New Jew in Town: Making Friends and the New Shabbat Dinner

5085282652_046fdab809Was it hard making friends when you moved to this place where you knew no one?
Do you have to shovel snow off of your car everyday?
These are just two of the frequently asked questions I’ve been asked recently. My answer? No. To both questions, but to address the snow question, for some reason it has only snowed heavily on the weekend, where my car is safely parked in its garage and I’m safely parked on my couch with some sort of hot beverage and a comfort food involving cheese. Lots of cheese.
And somehow – to answer the first question – my sloth and excessive cheese consumption has not stopped me from making friends. The outgoing, welcoming vibe of the young adults at my office at Federation was a pleasant surprise. I was immediately extended dinner invitations or connected to others with similar interests. And even if my colleagues hadn’t been so accommodating, thanks to the fact that making friends on the Internet isn’t quite as weird as it used to be, the options for connecting with people are endless.
When I started my new job, which entails writing on the topic of Judaism every day, I subscribed to approximately every Jewish blog out there. As a result. I get daily updates on topics ranging from the political climate in Israel to what talk show Mandy Patinkin visited the night before. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about an especially Jewish way of connecting with people: the unconventional Shabbat dinner.
One Shabbat dinner visionary, Benzion Klatzko, wants to “show the world that we’re a welcoming people”. Klatzko’s social networking site, – described as sort of an Airbnb for Jewish meals –  allows users to either find or host a Shabbat dinner in their area. Hosts end up feeding strangers and making interesting connections; at least one marriage has resulted from a dinner.Unsurprisingly, the service is most popular in pockets of Brooklyn, but there are at least enough Twin Cities Jews signed up to make a minyan.
Perhaps the most visible product of the alternative Shabbat dinner trend is the now infamous “Craigslist Shabbat Dinner” of January 2013. In Washington DC, a group of young Jewish guys (who dubbed themselves the disappointingly un-clever “Seven White Single Jewish Males”) placed a charmingly honest (and Jewish) ad on Cragslist: (If you’ve ever wanted to see David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir discuss looking at jugs, you should probably click that link.)
“Shalom! We are five handsome and two not so handsome single men. And, yes, we are Jewish. Bound by tradition and emboldened by wit, we are hosting an epic Shabbat dinner — a little challah, a little wine, and a lot of gefilte fish — in downtown Washington, DC on Friday, January 18, 2013. In a nod to our orgiastic traditions, we are inviting seven lucky ladies to feast with us. Echoing the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, we will consider you, “irrespective of religion or race,” as long as you “bring your own lactaid pills.”
The ad went viral and the guys received applications from around the world. But they stuck to their word and invited just seven chosen girls to break bread with them.
“Following strip bingo night with the local Hadassah chapter, we carefully reviewed your application, engaged in Talmudic discussion over the merits of your presence at our Shabbat dinner table, and Googled the hell out of you.
On behalf of Seven White Single Jewish Males, I’d like to stomp on a glass and wish you a Mazel Tov! You are officially one of the seven chosen people.”
Soon after, recaps of the event  popped up on the internet, including one from the woman who posted the above acceptance letter for the world to see. Apparently, there was a beautifully set Shabbat table, bottle after bottle of Manischewitz, and, randomly, a dreidel. And as it turns out? The night wasn’t a total bust. The most important thing to note is that not one of these people who were matched up by Craigslist was murdered.  Less important, but still significant: The dinner lasted until after 1 am. Three of the guys scheduled second dates with three of the girls. The seven girls hit it off and have since been invited to a second dinner party, with a different group of Jewish guys.
I have to admit, the 2013 methods of making friends are intriguing, but the closest I’ve come is posting my desperation to Facebook (“Does anyone want to see Book of Mormon with my in February?”).  It makes me feel a lot better to know that perfectly normal people are making friends using the once-scary internet on which I spend way too much time. (And yes, I found someone to accompany me to see Book of Mormon!)
Have you tried Would you have attended the Craigslist Shabbat? Any tips for making connections for other New Jews in Town that might be out there?
Speaking of making connections, Federation’s community concierge is a much less creepy version of Craigslist. If you’re interested in becoming more involved in the Jewish community, she can take your interests and needs and match you up with the synagogue, school, volunteer opportunity, or maybe even social circle that’s right for you. Click here to get connected. 
And speaking of Shabbat dinner, Federation Young Leadership and AISH are hosting a Shabbat dinner on March 1st. Expect food, fun and learning – I can’t promise it will go viral, though. Click here for more details. 
(Photo: mayhemchaos)