Two Tables, 25 Folding Chairs, One Community
When Jhan and Melissa Moskowitz relocated their Chicago life to Brooklyn, New York, seven years ago, they had a vision for their new, spacious five-bedroom home. “Jhan had a bit of a romantic notion that there would be children and grandchildren running throughout the house,” Melissa mused.
In an unconventional way, that dream would come to fruition.
It began with a couple of transient college students, looking for temporary housing. Their need matched the Moskowitz’s hospitable hearts perfectly, and soon those bedrooms began to fill up (they even remodeled and added two more!) Others came and went, and the home was full and hectic. Soon, Melissa proposed a Friday night dinner to bring the “family” together.
“The first week we were five people. The next week they asked if they could invite their friends,” Melissa explained. And so it grew —from 5 to 12 to 18 to 22 to what it is today—”somewhere between 21 and 35 people each week,” Melissa explained. But something besides numbers began to grow as well.
“The young Jewish believers who began attending each week also began meeting with each other at other times during the week. When they talked about coming to our house on Friday nights, they would ask each other, ‘Are you going to Shabbat?’ So we realized that ‘Shabbat’ was not just an event on the Jewish weekly calendar; ‘Shabbat’ had become a group of people who wanted to be together.”
Today, young adults travel up to two hours or come from down the block. They’re college students, or recent grads, newlyweds, and first-time parents. They’re actors, missionaries, marketers, babysitters. Some are Jewish believers, some are gentile believers, and a few are unsaved Jews. But they have one thing in common: they were each drawn to that home on a Friday night to share a meal.
Melissa cooks three weeks a month, while the fourth is designated a “potluck” meal.
It works like this: “We ask people to arrive at 7:30 p.m. (they are invited via Facebook on Wednesday of each week); we usually sit down at the table by 7:40 p.m. We have the blessings over the candles, wine and challah. We say grace, and then we eat.” Melissa explains, “I serve the food buffet style from the island in the kitchen. As people are eating, we go around the table, introduce ourselves, and everyone gets to tell, one by one, what the best part of their week was.”
When dinner is finished, the table is cleared and ears are attuned to the sound of the drash (teaching from the Torah portion). Dessert follows. Then long conversation—some of which is serious, some ridiculous. Words echo throughout the house: there are clusters picking at the dessert on the kitchen island, eight girls on a couch petting a very grumpy canine (Frodo), a handful of guys on the front porch with a far less grumpy golden retriever (Strider) and some who never left their seat at the dinner table.
“I guess the best way to describe the formation and growth of Shabbat is that it was organic; it remains fluid; it always surprises us; it’s both a lot of work and a huge joy,” says Melissa.
In September of 2012, it took more effort than anyone could have anticipated. Jhan Moskowitz, the “patriarch” of this motley group of adopted offspring, was suddenly taken from this earth. The man who had ministered to countless young adults on the porch of that home, the one who spouted wisdom with his arm easily flung across the back of that wicker couch, was gone.
And the crevice left was large enough for many to fall in.
But something amazing happened.
Each member of the community, doused in grief, stretched a bit further. They set up, they cleaned, they cooked, they were together. They finally got to do what had always been done for them.
The hole will never be covered, but the group has gotten stronger through the stretching.
Now, as they go around the table each week and share their small triumphs and memorable moments that they proclaim to be their “best of the week,” it’s understood (and sometimes also said), that simply being in that dining room is one of the brightest highlights of all.