In first person…Group Shabbat dinners open doors for young adults

Growing up in a traditional Jewish family in the Midwest, I had always loved the beauty and joy that surrounded a family Shabbat.

But, as many of us can attest, once you leave the home in which you grew up, Shabbat takes on an entirely different meaning.

Finding others who want to celebrate the beauty of Shabbat is not generally a simple goal to attain. Unfortunately, for many, we either celebrate Shabbat alone or we end up not celebrating Shabbat at all.

As a newly involved participant in the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's Young Adult Division, I was intrigued with the idea of the monthly potluck Shabbat, called First Friday.

The concept was a good idea — people from all over the Bay Area gathering once a month to celebrate Shabbat together in a San Francisco or Peninsula home — but how did the real experience stack up?

I attended a few First Fridays and found that I truly enjoyed myself. I met great people, many of whom became great friends, and had a wonderful time celebrating Shabbat. Soon I began encouraging other Jewish friends to attend First Fridays and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves as well.

My experiences were so positive that I wanted to help carry on the custom for others, so last summer I volunteered to host a First Friday at my home. Nearly 50 people attended — married couples, singles, young Jewish adults from all over the globe.

The hosting experience provided me with a bit of a different view of the evening. Simply opening my door to 50 strangers who may never have met otherwise provided a sense of community.

After we gathered, reviewed the over-abundance of potluck items, made introductions and got comfortable, we all joined together for the traditional prayers to welcome the Sabbath.

As I glanced around my living room, I saw the differences in our backgrounds slip away. We were all there to share in the unifying joy of Shabbat. We were lighting candles together, drinking wine together, sharing challah together and singing prayers together.

After we welcomed the Sabbath, the mingling began. The diversity of the crowd led to a wide variety of discussion topics. In fact, the mingling continued into the early hours of the next morning.

I believe the entire evening provided a nourishing, spiritual, social, communal setting for everyone who attended. Actually, since that Shabbat, I have seen many of the attendees at other YAD functions and we have continued to strengthen the friendships that developed that evening. As a matter of fact, I have already offered to host another dinner.