(June 25, 2021 / JNS) One Table, an organization that empowers those in their 20s and 30s to envision new rituals and build community through Shabbat dinner, is reopening with indoor dinners of up to 10 people as it marks its 500,000th dinner guest, including repeat engagers, since its founding in 2014.
As the coronavirus pandemic wanes, young adults are eager to engage in in-person experiences with peers, yet are also experiencing anxiety about “re-entry” into life.
“Just before the pandemic, I thought a lot about kindness,” says Aliza Kline, co-founder and CEO of OneTable. “What would it mean if kindness was our driving force? This last year answered that question in a way. We saw how Jewish young adults care for each other when times are hard and anti-Semitism is on the rise. Shabbat dinner offers a consistent, elevated space for us to discuss the events of the world around us, check-in with one another, and pause as we imagine the world we want to build together.”
During COVID restrictions, OneTable only allowed solo Shabbat dinners, Shabbat events for people who live together and virtual Shabbat dinners; in total, more than 25,000 meals took place.
Independent research during this time showed positive feelings towards participants’ religious identities, including a strong sense of being Jewish and a desire to incorporate Shabbat into their lives more regularly. Many dinner guests appreciated the small-scale approach the pandemic made necessary.
“Shabbat was not integral in my life before COVID. It’s now a stabilizing force in my life. And having this support to make it even more special has been so great,” says Alexandra Booth, who participated four times in dinners before the pandemic and now participates weekly.
“We heard from young adults that they don’t just want to go back to the way things used to be,” says chief strategy officer Al Rosenberg. “Self-care, engagement in Jewish activities, recovering from burnout, being careful about how time is spent, interactions with those who matter in life—these are just a few of the things that the pandemic brought into focus for people, prompting them to reexamine parts of their lives.”
The new Pew Research Study on Jewish Americans in 2020 affirmed that young Jewish adults are spiritually connected and crave community, though not necessarily within institutional walls. OneTable’s DIY approach to Shabbat—tailored support, coaching and online resources to make ritual personally meaningful, plus financial boosts in the form of “Nourishment Credits” if cost is a barrier for hosts—enable both host and guest to create the dinner/community experience that they want.
“OneTable has been able to grow so quickly because young adults take the lead,” adds Kline. “They set the table, so to speak, and build their own meaningful Shabbat communities. We are excited to reopen in-person dinners and begin a new era.”
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