Shabbat in a Time of Chaos
It was late 2017, and we were feeling emotionally drained. News outlets were screaming Breaking News!: political scandals, hurricanes, Hollywood sex scandals. Each headline felt additionally taxing. Amidst all the chaos, one of the more exciting things that caught our attention during that time was discovering OneTable. Yes, we thought, Shabbat practices can help us and our community get through these chaotic times. That was the start of the In a Time of Chaos dinner series.
Photography by @_tobedefined.
Seven months later, we’ve hosted four dinners with 50 guests each from across New York City (and even some from out of state!).
What have we learned?
Shabbat practice really can help us navigate these chaotic times. After speaking with a OneTable coach, we committed to a few rituals that could elevate the meaning of Shabbat at our dinners. One of our favorite teachings is that on Shabbat we are given an extra soul that lives in the space between two candles. We provide candles for all dinner guests and ask that when they light them, they envision their extra soul resting between the flames. Guests move their candles to the center of the table, symbolizing individuals uniting into a community. Together we are stronger.
There is power in community. Over the course of the year — and especially during recent weeks where we’re inundated with news of families being detained and Muslims being banned from the country — the tension, stress, and fear that guests show up with is palpable. As the dinners progress and we guide the group through structured dialogue, we see and feel some of that pain dissipate. With guards down, we have seen people form bonds and translate those bonds into activism in their communities.
Our country needs more spaces for building connections. We set out to create a unique space that elevates meaningful conversation about our society and ourselves. The casual, comforting act of sharing a meal with a suggested conversational framework helps strangers open up to one another and build connections that can have catalytic potential. We need more spaces for building connections in these times.
We are endlessly grateful to OneTable for the support they’ve provided, enabling us to create an intentional space to deepen bonds within our communities and welcome in others looking for a meaningful way to spend their Friday nights. We know that the community we’re forming has tremendous potential for positive social impact, and we love seeing the sparks fly during and after our Friday nights together. We hope you and your loved ones will join our next dinner in October! Follow us on Instagram for more on our growing community or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who We Are
Chloe Lew and Alyssa Smaldino are social change agents with experience in event management, strategy, nonprofit leadership, community building, organizing, fundraising, and learning design. They met through a leadership program at George Washington University in 2008 and recently co-founded the In a Time of Chaos dinner series that unites 50 change agents for “Shabbat dinner dialogues” on a bi-monthly basis. They are conveners, mobilizers and amplifiers in New York City’s socially-conscious communities.