There is a certain magic that takes place on a weekend night when we sit at the table for dinner with friends and family. We exhale from the week, we are present, we indulge, and we appreciate being in the company of the ones we love. This truth is universal all over the world, and on Friday evenings many people celebrate the close of the week with a Friday night Shabbat dinner. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aliza Kline, President + CEO of OneTable Shabbat. We had a great conversation about the importance of ritual in our lives, the meaning + metaphor of Shabbat, and the magic of gathering at the table with others. See below and then check out www.onetable.org for more.
At The Table With Aliza Kline
TELL US IN A FEW SENTENCES WHAT ONETABLE IS:
OneTable was founded to be a movement to support young adults to reclaim the art of hospitality and to celebrate Shabbat in their homes in a way that was meaningful to them. Ten years in, close to 100K Shabbat dinners hosted by young adults in 600 cities across the country. We are a growing, evolving online platform for dinner, community, and connection. Secondarily, we take our tech and white label it so other organizations can adopt our technology in helping them grow and scale, and we have a lot more in the works.
INSPIRATION FOR LAUNCHING ONETABLE:
Before we launched almost 10 years ago, we saw three overwhelming trends affecting young adults in society that we wanted to address:
1. They were disassociating from religion in America and traditional means of engagement.
2. There was a global phenomenon of loneliness + people feeling lack of community.
3. And, just as importantly, there was a rising desire to gather and be with others. People were joining group exercise classes, dinner party clubs, and pop up parties. There was a return to creativity and a searching for spirituality and emotional connection.
If we wanted to make a difference in the lives of young adults, we needed a new way of addressing it. So, we took the most ancient and deep tradition of gathering around the table (Friday night Shabbat dinners) to create community, combat loneliness, and return to spirituality + creativity.
WHY SHABBAT AS THE RITUAL TO CENTER THE ORGANIZATION AROUND?
It was Shabbat from the beginning. There wasn’t much back and forth on which ritual to choose. One of our Founders loved the intellectual and elevated conversation that so often takes place at Shabbat dinner. And in studying habit formation, we knew that we needed a ritual that was weekly so that after time it would become habit forming.
The symbolism of Shabbat coming at the end of the work week means we cease work for a moment - we can just be. It gives us permission to be present and we can welcome that in with a shared meal at the table. We wanted to make Shabbat customizable and personal for the end user (you can choose the prayers, the food, the guests, but at the same time you universally feel anchored to your religion). At OneTable, you can make Shabbat personal to You.
The idea was to engage with ‘hosts’ or ‘ambassadors’ across the country to invite and encourage others to join Shabbat dinners or host their own. We currently have over 20,000 hosts encouraging others to host–it’s growing and growing.
I have been drawn to the word Oasis—people classically have spoken about Shabbat as an Oasis-–a palace in time, a separation.
When we are in moments of extreme stress or pain or moments of pure joy, we take a deep breath in to be aware of what’s happening and to recenter. Even if it’s for 30 seconds, time feels expansive. For me that is what Shabbat is at its essence. I like to think of Shabbat as oxygen. The world is a mess right now. It moves very fast. We are inclined as humans to be involved in everything—some can let it go by easier than others. We can’t all be activated all the time. It’s important to remember joy, the holiness, the good, and then to re-engage. It’s Friday, we can breathe.
And in the time between, we have “Shabbat Moments” we can practice throughout the week the times we need to breathe, expand time, and re-engage.
HOW DO YOU 'DO' SHABBAT?
"Setting a table beautifully is an essential component to marking time...Even if you are ordering pizza, take the pizza out of the box, plate it and put the napkins out. it’s so important to still set the table.”
Who is at the Table?
We usually have 10 people every Friday, sometimes we squeeze 12.
It’s a combination of family, extended family, and friends. We always host at our home. My daughters set the table.
It’s typically all white - white china, white napkins folded beautifully. We always use cloth napkins - it’s a small gesture but so important.
Fresh flowers and fresh challah by my mom, always.
The Personal Details:
First, we do a beautiful cheese board at around 7. At around 8, we take a seat at the table and we sing shalom aleichem.
We light the candles using my great grandmother’s candle sticks. Each person has their role.
Roasted Potatoes always. I often use Jake Cohen’s cookbooks or Jerusalem by Ottolenghi, and of course NYT Cooking. We never serve meat – I love the challenge.
This past Friday night, I made Adeena Sussman’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with lemon on a base of labneh with lemon and garlic and pine nuts. It was delicious.
Always wine, cocktails, seltzer, and white grape juice. Our middle daughter is a baker so she is in charge of dessert and she never disappoints.
Dream Shabbat Guests:
Adeena Sussman and those friends who you have an incredible familiarity with--the type who you pee in your pants with from laughing.
I love meeting new people but my ideal Shabbat is spent with those who know me intimately. I love being at the table.
YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUAL, WHAT ARE SOME OTHER RITUALS YOU HAVE WOVEN INTO YOUR LIFE?
First off, Shabbat. My parents come every Friday night.
But also a meditation practice.
I walk, talk, move, and think at a very fast pace. I have to find proactive ways to slow down–I study Hasidut.
Reading our slack channel called Host and Guest Love. It's like a river pouring in with how good hosting makes them feel. It's why I do what I do.
Once a week, I call my best friend from high school who lives on the West Coast and we run while talking and catching up. We don’t let a week go by without it.
I have 3 daughters. My youngest still lets me say good night to her, tuck her in, and read to her.
Jake Cohen’s “perfect challah recipe”
LEARN MORE ABOUT ONETABLE, CLICK HERE