Our Q&A with Ilana Orlofsky on Shabbat After Loss

Last week we shared a post about #ShabbatLove. We wanted to shed a little light in a Q&A about a host’s own experience with love and loss. Read the blog: onetable.org/shabbatlove.

Written by: Daisy Waldman and Eryn Bizar

Chicago host Ilana Orlofsky (30) lost her husband, Nathan, just one year ago this month. Through her healing process, she found OneTable. Ilana reflects on Shabbat traditions with Nathan and what Friday night looks like now, with the embrace of community, and the opportunity to re-introduce Friday night dinners into her life again. 


Ilana and Nathan vacationing in Napa, California

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a runner, yogi, foodie, middle child, aunt to adorable 9-month-old twins, Yelp Elite, 5 feet tall (but I pack a lot of punch!) and I have a serious travel bug.

Growing up, what did a typical Shabbat look like for you?

 As a kid, my family and I would make Shabbat dinner every Friday night and go to services on Saturday. I grew up in a pretty observant household. On Shabbat, we would do family activities together (swimming, reading) and it felt different from the rest of the week.


They created their own candlestick rotation after receiving several sets for their wedding.

How did you and your husband connect to Shabbat?

We grew up Jewishly, but differently. Together, we developed Shabbat traditions that worked for us. Sometimes it was eating gefilte fish with my Orthodox cousins, other times it was hosting a 14-person young adult potluck with the community we built for ourselves. Sometimes we’d spend Friday nights, just the two of us, eating take-out at our coffee table, reflecting on our week and planning our weekend. But, we’d always start by lighting Shabbat candles. For our wedding we registered for a set of candlesticks and ended up with six or seven pairs – so we created a candlestick rotation! We’d always turn off the TV, even if only for 5 minutes, say prayers, light candles, sing songs, give each other a kiss. The end of the week was about being together and decompressing. That was how we embraced Shabbat.


The two traveled to Italy together and snapped this photo on the night they got engaged.

What inspired you to host your first OneTable dinner?

Because I had such sweet memories of Nathan and I having Shabbat dinner together, after he died, the way I looked at Shabbat changed. I couldn’t bring myself to light candles in my own space, knowing that one candle was for someone who was no longer with me. I learned about OneTable when I met Eryn Bizar, OneTable’s Chicago Manager, at a local networking event. Discovering there was an organization to support me in reintroducing Shabbat into my life in a way that felt authentic gave me the courage to apply to become a host. It helped add some sweetness back into what had become a bittersweet ritual.

Tell us about your first OneTable hosting experience.

It’s funny because I was kind of stressing out at first. I’m not a trained chef! How do I make sure I have enough food to feed everyone? But I’m in my element when I can bring good people together, especially in my own home. It was just the best and, no one got sick from the food! We gathered over my store-bought challah, my homemade matzah ball soup, shakshuka, taboule and a tofu ceviche that I’m still thinking about. I cut up several sentences that gave a description of the action-packed Torah portion of that week. My guests each read a line and shared a little bit about themselves, so that we weren’t just nine individuals sitting at a table, but rather, a new community of friends. [OneTable Chicago Manager] Eryn asked me if this is what Shabbat felt like to me. It was. All that was missing was my husband. But there’s a part of me that thinks he might have actually been there. At least in my mind and in my heart, as he always is.

What are you most looking forward to in Shabbat dinner now?

I go out to eat a lot, and people often prepare my food. But there is something really great about having a home cooked meal in someone’s apartment. A lot of large organizations do Shabbat in a way that feels institutionalized. There’s value there, but it’s a different feeling than in the more intimate setting that OneTable encourages. It’s hard to always feel wanted in a larger group. With OneTable dinners, it’s as if hosts are saying, “I pick you to be here, and by being here, you will impact the overall experience.” I’m looking forward to meeting more people and expanding my social circle by hosting and attending future meals.

On Community and Loss

Many of us have experienced loss and struggle in coping with the grief that follows. It’s a topic that isn’t discussed openly very often, but – as Ilana’s story tells – it is a particularly important one in community settings. Here are some resources we found to be relatable for 20’s and 30’s to continue the conversation:

  • The Last Message Received: some are breakups, some are broken friendships and some are unexpected deaths. The submissions posted on 15-year-old Emily Trunko’s Tumblr give us a glimpse into relationships through people’s final communications.
  • The Dinner Party – Life after Loss: a community of mostly 20- and 30-somethings who’ve each experienced a significant loss. This organization offers potluck dinners to talk about the ways loss affects our lives and how to thrive in #lifeafterloss.

OneTable empowers people who don’t yet have a consistent Shabbat dinner practice to build one that feels authentic, sustainable, and valuable. The OneTable community is funded to support people (21-39ish), not in undergraduate studies, and without an existing weekly Shabbat practice, looking to find and share this powerful experience.

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