Friday Night Alightby Heather Ray October 3, 2017
As a 30-something always eager to find new ways to meet like-minded people and celebrate her Jewish heritage, I jumped at booking a seat at a OneTable Shabbat dinner for an upcoming Friday night. When my friend and active Jewish community liaison, Simone Abelsohn (“Simone”), enthusiastically offered to host a dinner, I knew the evening would be one I would both excitedly anticipate and fondly remember. Going into the meal, I looked forward to spending time in the comfort of Simone’s welcoming North Park home, conversing with friends I made at other local events for Jewish twenties and thirties, and hoping to make new connections and expand my circle of Jewish peers. What I experienced was all of that plus thoughtful insight on the meaning of being members of the fabric of modern society.
In a recent statement from OneTable, the self-described Shabbat grassroots movement website and application proclaimed, “These dinners are dedicated to celebrating diversity, equality, and inclusion in the face of fear, division and hate. To engaging in constructive dialogue with diverse perspectives. To addressing deep, painful divides in our communities. To considering the role we must play in strengthening civil discourse and society.” This notion reinforces the importance of coming together to celebrate shared values while seeking to understand, accept and perhaps even embrace staunch differences in opinion.
OneTable makes enjoying Shabbat simple, easy, and most of all, inspired and fun. The platform is user-friendly, and individuals choose to sign up either with an email address or through a Facebook account. Simone reported the superb helpfulness of staff from OneTable in assisting her with hosting her first event on September 8, 2017; Jordan of OneTable followed up with Simone via phone and email and provided everything from a $150 Whole Foods gift card toward the meal to menu ideas that included pizza under the stars to a traditional sit-down meal, to the home-cooked buffet-style dinner with potluck additions we enjoyed while lounging on Simone’s couch and around her cozy communal table. My favorite dish was Simone’s perfectly roasted potatoes, but no one left hungry after a feast of hummus, guacamole (a California staple), Israeli salads, veggies, brisket, salmon, dessert, and of course, challah and wine.
OneTable is a recent addition to the growing trend of bringing people together for Shabbat and offers the option of private or open-invitation dinners. Simone was excited to host for OneTable and learn about the process and platform because she is also the Program Coordinator for Shabbat San Diego, which will be offering its next set of home-hosted meals on October 26, 27, and 28, 2017. NextGen Shabbat Connections and Moishe House also feature Shabbat dinners for Jews in their twenties and thirties, and many who are familiar with these programs or Shabbat San Diego are eager to find ways to partner and expand the reach of Shabbat celebration throughout the community. Other regions are already showing a strong following, from New York to the Bay Area to Atlanta.
The dinner I attended at Simone’s home was open-invitation, so even the host was meeting some of her guests for the first time as they walked through her front door. To me, that is the true essence of our beautiful culture – it is a forum for bringing people together, unwinding, enjoying good company, eating delicious food, and exchanging interesting ideas. We were 22 attendees in all, ranging from several San Diego natives to numerous East Coast transplants hailing from Boston to Long Island to Washington, D.C., some coming, some going, and some staying the entire evening. As I have often found when bringing a group of Jews together, we were also a well-rounded bunch of writers, real-estate gurus, fitness enthusiasts, business people, volunteers or employees of non-profit organizations, attorneys, students, scientists and healthcare professionals.
Amidst laughter and discourse, topics of conversation ran the gamut from pop culture icons to world religions to the ever-prevalent current headlines about hurricanes battering the United States. We shared stories of visiting Israel, joked about the draw Jews have to free but amazing food on Shabbat, and realized some of us had been high school rivals and others college classmates who were just meeting for the first time, years later and thousands of miles away from their alma mater. As people in their twenties and thirties often do, we discussed the challenges of finding our way as professionals, changing careers, and genuinely working to determine where our lives are going or will soon take us.
At dinner, I was also sentimentally reminded of the time in my late twenties when I had felt alone and directionless while living in New York City. A bold and probably overconfident fresh college graduate when I first arrived in Manhattan, I thought I had the answers and knew better about, well, almost everything. The more people had pressed Judaism on me as a teen and then as a young adult, the more I shied away from it, so I felt liberated when I was finally out on my own. After a dose of reality and learning how difficult it was to make my way in the world, I was starved for meaningful relationships. My parents had just delicately informed me that a rabbi from the San Diego synagogue I attended growing up had relocated to the Big Apple to lead a large congregation on the Upper East Side, blocks away from my new apartment. I had also recently spoken with a jubilant and resoundingly optimistic friend of another faith, who, when asked the secret to her happiness, responded, “I have a relationship with G-d.”
It was then that I took pause and decided to give my people, my community, and my faith a chance. The woman who cautiously walked into the Upper East Side temple one Friday night walked out not only pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the evening had been but also hopeful about her future. Thereafter, I became a regular guest at Shabbat services and discovered a new world of events designed just for Jews in their twenties and thirties. Over the next several years, I developed a meaningful friendship with the junior rabbi of that congregation, often turning to him as a counselor, and I will never forget the goofy smile on his face when I was looking to make a big change in my life and revealed, “relationships are the most important thing to me in the world.” He beamed, “That’s what I believe, too. That is what Judaism is – we experience G-d through our relationships with other people.” That was my aha moment in which I realized Judaism was the defining concept that had shaped me throughout life. I have always carried that feeling with me from that day forward and have truly come to take pride and joy in the incredible culture, history, community and faith of my people. Embracing Judaism on my own was paramount to the importance it now plays in my identity, the integrity with which I conduct myself, and the necessity of sharing its traditions with others, whether Jews or inquisitive participants of other faiths.
Sharon Metz, one of the lovely and vibrant guests, at the OneTable dinner with me, echoed the same feeling. Originally from Bethesda, Maryland, Sharon went to college in Boston, Massachusetts and lived in Washington, D.C. for nine years before relocating to San Diego last year. She shined as she hugged a handful of people who had become close friends in a short time. “Reconnecting with the Jewish community has made me feel at home in San Diego. I felt lost when I moved here, not knowing anyone, trying to find my way around, and now I’ve found a family and a community,” Sharon grinned. I could not agree more. This community is my community and yours, too. And that is the very objective OneTable sought to fulfill when the application and website was created. Mission accomplished. L’chaim: Here’s to many more Shabbat dinners with best friends, mouthwatering eats, memorable conversation, and meaningful connections! Α
For more information or to attend or host a OneTable Shabbat dinner in your area, please visit www.onetable.org.