Shabbat Connection satiates craving for Jewish food and community

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Simone Wolk knows how to throw a party. Especially on Shabbat.

As the creator of San Francisco Shabbat Connection, Wolk plays the roles of planner, marketer, fundraiser, decorator, chief cook and bottle washer. Literally. She does it all.

For Shabbat Connection’s premiere event last month at Congregation Anshey Sfard, the cooking alone meant preparing tsimmes homemade foccacia, baked chicken and rice pilaf for 70 people.

Simone Wolk

Wolk didn’t mind at all. With a turnout like that, she knew she had tapped into something important: young adult Jews craving community.

The event was so successful, Wolk immediately got busy planning the next one, a pre-Purim masquerade Shabbat dinner, to be held Friday, Feb. 19, once again at Anshey Sfard. She considers the Clement Street synagogue as home base, and hopes eventually to hold events even more than once a month.

“I was looking for a place to meet other young adult Jews,” says the 23-year-old San Francisco native. “What was missing was a nice place to meet, to have a Shabbat dinner.” And she had no doubt that others were in the same boat.

Wolk started pursuing her concept last summer, having moved back to the Bay Area after graduating from New York’s Yeshiva University. By the fall, she had lined up Anshey Sfard, an Orthodox Sephardic congregation in the Richmond District.

Synagogue leaders embraced the idea of hosting a Shabbat social event.

“The president was very supportive, completely welcoming,” Wolk says. “There was this vibe and spirit within the shul. It’s so beautiful, the architecture so homey. That was something I wanted people to take with them, to feel the warmth and hospitality.”

Though Shabbat Connection’s January get-together attracted many singles, Wolk insists her events are not just for singles. Attendees last month included married couples, dating couples, and even young Jews from France and Venezuela here as graduate students.

The point was not necessarily to couple up, but to broaden Jewish social circles.

One of the attendees, Michelle Meshman, has known Wolk since their days as middle schoolers at Hebrew Academy in San Francisco. Now a medical student at U.C. Irvine,  Meshman came up to see her friend’s handiwork.

“I had a great time,” Meshman says. “I was very impressed. Simone completely planned the entire event from start to finish

by herself. It was a wonderful Shabbat dinner. I met so many people. Periodically the chazzan would sing nice Shabbat songs.”

A multitalented multitasker, Wolk is well

suited to run Shabbat Connection. Not only did she enjoy what she calls “a traditional Jewish home and an Orthodox education,” she grew up the daughter of a Sephardic mother and Ashkenazi father (“so I got the matzah ball soup and the charaymi” — a Sephardic fish dish).

Wolk went on to earn a marketing degree from Yeshiva University, while retaining a love of food and cooking (she writes a food blog, www.zizisweeklyspecials.wordpress.com). Wolk realized she could combine her passions for Judaism, marketing, cooking and schmoozing within Shabbat Connection.

One of the key components to her events is to make them free. Wolk secured funders to finance all the marketing and meal planning. Attendees need only show up, then eat and shmooze.

She also notes that even though the Shabbat meal is glatt kosher and the synagogue Orthodox, all Jews are welcome no matter their level of observance.

“I want to keep events shomer Shabbat,” she says, “but it’s not a religious event. Everyone can feel comfortable. It’s an event for any type of Jew to come mingle and have a nice Shabbat dinner.”

As much as S.F. Shabbat Connection seems like a one-woman show, it is not strictly so. Wolk did recruit one special assistant.

“Thank God I have my mother,” Wolk says. “She’s my sous chef.”

San Francisco Shabbat Connection will host a pre-Purim masquerade Shabbat dinner 6:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19 at Congregation Anshey Sfard, 1500 Clement St., S.F. Information: (415) 752-4979.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.