"Enjoy Shabbat Here"
The American City Diner is located on Connecticut Ave, a few blocks from my home in Washington, DC. Owned by Jeffrey Gildenhorn, a native-born Washingtonian, the diner requently has something noteworthy to say on its billboard. Sometimes the message is a political one that speaks to the countless politicos who drive by every day ("The Future is Now, Reach Across the Aisle"), or more diner-like ones ("Breakfast all Day, Birthday Parties"). The message to the left that appeared a few weeks ago ("Enjoy Shabbat Here") drew my attention for obvious reasons and got me to thinking, which my wife Renée likes to say, is always a dangerous thing.
I am going to ask you for feedback on this one, because I need your help to think this through.
You may be aware of the recent Pew research report,which depending upon your reading of it, represents:
1) a confirmation of the decline of Amercian Judaism
2) a flawed survey, or
3) an opportunity to reach out to Jews who reject denominational affiliations, yet express faith ("I'm spiritual but not religious") and pride in being Jewish.
Because I'm a hopeful kind of guy, I am most drawn to the third conclusion. In contrast to the Jack Werthheimer School of Doom and Gloom (note: can't we embrace BOTH global consciousness and tribal allegiances?), my impulse is to rest assured that 4000 years of evolution from Biblical Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism to ?? is foundation enough to withstand all the concerns of what modernity presents us with.
Here's my question. Who are the Jews that are enjoying Shabbat at the American City Diner and what does being Jewish mean to them? Some, I surmise, are Reform Jews, for whom spending money on Shabbat does not present an issue. For that matter, let's be honest and assume that some Conservative (with a big "C") Jews are eating there as well.
What about the rest? Are some of them unaffiliated non-shul goers who fall into the above third category? "Spiritual but not religious", who are among the 94% of the Jews surveyed who expressed pride in being Jewish.
Here's my idea, and it is based on successful models of "keruv", of Jewish outreach based on going to where the people are (i.e. Chabad rabbis' work on college campuses, which is how my rebbe Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Shlomo Carlebach were deployed in the 1950's) The idea is to approach the owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn with the possibility of displaying a sign that reads: "Enjoy Shabbat Here - The Rabbi is In". Perhaps he might set aside a section of the restaurant on Shabbat afternoon (there goes my nap) for people to drop in, eat, shmooze, and talk about what it means to be a Jew. To pose some questions - How can we build a Jewish future together? Is there importance in securing a Jewish future?
What questions would you ask? And how might I approach Jeffrey Gildenhron with this idea? If the Pew people had talked to you, what woukd you have wnated them to know?
When replying, please do so on the website (as well as to me offline if you wish) so others can see your response. Thank you in advance for your thoughts and suggestons. In the tradiiton of Avraham Avinu, who according to the midrash interrupted his visit from G!d in this week's parsha to attend to the needs of hungry travellers, I wish you Shabbat Shalom. And if you happen to be in the DC area, "Enjoy Shabbat Here". (Or for that matter "asher hu sham" - wherever you may be)
10/18/2013 03:14:36 am
Granted, the most logical thing one would expect a diner to want is for people to come in and spend money. But that may not be the case here. For example, the Tastee Diner, which is located one block from my apartment, hosts the Silver Spring branch of the Games Club of Maryland every Friday night. No one else there is Shomer Shabat, but I avoid the few games that require writing. I usually get there early enough to buy dinner before sundown, but there are times when I get home from a Shabat dinner elsewhere and stop by the diner to play a game before going to bed. There is no requirement to buy food (it would be hard for them to keep track of who has bought food and who hasn't); it's just that almost everyone does. Going back to the American City Diner, it is possible that (1) they want more people there Saturday afternoons even if only some of them are buying food (an empty restaurant sends up warning flags for passers-by), (2) they figure some of the people there will buy food, or (3) they will accept prepayments (or credit card info) for food on Friday or extend casual credit to allow them to settle up later.
10/18/2013 03:35:20 am
Thanks Simcha. All great comments. My plan is to ask if I could prepay for myself. Renée just suggested that our Minyan have lunch there (also prepaid) after services some time, since the Diner is only a few blocks from where we meet. Wonder if he'd be bothered by any singing?
10/18/2013 05:58:54 am
I grew up in an observant Conservative Jewish family.My parents both worked; and in order to be able to attend late Friday evening services, we often ate dinner in a local family-style restaurant half-way (walking) between our apartment building and the synagogue. That meant Shabbat to me! But note that we went to SHABBAT SERVICES after dinner; we did not celebrate Shabbat at the restaurant. Today, and when my children were growing up, I wouldn't consider it appropriate to eat Shabbat dinner at a restaurant; and as a teenager (who went to Camp Ramah), I began to think it wasn't such a hot idea! But for my parents (now deceased) it was a means to an excellent spiritual/religious end, and I ended up being very involved in my synagogue and in Jewish life.....just a little food for thought. Shabbat Shalom!
10/18/2013 06:32:09 am
Thanks Mindy - eh..."little food for thought" - pun intended? Knowing you I woukld guess yes! What about my question about setting up a "rabbinic chair" at the diner? My question is more about the Jews who are not setting foot in Jewish institutions and might never do so again - who are they, what are their questions/needs/connections? - versus eating in a restaurant and/or spending $$ on Shabbat. Nats/O's in '14.
Rabbi Saul O
10/18/2013 06:26:51 am
I think this is a great idea, Reb Mark! There are various arrangements possible for those who won't spend money at the diner because it's Shabbat, and keruv is always important work, so I say go for it.
10/18/2013 07:02:40 am
I love the idea of prepaid Shabbat meals! A few years ago my family planned to attend Friday night services at Bnai Jesherun on the Upper West Side. I searched pretty hard for restaurants where I could prepay, but could only find things on the Lower East Side. So instead of a nice Shabbat in Manhattan, we bailed out (driving) after services to my wife's aunt on Long Island.
10/18/2013 07:31:17 am
10/18/2013 07:13:31 am
Reb Mark, you have asked for feedback on a gigantic range of issues and subjects. Let me address one for now, that of the Jew who is "spiritual but not religious". You describe this as an expression of faith, but I must beg to differ. Faith means the belief in something that cannot be empirically known. My experience is that most of this group consists of people who feel themselves in to be interested in some kind of transcendent experience, but without any specific belief attached. I offer no criticism of this stance (well, only a little) but it clearly describes a path away from a life which is authentically Jewish. And after all, how many people would admit to being NOT spiritual when specifically asked? I am dubious that we can grow American Judaism by appealing to this group. But, I could be wrong, so sure: approach the diner owner (offer to buy him lunch) and see what you can arrange. Nothing to lose but your nap.
10/18/2013 07:40:24 am
Claude - My central question is asking how can I be of service, knowing that we all have questions of spirit. A Jewish soul yearnsjust like any other soul, but we have been gifted with a rich spiritual tool chest that has been gathering rust for many of us all these years. Might it be that "these people" were never exposed to any Jewish teachings that made a lick of difference in their lives, and that there is still a spark (in the 94%) that is waiting to be ignited by something? By someone?
10/18/2013 06:01:40 pm
Take a look at what LabShul is doing in a New York City winery for the 10/19 Shabbat! Talk about outreach. I'd love to make that kind of effort closer to home.
10/19/2013 10:37:01 am
10/21/2013 02:02:12 pm
I think that when people say they are spiritual but not religious they mean they think or read about transcendent or metaphysical ideas but have not adapted a "religious" practice. I mean religious in the sense of practicing something/anything that focuses intention on a regular basis; that requires devotion, effort, and yes, sacrifice. How many people do you know who will say they go to the gym "religiously." Is that spiritual or simply physical? I think approaching the owner is a great idea and is an open doorway for people who would adapt a regular practice of this nature because of the venue or the company or the dialogue. And it could lead to a deepening of engagement.
10/22/2013 02:13:35 am
Devorah, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I especially appreciate your "definition" of a religious practice, "practicing something/anything that focuses intention on a regular basis - that requires devotion, effort, and yes, sacrifice"
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Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and