When my wife asked me how many people I invited for Shabbat, I responded “more than 500.” Judging by the calm look on her face you would know that this was not the first time she had heard this answer. Over the past year or so, my wife and I have been reaching out inviting people to our Friday night Shabbat table — more than 500 at a time. Who are these people? We don’t know. I post invitations on New York-based social media groups and wait to see who comes our way. This experience has changed our lives — for the better — which is why I urge others to do the same. Why? Here are 10 reasons:
1.Numbers — Don’t worry, only 5-10 will actually show up. Anyone organizing events professionally will tell you that the ratio of people you invite to the people who actually RSVP and show up is far from 1 to 1. So, before assuming that your table will be full, reach out far and wide.
2.People — You will meet the nicest, most refined, diverse, well-educated, and outstanding young people you have ever met. After more than a year doing this, we have had a broad variety of your Jews who were engineers, actors, entrepreneurs, doctors, and so many other professions and backgrounds. Our lives have been transformed with the opportunity of getting to know all these lovely young people, some of whom had little to no Jewish background, yet all of whom were outstanding people thirsty to connect to others through the Friday night Shabbat dinner.
3.Friends — Some of the people you invite will become the best friends you have ever wished upon yourself. You will get to engage with a variety of people and will be surprised what good friends of yours they can become.
4.Happiness — It will make you a happier person. Study after studyafter study, continue to show the great value that interpersonal relationships have and how they improve our health and longevity in some cases by 50(!) percent and increase our happiness and satisfaction. This is not the reason you should be inviting people for Shabbat… but it does not hurt to take this into account.
5.Society — Because this is what society needs now. The social friction and polarization so rampant in the West today — so much so that in America it has been deemed by experts as a national security threat — cannot be ignored. Meeting people who may not share our opinions, that look or think differently than we do, brings hope to America. It increases the social cohesion so desperately needed in our country. I won’t forget the Shabbat prior to the 2016 election when we hosted someone who was working on Hillary’s campaign at the same meal as several Trump supporters. It was beautiful. To compare the tense looks when we first made introductions and the friendly smiles that were there by the time the meal was over, showed the power of face to face encounters and how kindness and courtesy can solve so much more than we thought it can.
6.Mitzvah — Because it’s a mitzvah! It is hard to imagine a rationale for us teaching our children about Avraham Avinu’s tent being open to all and then never doing anything remotely similar to that. There are few issues on which most Jews agree on. One of them is that there is a mitzvah to be hospitable. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Stamar, or Gush Emunim, we all agree on the value of hospitality — hachnasat orchim — so why not do exactly that?!
7.Marriage — Because it may help a couple find the love they were looking for, or if you are more religious, because it may help a couple be boneh a bayit ne’eman beyisrael. Interestingly, a 2014 Duke University study showed that engaging in matchmaking and helping set other people up with a potential partner increases happiness and well-being. So voila! add that to the basket of benefits there are to inviting more people to your Shabbat table!
8.Impact — Because the impact it will have will last far beyond anything you can imagine. Not long ago my wife and I hosted a young lady for Shabbat lunch. After some discussion, we realized that her mother was a student of my mother decades ago. After Shabbat, I received an email from the young lady’s mother telling me how fondly and vividly she remembers participating in a Shabbat meal my mother had hosted. Decades later this woman remembered that meal and in a positive way. When hosting Shabbat guests, we realize time and again what a profound impact such a simple and common experience can have on those who share that experience with us.
9.Giving back — If you are making a Shabbat dinner, chances are someone has done it for you before. It could have been your parents, grandparents, it could be a Shabbat meal you had while you were in Israel or any other context.
10. Shabbat — Because it’s Shabbat, and there is nothing like it. It is no coincident that Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg — known as Ahad Ha’am — despite not being religious, has famously said:” More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Shabbat has been at the epicenter of Jewish culture, family, and identity, so share that gift with others, and they will appreciate it.
So try it, and see how much you love it. Sometimes it may need tweaking, there is no one size fits all. Different people are comfortable with different things. Different people will need different vetting processes. But it can work, and it can work magnificently. Whether it’s through OneTable, Meetup, Shabbat.com, Facebook, reaching out to a coworker, or whatever it is that works best for you, make inviting others for Shabbat a priority, and see how it can change your life–for the better.
Published in the Times of Israel October 31, 2017