The saying goes, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Although many Jews do not have a weekly Shabbat observance, there is something special about the weekly rhythm of Shabbat, from its marking of time and how it connects Jews to one another, to the sensory experiences—the small light and warmth of the candles, the taste of wine, and fragrant, warm dishes that draw everyone to the table. Maya Katz Ali, a JoC leader at OneTable, believes Shabbat has the power to be what you make it. She supports other Jews of Color in developing and hosting Shabbat dinners that reflect their full selves.
“As a weekly holiday, it’s not something with such a set structure like we have for Passover. It’s about creating meaningful time for you and your community. And you have that weekly opportunity to revisit it,” Katz Ali said.
Katz Ali views her role at OneTable as the Bay Area Field Manager as an opportunity for “handing out tools for people to create their own Shabbat practice.” OneTable is an organization supporting Jews in their 20s and 30s in finding and hosting local Shabbat dinners. Dedicated to supporting the uniqueness of each person’s Shabbat observance, Katz Ali has also expanded her own conceptualization of this weekly holiday.
“As I learned about OneTable and got comfortable in my role, I started thinking, “It seems like OneTable is really about giving people permission to do Shabbat how they want.” It can feel really meaningful to queer up your Shabbat practice. And it doesn’t have to be mainstream ideas of what Shabbat should look like.”
Encouraging others to explore Shabbat in personalized ways, Katz Ali has some guiding questions for Shabbat dinner hosts she works with: “How can we lean into your Shabbat practice? What does it look like for you? How can we invite others into what feels like home for you and your sense of belonging for Shabbat?”
In addition to supporting individually hosted Shabbat dinners, Katz Ali has led a JoC Shabbat dinner series titled “Refilling Our Cups: JoC Shabbat,” in which participants were first invited to a OneTable-led Shabbat and then return for a second gathering to hone tools for community-building and hosting Shabbat. The series’ goal is to empower Jews of Color to be Shabbat hosts in ways that allow them to bring their multifaceted identities to the Shabbat table.
Since leading this program, Katz Ali has begun working on a guide to hosting an affinity space Shabbat. Affinity spaces are gatherings that are explicitly about and for a particular identity group. She hopes the affinity space guide will offer tools and ideas to help spark intentionality and connection for JoC community members who want to experience a meaningful Shabbat in community with other Jews of Color.
Katz Ali knows first-hand that feeling represented at the Shabbat table is a sacred feeling. “Growing up, my family would only have Shabbat every now and then, but it was always this wonderful intercultural mix. There were Jews, Muslims, people visiting from out of town, different language speakers at the table, and it was a time to share together and arrive at the table together—that physical and metaphorical table—to bring your identity, bring yourself, bring your traditions, bring whatever is holy to you and share that.” Katz Ali believes that seeing how Shabbat can be personalized to represent identities is a powerful experience for Jews of Color.
“We want to continue to show different people that celebrating Shabbat and holding Shabbat in a way that represents their traditions enables them to reach inside themselves and think of how Shabbat could be meaningful to them. For example, I like having Dal on Shabbat—an Indian lentil dish. That’s my staple for Shabbat and a lot of my cooking. And it’s so nice to invite people into your home and be able to say, ‘this is a little bit of me at the Shabbat table. Bring part of yourself as well.’”