Regular Shabbat dinners might seem like a really observant Jewish thing to do, way beyond hosting your annual ugly sweater Hanukkah party, but it can be as low key as you want. It’s DIY to its core.
I decided to start connecting more with my Judaism at the same time I was feeling burned out of the gay party scene. It sucks, going to club after club that cater to cis gay males and just hoping to find my people there. I waited for events planned by local Autostraddle meet-up chapters (and even planned a couple myself), but I craved a monthly group I could look forward to attending.
I tried temple. That at least fed part of my identity. I’m lucky enough to be close to many LGBTQ+ friendly temples so I never felt entirely excluded, but, once again, the gay-specific groups seemed to cater toward one kind of identity.
Enter: monthly Shabbat dinners. Shabbat dinner is technically every Friday night, which means 52 opportunities to build a #QueerShabbatSquad that looks exactly like whatever you make it. I love do-overs.
So, Queer Shabbats, they’re pretty cool, and you can do it too. Here’s how.
Find Your People
So, you’ve decided to host a bunch of queers (an umbrella term I’m using for the full LGBTQIA+ umbrella) at your home on a Friday night for a Shabbat dinner. First, you have to decide who you’re inviting. Start with your friends; Jewish or not, they want a chill way to get together that’s not always partying, too.
If you’re like I was and suffering for a lack of queer friends, there’s hope. First, I’ll plug OneTable, which is how I started hosting and is also now my employer. OneTable Hosts in their 20s and 30s can post a “Host Approval” dinner so new people can request seats at their table (and they offer some $$ to help with cost and Shabbat Coaches in case you need more support than this listicle).
I also post my dinners in queer Facebook groups, use them as a way to invite over my super cool barista and the cute woman who sold me my Docs, and always ask my friends to invite their friends.
Make a Menu
It’s pretty standard to feed people at a dinner party. Luckily, Shabbat food can totally look like a dinner scene out of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, by which I mean: everything from brisket to Chinese takeout.
Definitely plan according to how many attendees you’re expecting. Five people RSVP’d? Cool, maybe now’s the time to wow them with your cooking skills. (Also, introducing people to noodle kugel for the first time is a new favorite hobby of mine. “It’s like cheesecake, but with noodles.”) Tons of people have told you they’re going to show up? Awesome, order pizza and don’t worry about it. Pro-tip: It’s always better to have too much food, and send people home with it, than not have enough.
Potlucks on Fridays can be tough, but also a great way to reduce the cost for you. Assigning specific items or kinds of food is more successful than asking everyone to bring “something.”
If you’re going for “traditional,” explain what that means to you. People love to share culture with each other and there is way more than one way to do a traditional Jewish dinner. Even the challah is different at different tables: Ashkenazi Jews often use egg challah and Sephardic Jews use water challah. I’d prefer a sprinkle challah, myself.
Decorate and Make a Playlist
Just because you’re not going out clubbing doesn’t mean the music doesn’t need to set the mood. I’m not big on decorations, though I’ll pick up some flowers and maybe throw up a themed sign. Anything you do will be appreciated, even if it’s just making everything look super clean and organized. Not going to lie, I only clean the days I’m hosting Shabbat.
The music can be another way to build excitement before the event. Message your guests to ask them what three songs they want added to the night’s playlist. Or be like me and just play “Call Your Girlfriend” on repeat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Traditionally, there are the prayers over the candles (at sunset), wine and challah (at dinner), but these too are up to you! Personally, I’m still working on my Hebrew-singing voice and if my Hebrew pal isn’t available, I say them in English.
Sometimes other rituals and intentions need to be done and said. A prayer of healing for the queer community, a ritual for strength to get through these times together, a wish for more queer events to make it through the winter. Do what feels good to you and your people. This intention you set is what takes it from a dinner party to a Shabbat dinner.
Someone Showed Up Way Too Early
To be honest, it’s much more likely that everyone will be various stages of late. However, should someone show up an hour early because they totally read your email wrong, they are probably pretty embarrassed. In fact, if it wasn’t so horribly cold outside, they’d walk around the block a few times to only be 40 minutes early instead.
Put them to use. Give them even the smallest of jobs: setting out the little name tags you made for the food and food allergens. Asking them to pick and open the wine, or set the table. Get to know them while you’re working together and they can help you greet guests as payment for their extra hour of attendance.
Talk to Each Other
If there’s anything I’ve learned from Bridget Jones, it’s to make meaningful introductions. OK, so maybe the dinner is just your friends and you don’t need help on this one. But maybe you welcomed a bunch of strangers and suddenly realize you have no idea how to talk to new people at all. Don’t. Freak. Out.
I may roll my eyes at ice breakers (I didn’t go to camp), but I am not above using them. A popular one is the rose-thorn/high-low introduction. Everyone says their name and any other identifying info they want to share, and then say one high point and one low point of their last week.
Sometimes guests will propose their own (celebrity one night stand vs. celebrity relationship), and eventually conversation will be rolling about naturally. This is the time to bring up the need for this kind of queer event and community-building. Ask if anyone wants to host next month, and announce when your next event might be.
The End, or Everyone is Just So Lovely and You’re So Pleased
This is almost definitely going to be the case. I worry about hosting every single time, but it always ends up being incredible. If a queerdo like me can host a monthly Shabbat dinner, then so can you.