A few weeks ago we started a new initiative at Temple Beth El entitled “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbas”. This program started at Temple Sinai, a Conservative synagogue outside of Philadelphia, and has been adopted by several other synagogues around the country. I wanted to describe the genesis of this program and by doing so I hope to encourage every member of Temple Beth El to participate.
Bernie Alpert was an active member of Temple Sinai who passed away unexpectedly in March of 2012. His family wanted to honor his memory in a way which, according to his daughter, Debbie, would “engage the unengaged, be interactive, and help strengthen our congregation”. Part of the Shabbat routine for the Alpert children was to set the table for dinner and when told the number of places to set, the children would ask “who’s coming for Shabbas”?
Debbie Alpert describes the basic concept as a Shabbat dinner pyramid scheme. A group of families would agree to host a number of guests for Shabbat dinner with the hope/expectation that the people who were guests would then invite a different group of congregants for Shabbat dinner the next time. By the end of its first year, over three quarters of the 500 families at Temple Sinai had participated in at least one “Guess Who Is Coming to Shabbas” dinner.
The basic elements of the program are the following:
Every family celebrates Shabbat differently so there are no rules other than the expectation that candles will be lit, kiddush will be chanted, and a motzei will be said over challah. It makes no difference if dinner is pizza for a crowd or a formal sit down dinner. TBE is providing a “goodie bag” which includes wine, grape juice, and challah to the host family. In addition, each host family is being given a copy of Ron Wolfson’s “The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath” and an audio file with the blessings is being sent out to participants so they can brush up if necessary. We are encouraging each family to take “pre-Shabbat photos” if possible and everyone who participates is invited for a group Aliyah the next morning at Shabbat Services.
It is our hope that people will reach outside their comfort zone. Invite people from outside your regular group of friends, engage one of our new families, learn a new song, or offer a short d’var Torah on the parsha of the week. Use this is an opportunity to grow.
Our first “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbas” on Nov. 6 had 15 host families and 30 guest families for a grand total of 45 participating families; an impressive start. Check our website for the list of upcoming dates and start planning for the next one TODAY. Contact Jessie Atkin at firstname.lastname@example.org for info and sign up.
In our ongoing discussions on re-envisioning Temple Beth El we constantly talk about engagement. The work of engagement is the responsibility of each and every member of Temple Beth El. This is a program which allows everyone to participate in creating a warmer, closer knit temple community one Shabbat dinner at a time. My sincere thanks to Debby Goldman for bringing this initiative to TBE and to Lewis Norry for providing Ron Wolfson’s guide to our host families.
Happy Hannukah to All,