The Shabbatluck Phenomenon

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?

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Thanks: A DC Poem

For U.S.A. chagim
We love July Fourth
Memorial Day’s meaning
And Labor Day’s worth
Veteran’s Day’s solemn
MLK Day’s inspiring
Columbus Day is about an explorer not tiring
But of all of these days
When our offices rest,
We all should agree
That Thanksgiving’s the best.

It’s the food
It’s the family
It’s an ancestral vision
Even though most of us
Aren’t related to Pilgrims
So with belly’s a-swollen
With victuals digestible
Here are some of the figures
That we thank at our table

We’re thankful for donors,
Volunteers and teachers,
Subscribers, new members
And fitness goal reachers.
We’re thankful for films
For Authorial speakers
For treadmill addicts
Who wear-out their sneakers.
We’re thankful for Circles,
Scott, Dupont and Logan
Thanks for the ‘hood
Someone named “Borderstan

Of course we are thankful
for our partners, Federation.
For synagogue rabbis
And all congregations:
Like Bet Mish and Micah
DC Minyan and Adas
Wash-Hebrew and T.I.
With religious org status
Kesher, Sinai, Ohev
For the ‘gogue on Sixth Street
Rosh Pina and wherever more than
10 Jews can meet

Thank you Vince Gray
And to the government of DC
From our rep Jack Evans
To our local ANC.
For the folks on the Hill,
Boehner, Cantor and Reid,
It not just thanks
But a deal that you need.
Once the debt deal is done
Or before if you’re open,
Thanks, please give a vote
To Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Thanks for Obama,
And Mitt and Newt too,
We’ll see who’s most thankful
In Twenty, One-Two.
And Occupy K Street
And Tea Party Nation
And David Petraeus
And Alex Ovechkin.

Thanks to the Nats,
The Skins and the Caps
The Wizards get thanks
When the lockout gets scrapped.
So thanks to Rex Grossman,
Davey Johnson, Mike Rizzo
The Shanahan clan,
And bald Bruce Boudreau.

Thanks Michael Kaiser
A toast to Todd Gray
Thanks Reggie Love,
Who is going away.
Thanks City Paper and
The Post’s Reliable Source
Thanks weather-guy Bob Ryan
And Nat’s Slugger Mike Morse.

Thanks Wale, thanks Kojo
Thanks Hilda Solis
Thanks Justice Kagan
And the Metro Police.
Thanks Dr. Jill Biden,
And George Pelecanos,
Thanks Ezra Klein
Welcome home Wilson Ramos.

Give thanks for the thanks
That you know that you’re due.
Give thanks for the J
Cause we give thanks for you.

Hey CNN! I’m a “New Jew” too!

While doing my usual CNN check at work – to be completely caught up on important news, not celebrity gossip, no way – I was caught by surprise at the homepage. Right there on the front is a picture of the back of somebody’s neck with a tattoo reading “Kosher” and a picture of a pig. The title reads ” ‘New Jews’ stake claim to faith, culture.”

Wonderful, I thought. Another article that will (only) talk about hipster Jews and how cool they are with their tattoos and alternative culture.

But reading through the article, I was actually kind of impressed. A nice spectrum of individuals were mentioned and interviewed, including Ramah California’s own brag-worthy Aaron Bisman of J-Dub records. Yes, we all laughed at his Jew-boy, red-head dreadlocks back in the summer of 2000, but he’s turned his company (and himself) into something really worth talking about (and I can say truthfully, some of their bands are awesome!). We  get a little of Heeb magazine, a bit of Jewish punk – but there is Elie Kaunfer, golden boy of traditional, egalitarian communities like Hadar and DC Minyan.

And Rabbi Joel Roth of JTS finally puts to bed (for a greater public) the claim that if you have a tattoo, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Where the hell did people come up with that idea, anyway? If you eat pork, can you also not be buried in a Jewish cemetery? What if you observe zero commandments and don’t even believe in God? Why do people think that having a tattoo is so much more sinful than anything else?

But  back to the point – this is a decent story. A nice representation of where some young Jews are headed – to a place where they feel they can express themselves and also care about their culture and religion. It’s not about having a tattoo or playing punk Jewish music, it’s just about finding what works for you, what connects you.  If  that’s praying 3 times a day and observing all the commandments, great! If it’s not, great! If it’s having a huge Jewish star tattooed on your back, painful, but great! It’s not our job to tell other Jews how to celebrate their Judaism. Don’t tell me to get a tattoo, and I won’t tell you to keep Shabbat! I might suggest having Shabbat dinner – I mean, who doesn’t like a nice dinner party with friends and wine on a Friday night?

And as I scrolled further down the page, I started seeing the comments. Oh man. I think the ability to comment on articles should seriously be taken off news pages. People are crazy!!! Why are you getting in fights with people via-comment box on CNN.com? The comments range from praising the article to heckling CNN for having no news to report, from being embarrassed of how Jews are represented to expressing anger those who choose to express their Judaism outside of the traditional structure.

One comment reads “how is this news?” Ok, so for CNN, this probably doesn’t so much qualify as news – not in the sense of “breaking news” anyway. But this movement – “Judaism 2.0” as Ari Wallach calls it – is news in the sense that this is a new culture that is coming about. In a time of widespread assimilation, it’s news-worthy that young Jews are finding ways to be modern, Western and Jewish at the same time.

And not all of this “Judaism 2.0” is only cultural or counter-culture. G-dcasts are completely based on Torah, on the weekly readings. The words are interpreted into music, sound and images. It’s actually kind of cool. So who says that the new Jews are secular and devoid of religion? It’s all about how YOU choose to connect, that’s the whole point. It’s not about denominations, it’s about feeling a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s about being able to have a Jewish wedding and a Jewish home, despite your sexual orientation.

This isn’t replacing the older traditions, it’s building on them. So chill out, crazy CNN commenters. As one suggested, how about talking about “New Muslims.” You’re right! How about it? Because there is a whole, younger generation of Islam that wants to be modern while still connecting. So even though you’re comment was intended to be cynical and sarcastic, it was actually a pretty good idea.

I feel really appreciative that I can live in a time where I can express myself any way I want. I can go to Saturday morning services and read a Heeb magazine during the  boring parts. I can sit around a holiday table with all my pierced, tattooed and crazy-colored hair friends. I can rock all my own earrings and my nose ring at work – at a Jewish organization – and not be worried about being criticized or reprimanded.

My only point of contention with this article – “hipsters tos[sing] back bottles of HE’BREW.” Come on, now that’s just bad beer! Highly alcoholic, but bad. We don’t roll that way.

The times – they are a-changing. So just sit back, and enjoy the ride…you might actually enjoy it. Or you might not. But at least it will give you something to talk about.

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