Shabbat was epic…..Estee [my wife] was cooking for 2 days straight to get all of the food ready (we were expecting to have 15 people), and she really outdid herself; halfway through the first course a few people jokingly said ‘this is the first, second and third course all at the same time, right?’. I remember being in the middle of a conversation with someone in the earlier part of the meal, and we both looked up and noticed that half of the table had gotten up from their seats and were either engaged in conversation with one another on our couch, and a few others were up roaming around the living room looking at Jewish art, interpreting what they thought was going on in some of the various pieces we have up. Estee looked at me and we both started laughing that people felt so comfortable to just do their own thing. We’ve definitely had our fair share of hosting Shabbat meals, and this was the first time EVERYONE felt and made themselves at home. The one constant during the evening was laughter—people could not stop laughing and cracking jokes. After recovering from the first meal, we moved onto the soup course and then to the main course, during which things got REALLY interesting…...
I picked up a tradition of asking a ‘question of the week’ from my Rabbi, Yonah Bookstein, and I figured a question about Israel would probably be appropriate (I wanted to ask about people’s Birthright experiences, however Estee thought keeping the question in a more general format made more sense, because not everyone at the table had been on Birthright). After having a l’chaim in praise and thanks to Birthright Israel NEXT for hosting the meal, and a quick explanation of the Birthright Israel NEXT Shabbat program, the question was “What does Israel mean to you?’” It’s hard to explain what happened next…..It was one of the epic ‘life conversations’ that I have had time and time again during my experiences in Jerusalem. Every person’s insights and perspective was slightly more profound than the last, and everyone was totally vested and involved in the conversation, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what would come next, with each person’s thoughts lead to another’s contribution to the discussion. I could never have expected the question and subsequent answers to create such a deep forum for connection in my living room…I think we talked about it for 45 minutes. It was hard to tell because time seemed to stand still. People talked about how Israel changed their life, how it’s really a mind-set as much of a place, their life-changing experiences at the kotel, funny things that had happened that only happen in israel, or how it steered their life in one direction or another. We had the kind of transcendental Israel experience that is usually limited to happening while you are in Israel, but in my living room.
I ran into one of the girls that was with us for Shabbat yesterday, and she said ‘Eric, I had an unbelievable time last Shabbat, and I’m not exactly sure why…..I think it was the question…...it’s funny because I was at another organization’s event the other night and we asked the same question as an ice-breaker for the meeting, and it did not elicit anywhere near what came out last Friday night’. A few other people Estee and I have talked to shared the same sentiment as well. All in all, it was one of our best Shabbat hosting experiences ever, and one of my personal favorites for Friday night meals in general. Thank you so much for putting this program together and making it available to connect and reconnect young Jews to such an important part of Jewish life.
Usually what happens at the Shabbos table stays at the Shabbos table, but I have wanted to share this with you since everyone left on Friday night.
What is NEXT Shabbat?
Host a meal on a Friday night or Saturday and Birthright Israel NEXT picks up the tab!
Giving Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni hosting meals in the United States or Canada up to $18 per person for up to 16 people, NEXT Shabbat wants you to celebrate Shabbat your way. Redefine rest with a traditional family dinner or take a break from the daily grind with fifteen of your friends at a picnic in the park. Whether your dinner has four people or forty, is home-cooked or take-out, involves singing or just schmoozing, get creative and greet Shabbat with your own flair.
Shabbat brings together food, drink, music, and celebration. Traditionally candles are lit, bread is blessed and wine is drunk. Create your own rituals or reconnect to the old.
NEXT Shabbat allows you to take charge of your personal involvement in Jewish life and define and create your own community.