Shabbat potlucks are popping up everywhere. In Cincinnati, Shabbat potlucks are making a difference, as people rave about the strong sense of community these dinners bring. One young professional from that community shared: “It was, and is, amazing to be a part of this young Jewish community. We marveled that people, clearly of so many different backgrounds that, quite honestly, would never socialize together outside of the Jewish scene, came together to enjoy each other’s company and share in Shabbat.” Right here in DC hundreds of Jewish young professionals gather for informal Shabbat dinners through Washington DCJCC’s Shabbat cluster program.
What is it about Shabbat potlucks that win everyone over? Is it the relaxed, informal, ambiance that makes meeting other Jewish people easier? It can certainly be less of a scene and a more intimate way to forge relationships (though for some, big organizational dinners are actually less intimidating).
Or is it the grassroots community-building that has Shabbat potlucks booming among young adults? We also see this grassroots community building with independent minyanim, like DC Minyan at Rosh Pina at the Washington DCJCC. New forms of community are also increasing at an exponential rate, such as Moishe Houses and Ravenna Kibbutz in Seattle, which serve as centers for Jewish conversation and social gathering. In fact, a recent study entitled “Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping Jewish Life,” conducted under the auspices of the AVI CHAI Foundation, reveals that greater proportions of young leaders stand aloof from establishment organizations. Independent programs and start-ups have been created by young leaders as an alternative. The Presentense ConnectGen Felllowship is a program that assists these young leaders launch their entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. One venture through the Washington DCJCC and the ConnectGEN program is a Young Professional Service Learning trip to Assist/Visit Holocaust Survivors in Miami Beach, FL from June 14-19.
But perhaps young Jewish professionals gravitate to Shabbat Potlucks because it gives them a sense of a home away from home. For many young professionals in DC, ones hometown is often thousands of miles away. Home-cooked potlucks, with everyone contributing a different dish, can create a surrogate home. On college campuses thousands of Jewish college students flock to campus the Chabad Houses for that very reason. A study entitled, “Home Away From Home: A Research Study of the Shabbos Experience on Five University Campuses: An Information Model for Working with Young Jewish Adults,” conducted by Experiential Jewish Education Scholars Robert Chazan & David Bryfman, discusses the appeal of Chabad for providing a warm family environment to students. They find that young adults who are in the developmental stage of separating from home and family crave the warmth and roots that home represents. Interestingly, the study discloses that even female college students with stronger feminist ideologies assisted the Rabbi’s wife (often on Thursdays) prior to Shabbat dinner and helped her prepare the large Shabbat meals. This need for a home away from home can certainly translate to the desires of young professionals as well.
In my own personal experience as a young professional in New York and Washington DC, I can affirm that these informal Shabbat dinners were definitely a seminal part of my young adult life. I have many fond memories of Shabbat potlucks on Upper West Side rooftops, great conversations with girls that became best friends, and some of the most interesting people I have met. If you have never tried one before, I urge you to create your own. Most of the work involved is the coordination–send out an Evite to people from different places, co- workers, a friend from the gym, old friends, or new friends and create a wonderful Shabbat event in your home!
What are your thoughts about this growing phenomenon among young Jewish adults?