OneTable, an organization that empowers people in their 20s and 30s to envision new rituals and build community through Shabbat dinner, is reopening with indoor dinners of up to ten guests as it marks its 500,000th dinner guest, including repeat engagers, since its founding in 2014. As the pandemic wanes, young adults are eager to engage in meaningful, in-person experiences with peers, yet also are experiencing anxiety about “reentry” into life.
“Just before the pandemic, I thought a lot about kindness,” says Aliza Kline, co-Founder and CEO of OneTable. “What would it mean if kindness was our driving force? This last year answered that question in a way. We saw how Jewish young adults care for each other when times are hard and antisemitism is on the rise. Shabbat dinner offers a consistent, elevated space for us to discuss the events of the world around us, check-in with one another, and pause as we imagine the world we want to build together.”
During the pandemic, OneTable only allowed solo Shabbat dinners, Shabbat events for people who live together, and virtual Shabbat dinners–more than 25,000 total dinners took place. Independent research of OneTable hosts and guests (past and present) during this time showed positive feelings toward participants’ religious identities, including a strong sense of being Jewish and a desire to incorporate Shabbat into their lives more regularly. Many dinner guests appreciated the “small scale” approach that the pandemic made necessary.
“Shabbat was not integral in my life before COVID. It’s now a stabilizing force in my life. And having this support to make it even more special has been so great,” says Alexandra Booth, who participated four times in OneTable dinners before the pandemic and now participates weekly.
Like other Americans, young adults will be part of a “tidal wave” of in-person engagement this summer and later into the year. As a result, OneTable anticipates 250,000 dinner guests in 2021 alone.
“We heard from young adults that they don’t just want to go back to the way things used to be,” adds Al Rosenberg, Chief Strategy Officer at OneTable. “Self-care, engagement in Jewish activities, recovering from burnout, being careful about how time is spent, interactions with those who matter in life—these are just a few of the things that the pandemic brought into focus for people, prompting them to reexamine parts of their lives. OneTable is responding to this with dinners focused on options for different group sizes, different needs, driven by the vision of the hosts and guests.”
The new Pew Report on Jewish Americans affirmed what OneTable has experienced as it reached 500,000 total dinner guest engagements—young Jewish adults are spiritually connected, want a community, but many do not look for either of those inside institutional walls. OneTable’s DIY approach to Shabbat—tailored support, coaching, and online resources to make ritual personally meaningful, plus financial boosts in the form of “Nourishment Credits” if cost is a barrier for hosts—enable the host and their guests to create the dinner and community experience that they want.
“OneTable has been able to grow so quickly because young adults take the lead,” adds Kline. “They set the table, so to speak, and build their own meaningful Shabbat communities. We are excited to reopen in-person dinners and begin a new era.”