The Scoop: The OneTable app is designed to help individuals and couples organize Shabbat dinners as a way to share traditions with old friends and make new ones. Before the quarantines became the norm, the app connected users for in-person dinners on Fridays. Now, OneTable has gone virtual, making it easier than ever for couples to enjoy company, conversations, and traditions, whether or not they are Jewish.
Jewish friends and families often come together every Friday evening to begin the weekly celebration of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath and day of rest.
Shabbat begins with a ritual of lighting candles and reciting a blessing over two loaves of bread, followed by the first of three meals shared with loved ones. Shabbat is a day of celebration and relaxation, when people are encouraged to spend time with the ones they love instead of work.
It’s the kind of tradition that’s perfect for young adults who often feel disconnected from each other, whether they’re Jewish or not. That’s because few people learn how to make friends or build a community outside of work, the bar scene, or school, according to Al Rosenberg, the Director of Strategy and Communication, for OneTable, a platform that organizes Shabbat dinners around the nation.
“We wanted people to feel comfortable and supported in building groups of friends and coming together,” he said. “We did a lot of research into the barriers that kept people from hosting others in their homes or attending Shabbat dinners.”
OneTable was founded to help bring people together over a weekly Shabbat meal. Now that the Covid-19 pandemic has kept many people from attending dinners in person, OneTable has shifted to offering virtual get-togethers to celebrate Shabbat.
OneTable’s tools and resources helps couples — even those who aren’t Jewish — enjoy fun activities and meet new friends.
Attend or Host a Shabbat Dinner
Al said that the platform helps users overcome three common barriers that keep people from meeting new friends or trying something different with a partner. First, he said that OneTable provides a place to search for weekly dinners. Second, OneTable offers an education on how to celebrate Shabbat.
“A lot of young Jews don’t practice Shabbat after they leave their parents’ home until they get older and have children. We put out guides and have resources so people can see what their own unique Shabbat practice could look like,” he said. “We’re non-prescriptive and try to include a wide spectrum of Shabbat practices so people can do Shabbat in a way that feels good to them.”
OneTable can also provide money to make dinners happen. Those who would like to host their own dinner can receive a small stipend for anything from food to table décor to flowers. One host recently used some of the money to buy a tape measure to ensure that everyone who attended the dinner on her patio was seated six feet apart.
OneTable supports more than 300 virtual dinners every week in over 400 cities, mostly for people in their 20s and 30s. Some of the participants have moved back home during the quarantine, so the dinners often become multi-generational.
Al said most people who sign up for OneTable are Jewish, but users don’t have to be Jewish to join a dinner. It’s also available for anyone looking to learn about the ritual and build community. And it’s a more exciting alternative to sitting around and drinking on a Friday night, Al added.
Regional Field Managers are There to Answer Questions
For those unsure about what to do during the dinner, the platform has regional field managers to support hosts through their events. Al said field managers are experts in community building and work alongside a rabbi who is available to answer questions about the ritual.
“We’ve had hosts who said they’ve never made food before, and they needed help cooking spaghetti,” Al said. “That’s a special piece of our platform. You’re not a user; you’re part of our community. Our field managers reach out to our hosts and guests and ensure they form relationships with them.”
Al said that the virtual dinners have become extremely popular. One couple who attended live Shabbat dinners before the pandemic said they decided to have a virtual version recently. They invited all the hosts who had welcomed them over the last few months.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, community-building activities like Shabbat dinners are growing during the pandemic. People feel disconnected and don’t even know what day it is sometimes. OneTable provides a solution for both of those problems, Al said.
“I think that dating sounds really difficult during this time. This is a way to have a ritual that you can both engage in, and in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming while you are stuck in your house,” he said.
The dinners are a good way to find a sense of community. Al said that, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, people who met through OneTable were picking up groceries for each other and letting others know which stores had toilet paper.
“That felt powerful, that even in the middle of this devastating time that we could be a part of something good with people caring for each other,” Al said.
OneTable: Planning to Expand Its Culinary Reach
Along with organizing virtual dinners, the OneTable team offers programming called OneTable Live. Every Friday, it offers virtual cooking classes, miniconcerts, or a look at rituals for those who would rather not participate in a dinner that week.
“That’s a breath of fresh air to help our community in a different way,” Al said. “Before, we weren’t the ones putting on the events; we were just helping them. And now, giving back in this way feels great. Even when we start opening up, we will continue OneTable Live.”
OneTable is currently focused on Shabbat, but that is likely to change. Since large gatherings at the temple seem unlikely in the near future, Al said the company is brainstorming ways to use the platform to bring people together every day, not just Friday evenings.
He said the team was looking to expand by organizing celebrations of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Plus, the team sees value in the multi-generational dinners taking place through OneTable. The company is considering ways to make those gatherings more intentional through research and focus groups.
The virtual dinners have grown popular with users in rural areas and people who have recently moved to cities and are looking to meet others. Al said he met his partner at a OneTable Shabbat dinner two and a half years ago, so he knows that it’s great for both couples and singles.
“It’s just about helping people find a weekly ritual and community that makes them feel good,” Al said.