Shabbat Dinner

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Shabbat is a very special part of Judaism, a timeless ritual with the perfect blend of Jewish community, spirituality, social gathering, ritual and prayer, food and culture, and religious experience. Rich with meaning and beauty, Shabbat has just the right frequency and timing, once a week and often just when you need it. Shabbat dinner on Friday night in particular, with its unexplainable mystical and magical nature, is a beautiful snapshot of Jewish life.

But for many Jews it is an untapped treasure - either because they never tried it, or because they got turned off in a previous experience. You have the unique opportunity to share a peek into the wonderful world of Shabbat by simply inviting a friend over for dinner. It is not a means of making people religious; it is the chance to give someone a positive and meaningful Jewish experience, introducing them to the beauty of Shabbat, a Jewish community, a Jewish friend, or any aspect of Jewish life. More than just a simple meal, this could be the start of someone's journey into Judaism, or the turning point in someone's life. It is a noble and rewarding quest, and an experience you won't soon forget.

Getting Started

While not difficult, there is a good amount of planning that must go into the meal to ensure that it happens and goes smoothly and efficiently. The following guide is just that - a guide - a basic outline for what you need to do and how to do it. But you know your college community's needs and traditions better than we do, so feel free to follow or ignore whatever you want and of course, adapt it to your needs. And PLEASE add your ideas to the guide - that's why it's a wiki.

What you need

  • Love for Jews, and an appreciation for Shabbat.
  • Friends who are marginally/un-affiliated, under-involved Jews, inactive, or turned-off from Judaism, or just uncomfortable in the Jewish community. Everyone knows at least one person - and if not, start developing a sensitivity; they're out there, and they're probably waiting for you to find them.
  • Somewhere to have a Shabbat meal, and a means of acquiring food for Shabbat.

Basic Timeline

  • A month before: Start looking for a good week to have the meal - some weeks there might be huge parties/events to which everyone goes, some weeks are big weeks at Hillel to which you might want to go, some weeks people are too busy studying for finals, etc. Don't wait too long or it will never happen - pick a date and just do it.
  • Two weeks before: Get together with the people who are planning the meal with you and figure everything out - who, what, where, when, funding, etc.
  • The week of: Start inviting people, organizing the food, reserving the room, planning the program. By the end of the week everything should be set and ready to go. Plan to do some cooking Thursday night so you're not so stressed Friday afternoon.
  • Friday night: Have the meal :)
  • The week after: Follow Up! Get in touch and stay in touch with people. Plan follow-up programs. Plan your next meal!
  • After that: See where it takes you...

Before the Meal


  • Heart to Heart (that's us!): They reimburse you $10/person, up to 20 people. Requirements: the meal has to be kosher, cooked before Shabbat, held in a non-institutional building, and ~50% of the attendees be those who don't normally do Shabbat. It also should be a meaningful Shabbat dinner (not just a dinner that happens to be on Friday night). They'll also remind/encourage you to follow up with these people afterwards :) Email Hart the week before, and then fill out the form afterwards here.
  • Some Hillels give funding for small, student-run shabbat meals for newcomers. Or they might start doing so if you speak to them. Ask your local Hillel director/rabbi to find out more.
  • The way you normally make a meal- you get everyone to chip in some money, or make something (keeping in mind kosher limitations).
    • This is actually the most genuine, but if you're trying to get someone to come for the first time, asking them to pay $10 or bring something might be a little intimidating; often the feeling is like "They probably don't really wanna come, so let's try and make it as easy as possible". But while that might be true for some people, many people do want to come, and treating them like this ends up excluding them. And especially for people to really buy-in and feel a part of it, you have to let them actually be a part of and contribute/"own" it. Ask them to bring store-bought (or Challah4Hunger) challah, or drinks, or plasticware, or a bottle of kosher wine, or flowers!


  • How many: For a personal, intimate meal, you don't want it to be too big - 20 people is definitely the maximum, 12-15 is probably better. Even if you can, and want to fit more, it might lose some of the intimacy. Maybe better to break up into two meals, instead of crowding one meal together.
  • What types: Try and get a mixed group of people. It's hard/weird if there are 14 students who are really familiar with Shabbat and one first-timer - they'll feels like an outsider no matter how hard you try. And if it's you trying to talk to and connect with 14 people who don't know what's going on, that doesn't work so well either. We try and do 1/3 "regulars" and 2/3 "other", or up to 1/2 and 1/2 (especially considering this is one of the funding requirements). The beauty of the meal is that there are students who do Shabbat every week and care about it, mixed with people who are interested in learning more, or experiencing it anew. So you need enough people to make sure those connections can be formed, and (for example) kiddush get said and explained, without it being too overwhelming. Also, try and get a mix of guys and girls (it just makes it more natural), freshmen and upperclassmen (unless you're making a 'freshman meal'). Try and keep it only undergrads - grad students and older are sometimes in a different world (unless you're a grad student, in which case make a grad Shabbat dinner!). It's also important to note that there are some really cool kids (often in frats or sororities), and some really quiet, nerdy kids (often in science or engineering). You can love them both, but perhaps invite them to two separate meals, as each kind of person might feel more comfortable in a setting that is tailored to them.
  • Which other "regulars": Make sure the other people hosting it with you are sociable and sensitive, with warm personalities and knowledge of basic Jewish life - to ensure that conversations are led and people feel comfortable. Getting other people to help is a)lessening the burden on yourself and b)giving other people responsibilities and thus potential for future leadership and growth.
    • Note: be careful about not turning off people who want to help. Let them know your limitations and offer for them to help out in another way, or to plan their own meal (with you, if desired) the next week.
  • Whom to invite: You know people, or you will know people, who are Jewish but not so involved - just from normal life: classmates, hall-mates, lab partners, club members, group members, co-editors of newspapers, etc. You'll meet people who come to Hillel once a month, or just the first week of the year. Or don't know what Hillel is. Or who are becoming religious, but don't feel comfortable in the religious community on campus. Or people who went to Jewish day school / summer camp but haven't quite found their place in the Jewish community on campus. You'll have friends who have friends. There's no secret - just start thinking and being aware. Think of which people are intimidated by large crowds or institutional or religious Hillel/Chabad programs. Think of who might appreciate being invited to a Shabbat meal (answer: most everyone). Think of who'd love to get to know other Jews or just enjoy a fun, simple Jewish experience. It doesn't have to be someone who's on their way to becoming religious- a Shabbat meal isn't a shiur or proselytism, it's just a simple, social, fun, food-filled experience. Try inviting someone - what's the worst that could happen? They might say no, and they won't go to a Shabbat meal anyway.
  • Whom else to invite: Often it might be helpful inviting groups of people, like "that girl & her boyfriend" or "those two interested people from my writing seminar" - it makes it easier and less intimidating for them, and it's a great way to reach more people. Offer to them to bring a friend!
    • Note: Be careful about inviting pairs, and make sure they don't only talk to each other during the meal, which might prevent them from getting into the experience or meeting other people. And if you invite too many people from a group, you might lose your ability to create the Shabbat experience (e.g. if you invite 10 frat guys, it might turn into a frat dinner instead of a Shabbat dinner).
  • How to invite them: Inviting someone to a Shabbat meal is a normal thing, nothing to be afraid of. Most of the time, people don't come to Shabbat meals because they just don't know what they are, or don't know anyone there, or don't think it's for them - just inviting them can change a lot of that. Invite them in person. Or send them an email. Or a facebook message, whatsapp message, text or a phone call - it's really not so scary. Think of how to say it in an inviting, friendly, normal way; there's no magic formula.
  • When: Invite people early (Monday or Tuesday before the meal) so you can ensure they don't have other plans. But also feel free to invite some extra people last minute - not as reliable but often just as effective.
  • Over-invite. From experience, we've found that many people say 'yes' when you invite them but even after confirming, some people just don't show up. Not because they hate you or hate Shabbat - sometimes they chicken out, sometimes they have a conflict (once someone didn't come because they thought they weren't dressed appropriately). So over-invite for what you have room/food and if too many people come, you'll manage - that's a good problem to have!


Like many Jewish events, this is one of the most important parts. But it's not so hard - many of you probably make meals, or have been to meals or can figure out how to make a meal. We suggest you divide it up between the shomer-kashrut people - e.g. have the 5 people each make 2 or 3 things. You should also think about assigning easily procured and easily-kosher items (e.g. challah, drinks, cutlery) to new people. If you have friends who have free time and a good heart, ask if they'd be willing to pitch in and make something for your meal (being good chefs is a plus).

Some tips:

  • Make sure you know if there are any food requirements (allergies, vegetarians, etc) and plan accordingly.
  • When going shopping, keep track of who paid for what, so that reimbursement will be easier.
  • Have traditional foods - people love and often have fond memories of kugel (for example). And no one is going to be turned off by a traditional, kosher, home-cooked Shabbat meal.
  • Homemade challah is always a plus.
  • Chill the grape juice, warm the challah.
  • If legally and practically appropriate, wine is good for kiddush, but people also love Kedem grape juice.

Here's a checklist of a typical menu:

  1. grape juice and challah
  2. soup
  3. vegetables
  4. starch (rice or potatoes)
  5. kugel
  6. chicken
  7. deli roll or chulent
  8. dessert - fruit & brownies

You also need:

  1. tablecloths
  2. plates, cups, napkins and cutlery
  3. kiddush cup
  4. salt
  5. washing cup and towel
  6. hotplate to keep the food warm
  7. bentchers - transliterated ones are the best, and English is mandatory


The room you use should be somewhere comfortable, inviting, accessible, spacious enough and presentable. That might mean your room, the common area on your floor, or the lounge in your building. Think about what works best for you, but also for the guests who are coming. (High floors might not be a good idea, as it might necessitate guests taking the elevator on Shabbat.) Besides for the fact that it's part of the funders' requirement, steer clear of Hillel or Chabad buildings. People often have bad associations or fears of institutional places like that. Additionally, the often large crowds make it hard to have an intimate, engaging, and meaningful Shabbat experience.

Some tips:

  • Make the room look nice, clean it up, put out flowers.
  • If you can, try and leave Jewish materials around - some Jewish books, a map of Israel, a talit bag, etc.
  • Put out kippot near the entrance for those who might want one. It's not necessary to mandate head coverings, but if you guys wear kippahs, men might like to be and might feel more comfortable wearing them as well.
  • Have Shabbat candles near the table. If you can safely and legally light them, do so, but if not, it's probably still beneficial to have them there. A) because of the mitzvah B) people will ask questions or be interested in them, and C) many people have childhood or cultural memories of lighting candles with mom and grandma - this can help trigger and connect them to that.
  • Pro tip: Instead of setting the table beforehand, wait until guests start to arrive - that way guests can help you set up the room, and feel included and helpful. Same thing with helping serve the food, cleaning up, etc.

Final Preparations

  • Debrief the leaders on the guests' backgrounds so you'll know how to better relate to them - e.g. X told me he has never been to a Shabbat meal before, Y grew up in a religious home but dropped it in college, A is friends with B from their fraternity, etc.
  • Get a good night's sleep. This is extremely important thing - so when Shabbat actually comes you are excited, energetic, and on your game.
  • Get excited! Encourage each other!
  • Get to the meal early!

The Meal itself

This is the most important part, and it's also the easiest. For all the hype we're giving it, it really is just a simple, social, fun, food-filled experience - and you shouldn't get overwhelmed thinking otherwise. On the other hand, it can be a very important and potentially monumental Jewish experience for people and you have to make sure it lives up to that. You don't have to unnaturally force religious content into the experience - Shabbat meals have it all built-in for you! If you have a really beautiful idea on something in Judaism, feel free to share but they key is just to have normal conversations (on life, classes, family... whatever) and things will come up on their own. Try and sense where people's interests in Judaism lie and explore these ideas during the meal (e.g. history, philosophy, Israel, social justice, ethics, legal code, etc.).


  • Songs are so important in setting the mood for Shabbat; they can be beautiful, intriguing, and exciting.
  • It's hard to teach people a whole new song but since you're doing them anyway, make sure you sing Shalom Aleichem, Kiddish, etc. And remember, if it's between mumbling something or singing it aloud, beginners would much prefer it to be sung.
  • If you and/or the guests are musically inclined, you might want to try teaching a niggun - no words necessary!
  • Try asking the newcomers if they know any Jewish songs - you might be surprised by what you find (one guest's only Jewish song they knew was "Shavua tov / Have a good week", which became the anthem for that Shabbat dinner)
  • Here are some suggestions of songs that might be known by a wider (non-Orthodox/non-religious) audience
    • Ose Shalom
    • Salaam
    • Yerushalayim Shel Zahav
    • Am Yisrael Chai
    • Tov Lehodot

Dvar Torah

  • A dvar Torah (words of Torah) can be a vehicle which changes the entire content of the meal into a distinctly and authentically Jewish experience. Sharing an insight or a lesson can demonstrate the continued relevance of Jewish thought and tradition, as well as its beauty and intelligence. Dvar Torahs are also traditionally essential parts of any meal--we are always seeking to grow and share ideas. This might be the first pleasant encounter a person has with Jewish thought, and if all goes well, it might help interest a person in Jewish learning, or at least make it less intimidating.
  • A dvar Torah can be about anything, be it the week's parsha, an upcoming holiday, or an experience one had during the week. A good discussion can allow the guests to contribute their insight to the group, and make them feel more involved in the Jewishness of the experience. Don't feel that it has to be about that week's parsha -- in fact, the parsha probably has no relevance to half the people at the meal!
  • If it can be personal, then it is less likely to seem preachy or didactic, and more like a person sharing a meaningful thought.
  • Any dvar Torah given needs to be relatable and clear both in content and in terminology which may be new or unfamiliar to the guests (e.g. translate any Hebrew or yiddish). But one must be careful that it is delivered in a way which recognizes that all the guests are highly intelligent college students, capable of understanding new concepts and interacting with them; it might be translated but it shouldn't feel "dumbed down".
  • A very good idea is a chassidic story: stories are universally relatable and can be understood at any level, and especially well by a college student's sharp critical mind. A story is an equalizer: nobody is at a more advanced level than anybody else in understanding based upon background. This can be an easier entry point for a person unfamiliar or uncomfortable with traditional texts or commentaries, and allow them to contribute their insight to the group. Additionally, if someone at the meal is a good storyteller, it can, like singing, be hauntingly captivating and mystically intriguing.
  • Chassidic insights are often a good bet, because they tend to be about universal spiritual and psychological themes, often taking a story or concept and relating it back to the experience of the individual in everyday life.
  • It's best to keep any dvar Torah short, and to open up discussion. Don't fret too much, try to allow it to be organic. If you feel like you are not capable of relaying a sincere idea in a relatable way, then it can be left out altogether.

Ice Breakers

Use this as an opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves and get to know each other. It's also a good chance for people to open up, get comfortable with each, and start to find connections or common ground to start from. It might be good to bring in something Jewish - but only if it's natural and genuine.

  • Here are some normal and less-normal ones:
  1. Favorite class and why
  2. High and Low of the week (an Obama family favorite)
  3. Favorite childhood pastime
  4. Favorite YouTube video (Hart's favorite)
  5. Meaning of your name and how you got it
  6. Favorite way to prepare a potato
  7. Ice cream flavour you wish existed
  8. Where you'd go if given a plane ticket anywhere in the world
  9. Best childhood t.v. show
  10. Song that sums up your life right now
  11. Weirdest/best conversation you've had in a while and why
  12. Funniest joke you've heard
  13. If money were no object how would you spend your days
  14. Animal you wish you could keep as a pet
  15. Share a kitchen horror story
  16. International Award you aspire to win (Nobel Peace Prize, Newbery Children's Author Award etc..)
  17. If you could switch your major what would it be to?
  18. Best prof. on campus and why
  19. Dance move you want to master
  20. Time you overcame a massive obstacle
  21. Movie or book everyone should see/read in their life

Some more tips

  • Spread yourselves out! One key goal is to create new friendships across the involved/not-involved divide, so interspersing the "regulars" with the other students is a great way to ensure that happens.
  • Serve the food in different courses - it's a great way to break up the meal, keep things moving, and make it last longer (without it seeming too drawn out).
    • Ask guests to help out - get them involved!
  • Smile! Enjoy yourself - if you're not enjoying, why would someone else?
  • Remember everyone - especially if someone is sitting by themselves, unengaged and looking disinterested.
  • Try and promote an atmosphere of warmth, love, and caring.
  • As people are leaving, escort them out and say goodbye. It's just a nice thing to do.

Content / Rituals

Eventually the meal will take on momentum of its own, but it is important to have some structure and include particular traditional elements that make it a "Shabbat dinner" (instead of just a dinner which happens to be on Friday night). And don't do it apologetically or hurriedly - people are going to be interested in what's going on and what you have to say about it. Frame it as you're starting the meal -- that we bring some rituals in the beginning of the meal to elevate and set the scene. And we also say/sing some things in Hebrew, which eveyone is welcome to join in or just listen. There are no right answers for how to explain things, and you probably each have your own personal insights and ideas (feel free to add them here). Here are some ideas for explanation or discussion revolving around some key parts of the Shabbat meal, as well as tips for leading the rituals:

Shalom Aleichem

  • Song welcoming in the angels of peace who enter with Shabbat.
  • Welcoming: As we sing a blessing of welcoming to the visiting spirits of Shabbat, we take this opportunity to welcome all of the guests who are joining us tonight and bringing the spirit of Shabbat with them. You can use this as an opportunity to go around and welcome/introduce each person.
  • God's messengers: A respectful and gracious welcome to God's messengers, harbingers of the Shabbat queen. With this comes an understanding that our friends around us are those very same messengers, and we welcome their arrival.
  • Completion and Peace: The cycle of 6 work days and Shabbat is complete = Shalem = Shalom. Work, stress, hectic, and preparations lead to peace, rest, and Shalom. This connects to the word Shalom which anchors the song.

Eishet Chayil

  • Song in praise of women. Also seen as symbolizing the Shabbat queen, or the Jewish people who are mystically compared to the woman to God's man.
  • Gratitude: In my family we sing this song as praise to my mother, who usually prepares most of the food for the meal, as well as our everyday household needs. Bring up hakarat hatov (recognizing and appreciating good that was done) as a fundamental concept in Judaism. We take this opportunity to personally thank all those who made tonight's meal possible.
  • Women: appreciation for women and specifically their part in Shabbat and the Jewish household.
  • Family: as much as this is a meal among friends, family does plays a very key role in Shabbat and in all of Judaism, as evident by its theme in this song. Try and infuse the meal with a taste of the familial experience and, if only for tonight, maybe this gathering can become is a form of family.
  • You can also skip Eishet Chayil - it's long, it's complicated, and it's not necessary.


  • Prayer of sanctification said over wine/grape juice through which Jews proclaim the uniqueness of Shabbat.
  • Declaring Shabbat: This is when we actually declare Shabbat, signifying a change from the 6 days that came before and the oasis of time we are about to enter. In Judaism, wine is used as a means of separation, and to mark significant transitions.
  • A toast! To Shabbat, to friends coming together, to good food, to taking a moment to be present, to the blessing which brought us here...
  • Focus: I take a pause and deep breath before jumping in, and (especially when we get up to "Ki Vanu Vacharta" - "For we have been chosen") I look around the room and catch the eyes of everyone at the table.
  • Transformation: Kiddush is recited on wine/grape juice - taking what can be used for drunken debauchery and elevating it to a tool of spirituality.
  • Historical References: Kiddush recalls both the story of Creation on which Shabbat is based, as well as the Exodus from Egypt, through which our connection to Shabbat was forged. One is the universal creation story, and one is the Jewish people's creation story.
  • Joy: Another reason Kiddush is performed with wine is to enhance the joyousness of the occasion, as it "gladdens a person's heart" Psalms 104:15 - and what could demand more joy than standing on the verge of Shabbat with friends, a week of troubles fading away, and a full day of peaceful rest on the horizon.
  • If you don't have Bentchers, you might want to print out and distribute copies of the translated and transliterated text of Kiddush. Some good online resources are NCSY's or here.

Washing of the Hands

  • We wash (lit. lift up) our hands to symbolically sanctify ourselves before partaking of the challah bread.
  • You needn't force people to wash their hands but if you describe it as part of the ceremony and invite everyone to participate, then when everyone else rises to wash they will likely join as well.
  • Traditionally, no talking occurs in between washing and eating the bread, as the two are linked actions and extraneous conversation would break that connection. Make sure you explain this to people so they don't begin talking to break what seems like an awkward silence. If that does happen, you should respond to them rather than stay silent and risk their embarrassment. In fact, we learn regarding the covering of the challah about the importance of not embarrassing another item, and how much more so regarding a fellow human being!
  • You can print out copies of this washing poster and leave them by the sinks.


(You can't really explain beforehand, but...)

  • Hamotzi is the blessing over breaking bread in what is the start of the meal.
  • Comparison to Manna: As a reminder of the manna which God rained down from the heavens in the desert and the double portion that fell in Friday, we use two loaves of challah. Only this time, we bless God who extracts bread not from the sky, but from the earth, a process in which we (the farmers, bakers, and consumers) are full partners.
  • Why is Challah braided?? Good question Amanda...
  • Salt - in memory of the salted sacrifices which were offered in Jerusalem. Our reenactment serves both to remind us of the past, and to allow us to reconstruct our Shabbat table modeled after the altar. Salt is especially symbolic, as its preserving and long lasting capabilities are used to describe the covenant between us and God.

Birkat Hamazon/Bentching

  • Birkat Hamazon is the conclusion to the meal, through which we acknowledge God's role in providing the world with sustenance.
  • This is a hard part, the long, unfamiliar texts and complex ideas. One strategy is to give a brief overview in the beginning, sing the first paragraph out loud, and then give everyone a chance to read through it on their own as you recite it silently to yourselves. Another idea is to explain each paragraph out loud as you go along - but maybe people might be too antsy for that. Or perhaps wait until some people leave, and the ones who stayed behind might be more open to this.. You'll have to figure it out based on how things are going.
  • Here's a good two-page Hebrew-transliterated-English layout of Birkat Hamazon.
  • Hakarat Hatov again.

After the meal

  • This is where it all starts! A one-time experience is great, but the real and lasting impact is in the connections and relationships forged at that meal. This makes follow-up a very important stage - and crucial for turning the meal for the participants from a special experience into an entire process of growth and connection. Make sure you follow up with these people and develop the relationships you've created or continued. Friend them on Facebook, invite them to a social event your community is running, ask them if they want to come to another H2H Shabbat dinner, tell them about the amazing dancing at Simchat Torah, etc. And remember what people said - if they expressed interest in learning more about Judaism, offer to learn with them or set them up with some other program; if they wanted to find out more about Judaism's relationship to social justice, connect them with Hillel's Tzedek program; if they want to learn Hebrew, direct them to a Hebrew learning program - or start one on your own, etc.
  • Furthermore, it is essential in turning the event from a one-time occurrence into a continued and integral part of your community's framework. Tell people how meaningful and enjoyable it was for yourself and for others, and how easy it was. Use it to inspire others to make similar meals, or even yourself - to do it again.
  • Make sure you know what you have to do to get reimbursement and follow up on that right away (i.e. H2H form)
  • Thank everyone who helped make the meal possible - people who helped organize, cook, plan, bring people, donate funds, etc.
  • Tell Hart how it went, so H2H can keep track of everything that's going on!
  • Write. Write down what worked and what didn't work. What conversations and ice breakers really got things going and which ones fell flat. What food/songs/decorations really got people interested or inspired and which ones were turn-offs. Did your seating strategy work? Do you think you could've used a dvar Torah? Or did you have one, but could've done without it? This is very important for yourself and for anyone who asks you for tips in the future. Take some of those tips and put them on this wiki - that's how this wiki was made, by people before you writing down what worked and didn't work at their meals.
  • Write down the names of everyone who came. This is also important, because (for example) in 6 months when you want to run an explanatory Seder, you'll want to remember who expressed interest in learning more, or might be interested in a similar experience.
  • Write down inspiring quotes that people said and stories that came out of the meal - these are valuable tools for inspiring others. If it's a good story, post it on the blog (e.g. If possible, pictures (taken before or after Shabbat) are a great addition.

Shabbat for 1,000


NJOP's Shabbat Across America, The Handbook.'s "Shabbat How To: Friday Night"

Hillel's Shabbat Notes