Thursday, January 19, 2012
Shabbat.com: A Shabbos Meal Sharing Network
BIGHEARTED Jewish Brooklynites pile food on thousands of plates on Friday night, feeding hungry strangers they’ve met on a Facebook-styled site where collecting “invites” is key.
Shabbat.com is an online global community with 25,000 members swapping requests to join each other’s Sabbath meals — a Jewish tradition honoring a break from the work week over wine, challah bread and at a four-course meal.
The kosher side of the county of Kings is the most popular destination, accounting for more than half of the site’s meal tickets.
“Why not show the world that we are a welcoming people?” asked founder Benzion Klatzko. “I want to highlight the openness that we have.”
But the site isn’t that open.
Once someone asks to join, Klatzko and his growing team of volunteers searches the person on Google and Facebook, weeding out any potential troublemakers.
If all checks out — the user selects whether they are a “host” or a “guest”. Most people click guest, while about 6,000 have chosen to host in cities all over the world.
Most meals are scattered across Flatbush, Midwood and other heavily Brooklyn Jewish neighborhoods.
Guests and hosts scroll through the Facebook-like profiles, picking out who they’d want to share a table with by reading reviews written by former dinner mates.
“It’s made life a lot more interesting,” said Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein, who has fed scores of strangers in the past year in his Kensington home with help from his wife, Feige.
“Our kids started moving out; the house was getting emptier and emptier. Shabbos is supposed to be fun. We started looking around for people,” said Goldstein who has hosted tourists from as far away as France.
Goldstein says he only invites other Jews, but Klatzko said Catholic priests and other religious-friendly folks also are guests on the site.
“Our site is open to every denomination: religious, not religious, single, not single,” Klatzko said.
Users can also click if they are interested in a “Shidduch,” or match make.
Klatzko is building a “3.0” version, hiring as many as 40 volunteer matchmakers to help users pair up. The new Shabbat.Com, debuting around March, will also have résumé uploads, similar to the popular job networking site Linkedin.
Marine Park newlyweds Mordy and Zina Genut met a Sabbath meal and were engaged two months later.
Both twentysomethings were recently divorced; each had two young kids and were looking for supper that night rather than a new spouse.
“This is a great social scene,” said Mordy Genut, 28,. “People give you food. A complete stranger. You don’t see that in the world. Most people say, ‘Get out of my house. Or I will shoot you.’ ”