Between brainstorming conversation starters and buying enough groceries to nourish a table of friends, planning a Shabbat dinner can be hard. OneTable, a national organization, removes the challenges hosts and guests may experience so they can come together on Friday nights for a stress-free Shabbat.
"OneTable is an online and in-person platform that helps young adult Jews find and host unique Friday night experiences in their city," said Marissa Freeman, OneTable's Chicago hub manager. "That can mean anything from an intimate dinner for five people in someone's home, or something large like an experiential Shabbat dinner, like a farm-to-table dinner or a partnership with a cool chef in town. We're a community of people who value ending the week with good food, good wine, and good people."
OneTable, which launched in New York in 2014, has hubs in seven cities across the country. Chicago's hub opened in June 2015 with funding from the JUF Breakthrough Fund. Since its inception, more than 700 hosts in Chicago have held 1,100 dinners.
OneTable's target demographic are post-college millennials who haven't started families and don't have a regular Shabbat practice.
"If someone feels like they're wanting to host dinner and share that experience with others, they're the type of person we want to be hosting Shabbat dinners with OneTable," Freeman said. "I think a lot of people assume a host has to be this amazing cook, or have a big apartment, or be able to have 15 people over for dinner, but a host is passionate about getting people together for a shared deep breath at the end of the week."
Shabbat Coaches ease new hosts' anxieties by offering one-on-one support for any questions hosts may have. Chicago's hub has 15 coaches-some are rabbis, while others are community members who have found leadership through OneTable.
"I mentor new hosts and existing hosts in various ways," said Lauren Orlofsky, a Chicago Shabbat Coach. "Sometimes it's helping them plan a meal, sometimes it's brainstorming a theme for dinner. A lot of times, I'll help them with questions to start conversation."
To make hosting financially accessible, OneTable offers Nourishment Credits. Credits can be used to purchase food, decorations, and other necessities through a variety of resources ranging from Whole Foods to Etsy.
"The fact that they sponsor dinner and give you funds to host, it encourages you to do something special," said OneTable host Adam Rubenfire. "The nourishment, coaching, and inspiration from other dinners that are hosted empowers people to make really cool experiences."
Kadi House hosts dinner every couple months. Some of her dinners have incorporated musical jams and themes such as Friendsgiving and a Blockbuster/90s movie night.
"Originally the draw to OneTable was that you post your meal online and you can have it open, so you can meet new people," House said. "People I don't know always come. It's a nice way to bring my friends together, end the week, relax, and meet new people."
OneTable also partners with community organizations and restaurants to host large-scale Shabbat dinners. In December, OneTable hosted a Revival Food Hall Chanukah Shabbat Dinner with Aloha Poke Co.. A dozen vendors offered appetizers, dinner, and desserts to 65 guests.
"It was a really elevated experience," Freeman said.
In addition to planning events, managing partnerships, and monitoring Chicago dinners, Freeman follows up with hosts to see how the dinner went.
"I can't even begin to express the pride and warmth I feel when I read these emails from hosts who are finding Fridays to be a moment when they can take a deep breath," Freeman said. "That feeling of soul nourishment that happens when you're surrounded by good people coming together to share a beautiful meal is something that this world needs more of, and we're doing it in Chicago and all over."