How Shabbat Brought my Birthright Group Together

Chicago’s Hub Manager, Marissa, reflects on her Birthright trip and how gathering around the Shabbat table brought them together, both in Israel and when they returned home. 

In the deliriousness that was getting to Israel, I had already made new friends in my group. The first few days of the trip seemed easy because everyone was getting acquainted and conversations were surface level. Where are you from? What do you do? Do you know Hebrew? Do you know what’s for dinner? Forty-eight hours into the trip, we all had a pretty good idea of who and what our bus was made of. Just enough to get the ball rolling on a more meaningful part of the week together: queue Shabbat.

Hikes, site visits, museum tours, group discussions, and bus rides filled up our time and before we knew it, we were celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem. Nigunim (melodies), prayers in Hebrew and English, stories, and a few moments for reflection set the tone for our Shabbat service together. For Havdalah the next day, we gathered at the Kotel, the Western Wall, and said goodbye to Shabbat. In the hustle of Birthright, these Shabbat moments made us all slow down and see Shabbat as a significant part of our collective Birthright journey.

Shabbat on Birthright was the glue that brought our group together within the first and last two days. It was what solidified the bonds we formed for 10 days straight, an equalizer on the trip, and an invitation to let our guards down and get to know each other.

So now what? Now we’ve all scattered back to our homes and we’re all still in a massive group chat.* The good news, however, is that we all gathered at a recent OneTable Shabbat dinner. Aside from pure excitement to bring part of our group back together, we were driven by good food (provided by @TheBagelChef, one of our bus participants), good music (provided by our collaborative DJing efforts), and plenty of laughs. The hype is real and while Shabbat means something different for everyone, our time together will certainly remind me of the ways that Shabbat dinner brings people with shared experiences together.

Trying to completely recreate the experiences on our Birthright trip would be a large feat; Shabbat was a great way to remind each other of the key trip takeaways, all while continuing to build relationships and friendships with our bus. Whether people joined in on the fun through FaceTime (shoutout to technology) or they were able to be there in person, our group glued together like we had in Israel, all because of a little Friday night coordination and tradition.

Have you been on Birthright? Maybe a different organized trip? Make Shabbat the way you bring your close friends together. I promise it will be a reunion to write home about. Create your dinner here: OneTable Shabbat.

*Since I started this blog entry I have gathered 167 WhatsApp notifications – GIFs and selfies included – from my Bus 24 group chat. I love you people, but my phone battery can’t keep up.

Inspired to host a reunion? Click here to create a dinner or apply to become a host.

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