On your own and hungry

Volunteer organizations arrange meals for singles on the High Holy Days, the festivals and Shabbat.

White city shabbat organization (photo credit: COURTESY WHITE CITY SHABBAT)
White city shabbat organization
Rosh Hashana in Israel can feel empty when you’re on your own. Public transportation stops. Shops close down for the High Holy Days. The streets are full of families walking to and from synagogues, or piling into cars packed with picnic gear. Householders walking dogs exchange greetings and kids jump rope or ride bikes in the street. A single guy or gal with nowhere to go and no one to talk to can start feeling as lonely as Eleanor Rigby.
But nobody has to be lonely on the festivals or Shabbat. So says Jay Shultz, founder of White City Shabbat, a nonprofit, entirely volunteer organization. With a database of over 50,000 names, the organization makes a match between hosts and young people seeking company on Shabbat and holidays in Tel Aviv.
“One of the beautiful things anyone can see is that Jews in Israel really see you as a brother or sister. Come eat at my house, come marry my niece. Our work at White City Shabbat is to get young olim [immigrants] together in a more professional way, with branding that proclaims all over the world that Tel Aviv is the most exciting place in the Jewish world. Everyone can come here and be welcomed, and find the religious or community infrastructure they’re looking for,” says Shultz.
White City Shabbat has hosted communal Shabbat meals of up to 200 participants every month for the past seven years, so the lonely, young immigrant certainly has a place to go, even on Passover.
This year’s Seder hosted 150 guests. And most impressively, it became known globally for hosting the largest Shabbat dinner on Earth, presided by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and registered with the Guinness Book of World Records.
“The whole world has now heard Shabbat and Tel Aviv in the same sentence, which has never happened before,” says Shultz with pride.
The meals are great for those who enjoy being with a lot of other young people in a community environment. There is a minimum fee for participation, only to cover costs. The all-volunteer organization has no office and is run out of homes or local cafes.
White City Shabbat maintains an open, pluralistic attitude, while retaining a strongly Jewish character.
“Anyone can eat a Tuesday night dinner wherever they want,” Shultz continues. “We offer a Jewish experience. To include everyone, we make sure all our meals are kosher, prepared by shomrei Shabbat [observant] people. Most young olim are comfortable with our observance.”
Immigrants and visitors can also experience a more intimate, family Shabbat if they prefer.
“Observant people ask to be set up with an Orthodox family, but we have also totally secular guests who are curious to experience a ‘Rabbi Shabbat.’ Others just want to be in a cool environment and aren’t interested in learning Torah. All our hosts are warm and welcoming. A guest may show up with a cellphone in their pocket, and that’s fine, as long as they know not to pull that phone out while they’re sitting at the Shabbat table. And while some guests ask for an established Israeli family in order to experience dining with ‘real Sabras,’ some feel more comfortable with families who speak their own language,” concludes Shultz.
In other words, there’s a good match for every young ex-pat in Tel Aviv.
But what Shabbat options exist for people living in other areas? And what if you’re on your own and wishing for company but past student age? If you stand still long enough at the Western Wall, it’s more than likely that Rabbi Jeff Seidel will walk up to you and offer you a Shabbat meal. Seidel and his volunteer staff have matched olim, tourists and students with host families for 30 years. Groups like Masa, Young Judea and Keren Or Israel know to contact him when they need to place visitors. His host families are located all over Israel, and even in other countries, accommodating 200-300 guests between Rosh Hashana and Succot.
“It’s sad to be in Israel without a place to go to on Shabbat,” says Seidel. “And everybody knows we have good host families. Some students come back for second Shabbat helpings, because they had such a good experience the first time.
“People have different needs and we work hard to match guests with the right hosts. There are guests who need to be with Spanish- or French-speaking families. Some guests eat only vegan foods. The only thing I ask of guests is that they show up on time.”
The Seidel organization doesn’t focus on any one sector, but the majority of their guests are secular students, as they are more likely to be on their own than tourists or older immigrants.
“Yeshiva kids and seminary girls are taken care of by their schools,” Seidel explains. “Older people usually have family or friends in Israel. It’s students from abroad who are most often alone on Shabbat and holidays, so we have contact centers at all the universities.”
Even students spending their vacations in Europe can reserve Jewish home hospitality via the Seidel website (address below).
In the Galilee, the Ascent Institute in Safed arranges hospitality with English-speaking local families. Call 1-800-304-070 or (04) 692-1364 for details, Sunday-Thursday: 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 4:30 to 9 p.m.; Friday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday: 7 to 9 p.m.
The Livnot U’Lehibanot organization in Safed also runs Shabbat and holiday events. A word to the wise: Don’t leave it to the last minute to contact the organization you’re interested in. Call or register via the website, as soon as possible, as time is already short before the upcoming holidays.
In any case, a person on his own can always enter a synagogue, wherever he happens to be, and ask the rabbi or a congregant where he can find hospitality.
More than likely, the same person will be pleased to offer at least one holiday meal.
Here’s wishing pleasant and fulfilling holidays to all people hungry for company and a good High Holy Day meal.
White City Shabbat is sponsored by the Am Yisrael Foundation. Contact www.whitecityshabbat.com/ to get set up for festival or High Holy Day meals in Tel Aviv. Find White City Shabbat on Facebook for detailed information about their communal holiday events.
People seeking Shabbat or holiday hospitality across Israel will find it via Rabbi Jeff Seidel’s website getshabbat.com, or calling him at 052-286-7795.
For Livnot U’Lehibanot: www.livnot.org/contact-us/ or call (04) 697-0311 or 052-429- 5377.