Shabbat dinners seen as key to commitment

Daniel Kuhn, center of the back row, attends one of his first dinners of the Shabbat
clusters group where he later met his wife.
Photo provided

Just after moving to Washington, Daniel Kuhn attended a Shabbat dinner for young adults as a way to connect with the community. The host that night had name tags for everyone, so it was particularly conspicuous when one guest, named Juliet, didn’t show up.

One Shabbat dinner became a series of dinners. The group became fast friends but was left wondering who the mysterious Juliet was.

Then, one Friday night when Kuhn was hosting dinner, Juliet walked in the door.

Fast forward a few years. The two got married — Juliet became Juliet Kuhn — and the couple invited a half-dozen of their Shabbat group’s participants to their wedding.

The group was part of the Shabbat clusters program, started seven years ago by the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center in Washington.

While every one of the program’s dinner groups certainly hasn’t led to a wedding, participation has nearly doubled in the past year, from about 150 people to between 240 and 280 active members now.

Adina Kanefield, deputy executive director of the Edlavitch JCC, said the clusters program is a good way to attract young adults to Jewish involvement.

“This program can serve as a gateway for Jewish connectivity and for further engagement as Jews,” she said.

Stacy Miller, manager of the Edlavitch JCC’s EntryPointDC’s program, which aims to involve young adults in the area, said that Shabbat clusters has grown because people are seeking “intimate community.”

In addition, the JCC has begun launching groups with specific areas of interest, such as the arts, community service and food for singles and people in their 30s.

The JCC has also increased the size of each group, an acknowledgement that sometimes people don’t show up.

But last week at a Shabbat cluster get-together in Northeast Washington, nearly everyone who signed up for the first meeting showed up. Fifteen people packed a small living room, some of whom sat on the floor.

The night brought together young Jews from the Maryland suburbs and downtown Washington. Once they arrived, one young woman lit the candles and said the Shabbat blessings.

“I was always interested in what kind of songs people would want to sing, what customs they had, what food they’d serve and details like table cloths,” said Kuhn, 29, who participated in the program for about four years.

Kuhn said that one of the strengths of the program is that participants can specify a wide range of interests when signing up, which allows people to make friends more easily once participants are placed in groups.

Kuhn added that this was a useful learning experience for many people in their 20s who hadn’t hosted Shabbat dinners on their own.

And, although the dinners didn’t often focus on religion, there was often a “short, impromptu conversation,” in which people explained their Shabbat customs and discussed their Jewish experiences.

The group Kuhn attended when he met Juliet was for singles in their 20s.

He said that it’s a good thing that if he and Juliet chose to participate in the program again, they could be in a different group.
“We’d be a bit too boring for our old selves now,” he said.

galtshuler@midatlanticmedia.com

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