Posted on May 9, 2014 by Alana Bandos
When I first arrived at Pardes, one of my biggest fears would be that I would never be able to get Shabbat plans together every week. I do have plenty of family in Israel that I could always fall back on, but they all live outside of Jerusalem. I was hoping to have some “in” Shabbats where I could sleep in my own bed and walk to meals. Fortunately, the opening weeks of the program proved my fears in vain; many students, especially second year students, were opening their homes to ensure Shabbat and High Holy Day plans for the whole of Pardes. However, that ease of finding meals subsided once everyone settled into friend groups and people started getting invites out. There were a few weeks when I was truly nervous about making Shabbat plans; although I had a lot of friends, the race to make plans for Shabbat often started a week in advance. The first-come, first-serve rush to get invited to a meal or invite friends to my own meal was stressful to say the least. I realized that plans came in waves- one week I would have too many invites and the next none at all. Furthermore, I noticed that I was far from being the only student in this boat. Unlike me, however, the majority of my peers did not have family in Israel to rely on.
When second semester rolled around, I decided to do something about it. I met with Aliza Geller, a second year student, to ask her thoughts on how to ensure a place for every Pardes student every single week. We sat and talked, discussing various failed methods in the past, when Aliza mentioned something truly incredible. She suggested the idea of a Potluck Shabbat group in which random students would work together to rotate hosting meals and bringing dishes. I loved her idea and discussed it with Aliza and another student, Meira Cohen. We met at Aroma, enjoyed some coffee and chai tea lattes, and got to work. At first it wasn’t easy. There were so many potential issues with putting together a weekly potluck that it seemed impossible. However, we slowly tackled many of the concerns such as Kashrut, dietary needs, stress on a host, and guest commitment and after a couple of hours, we had worked through most of the problems. We typed up an info sheet on the Shabbat Potluck Club, invited everyone to a meeting complete with free dessert (tip: always have some free food for a meeting) and explained our idea. There were some issues we hadn’t thought of and the meeting attendees helped us work those out too. Finally, we were ready to start weekly potlucks meals and two students offered to host the first two meals.
The Potluck Club has now been operating successfully for over two months.
Each week, the Potluck Club strives to provide one meal a week for any Pardes student in need. In warmer weather, Saturday potluck lunches in the park have rounded the total to 2 meals per Shabbat.
Two weeks advance of any particular Shabbat, Aliza, Meira, and I all work together to find a host willing to open his or her home. I’m thrilled to say that we have never truly had difficulty finding a host- even now someone emailed me to offer to host many weeks in advance of the date we need.
Hosting is pretty easy. A host needs to simply provide utensils and plates as well as space for 6-10 people, including him or herself. That’s it! No major time commitment or stress on the person who is graciously allowing everyone into his or her home.
Being a guest is pretty easy too. Each week, we have a deadline of signing up to be a guest by Wednesday afternoon. Guests therefore only need to decide 2 days in advance of Shabbat and feel no pressure in having to make plans earlier. Once sign-up closes on Wednesday night, we ask the guests for a commitment to come, no changing plans.
After we have a list of guests, we send out a google doc with the host’s details to all of the guests, who sign-up to bring food. We solved the Kashrut and dietary needs issues by having each guest bring something he or she can enjoy. That way, each person has at least one thing to eat at each meal. Hosts also are responsible for deciding if they want to host a Friday night dinner or Saturday lunch and letting all of the guests know if the meal will be meat or dairy. The added bonus of hosting is that the host can also request food that addresses their specific concerns. For example, when I hosted, I asked people to bring tomato-free dishes because I hate tomatoes. A guest with a food allergy can also politely ask everyone to be conscious of the allergy like gluten and avoid cooking with it when possible. Guests have to make food in a Kosher kitchen before Shabbat or otherwise buy something. So far, it has been fairly easy in getting everyone to bring a dish necessary to complete the meal; the google doc fills up with a list of delicious dishes people are bringing in just a few hours. That’s why the minimum guests for the Potluck Shabbat to happen every week is 6: to ensure a complete and balanced dinner (or lunch). If by Wednesday night there are still some spots that need to be filled, we remind everyone at community lunch to join and we have never had a problem filling our quota through this second announcement. Sometimes, a guest will want to bring a friend. We encourage that too, so long as the friend brings a dish as well and the host has room. That’s it! Shabbat every week is as easy as a two-day advance sign-up and one dish per person. I am pleased to say that after the initial work Aliza, Meira, and I put in to work out the kinks, the Shabbat Potluck Club is basically running on its own accord, with barely any additional effort.
One of the best feelings in the world is knowing that the effort put into a project was worthwhile and beneficial to a community. I think most people have a fear that ideas they have will fail or dissolve. I can truly say I was nervous that the Shabbat Potluck Club was just not the right solution to ensure a meal for every Pardes student. Therefore, I am so happy that it has really worked! In the 2 months since Aliza, Meira, and I started the Potluck Club, 7 people have hosted meals, more if the Saturday lunches in the Park are to be counted. That’s not including the 4 Potluck Purim Seudas that also took place during this time. Only counting Shabbat, over 40 students have found a place for a Shabbat meal in 2 months. There are some regulars who come every week and other people who have come once or twice. The great thing is that no one has to feel pressure to commit to coming every week. We consider it a success if a person has benefitted from even one meal. All of the people who have hosted have been a guest at some point as well, so there’s a great opportunity for people to fill both roles. Furthermore, a guest who decides to host in the future doesn’t have to worry about who to invite; all guests just sign-up with me. After the first week, I asked the host, Meira, for feedback on how easy or difficult it was to host. She said that the preparation was minimal and she would almost rather be a host than a guest because of how easy it was for her to provide only utensils and space. Another student used the Potluck as a way to celebrate her birthday, hosting a lunch at Pardes that was open to the entire community and was one of the best Shabbats in my memory. Another student, a guest at one meal, came to Pardes the following Sunday and told me that the Friday night Potluck she attended was one of the best Shabbat experiences she had had in Israel. From an organizer’s point of view, I cannot say how excited I was when over Pesach vacation a student emailed me offering to host a meal the Shabbat after classes resumed, so far in advance of the actual date. Even now as I write this, 5 students who have never attended a Potluck are benefitting from tonight’s Potluck, hosted by 2 former guests. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Shabbat Potlucks is the opportunity to continue the tradition next year. Both Meira and I will be coming back as fellows, excited to have a new group of students and a new round of Potlucks to boot.