity of the Shabbat experience.

“For me, giving people a way to find a level of spirituality and to help Jews connect with other Jews is worth more than a million dollars,” Shultz said. “You can’t put a price tag on it.”

Originally from Fairlawn, N.J., Shultz was in Jerusalem at the age of 19, when he was approached by someone who asked him if he had a place to go for Shabbos. He said he didn’t really know what that meant and found himself at the home of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis in Maalot Dafna.

“There were 200 people and 13 kids serving everyone, and it was stunning,” he said. “It blew me away and it always stuck in my head, and it is part of the inspiration for this event, where we want everyone to have that experience.”

The 37-year-old lawyer said he called the Guinness Book of World Records, who said it had no category for the largest Shabbat meal. To set the record, there would be a minimum requirement of 1,000 people and there had to be someone counting to verify the numbers, something difficult on Shabbat. The solution was to use the internal security cameras at the venue.

So what’s on the menu?

Roast chicken, salads, kugel and some surprises, said Shultz, who added that Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy minister of religious affairs and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai will be in attendance. Shultz got a $5,000 grant from the ROI community, of which he is alum.

Shultz has started a number of other nonprofits, including the Am Yisrael Foundation and TLV Internationals, where he has an e-mail list of more than 40,000.

Shultz said he’s also proud about helping the North Central Synagogue flourish; where once it had only a few Holocaust survivors as members, it is bustling, with the help of olim in their 30s. “We were getting people off the street for a minyan, and now we’re packed to the rafters,” he said.

Despite his faux mayoral moniker, Shultz said he has no motivation to run for office. But he cares deeply about inspiring Jews to make aliyah, which he did in 2006. He said a lot of reservations people have about moving to Israel are based on misconceptions, both about Tel Aviv and living in the Jewish state.

“The answer to the Pew study is to move to Tel Aviv,” he said, a reference to a recently published survey of American Jews that found affiliation rates falling among younger Jews. “Tel Aviv is the best PR face Israel has, from the doctors who went to Haiti after the earthquake to the beauty of the land and people. People say you can’t make a living here and it’s not safe.  That’s not true. You don’t have to be a martyr. You can have a great life. But maybe you won’t have a BMW. But your quality of life doesn’t depend on the size of your car. It depends on what you’re achieving, how much you’re wanted and how much you’re needed. And it is safe here. There’s nothing sexier than knowing that you are wanted and you’re building something that will make the lives of others better. And Jerusalem may be (ir hakodesh) but Tel Aviv is part of Eretz Hakoshesh (the Holy Land).”

Shultz said he will send a formal invitation to Goldsmith, the Jewish actor in the Dos Equis commercials. He added that he knows there have been large Shabbat dinners before, though this will be the first where attendance will be tracked officially. He said the value of the publicity for Tel Aviv will be immeasurable and will encourage others to have larger and larger groups for Shabbat meals.

“I hope the record is broken one week after I set it,” Shultz said.

Tel Aviv

White City Shabbat

Jay Schultz

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