Death over [Shabbat] Dinner
Death and Dying are not easy subjects to introduce into a conversation, but that doesn’t mean that they should be avoided. On the contrary, some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations about life occurred for me in a time when I was grieving, and gave myself permission to discuss death in a way that had previously felt too taboo, too dark.
It was in part this feeling of connection that led Michael Hebb to start the Death Over Dinner project initially, hoping to facilitate more of these frank and soulful conversations about death. By bringing the conversation to the dinner table, Hebb hoped to empower people of all ages to engage with one another on the subject. Now, Reboot has worked with Michael Hebb to develop Death Over Dinner – Jewish Edition, working with Rabbis, theologians, doctors, and experts to address the need for Jewish resources to talk about death and dying.
So why dinner? And why Shabbat dinner in particular? As Michael Hebb and Rabbi Sharon Brous (IKAR) said, “The ritual of breaking bread slows us down, creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity.” There is a comfort in the community and familiarity of a Shabbat dinner. It is already a time in the week that we allow ourselves the opportunity to push pause, disconnect from our busy lives, and engage with those we are close to. The existing Shabbat rituals serve to frame the experience, creating both an identifiable beginning to the evening and establishing a safe space for the conversation to occur.
“Death over Dinner brought the topics of death and dying out of the shadows and into the light of Shabbat candles. It was a deeply humanizing experience: it’s hard not to feel a connection to people, even strangers, in a space of such intimate hopes, fears, and memories. I’d recommend the experience to anyone seeking a deeper, more conscious relationship with death — and, by extension, with life.” -Death Over Dinner Guest
What is Involved in a Death Over Dinner? Do I have to be an expert?
Death Over [Shabbat] Dinner is designed to be accessible to anyone regardless of their experience with the subject or with hosting. Reboot and OneTable have worked together to create an easy DIY toolkit including steps and reminders to follow leading up to and on the night of your dinner. Included in this toolkit is a set of printable discussion cards to guide the conversation. Additionally, the Death Over Dinner: Jewish Edition Website has a library of additional resources available to reference as well as a FAQ section that addresses any specific questions about death and dying practices.
How do I host One?
While it may seem intimidating, Death Over [Shabbat] Dinner is designed to be accessible with resources available to guide you every step of the way.
- Plan your dinner: Where will it be held? Will it be potluck-style, at a restaurant, or will one person cook? Who will be attending? Will it be friends, family, coworkers, community members, strangers, or a mix?
Consider your intention for the dinner. Are you interested in being more prepared for end of life planning? Did you recently lose a loved one? Are you curious about Jewish traditions surrounding death and dying? Identifying this will help guide your conversation and can narrow down what additional resources you may be interested in reading or sending to your guests.
- Once you’ve picked a date, post your Death over [Shabbat] Dinner to the OneTable platform. Title your dinner and craft a description that gives your guests a sense of what you have planned. No need to tell all but sharing your intentions for hosting and your plans for the evening means your guests will arrive prepared! Invite your guests to RSVP. All of this can be super easy, and we’re here to help.
- You can find the Death Over [Shabbat] Dinner guide linked below. Download it, print it, read from it on your phone – whatever works best for you.
- The conversation does not need to end after your dinner. Learn more here.
“It was an extraordinary dinner. It was truly a gift to be put into the position to host this event. I am grateful for the opportunity, and walked away profoundly affected by the stories I heard, the people I met, and the overall experience of the evening.” –Death Over Dinner Host
Death Over Dinner: Jewish Edition and “Death Over [Shabbat] Dinner are made possible by a generous donation from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.
Madelyne Heyman is Reboot’s Los Angeles Program Coordinator, working to bring programming and resources to the Jewish communities across the LA area. Madelyne loves hiking, musical theatre, and packing 20 of her closest friends around a small dining room table for Shabbat dinners.