When Ben Hindman was at Catholic boarding school 15 years ago, he would throw together Shabbat dinners in the chapel for his non-Jewish friends.
Last Friday night, Hindman, 33, now CEO of the tech company Splash, revisited his high school tradition when he brought out 175 people to his company’s headquarters in the Flatiron District for a Shabbat meal. For the event, Splash collaborated with the nonprofit OneTable, a platform that connects people in their 20s and 30s who want to host and attend Shabbat dinners.
“We want Friday night to be as accessible and doable for as many people as possible,” said Aliza Kline, the group’s founding executive director. “If Jewish practice and in particular Shabbat can answer our need for connection and balance and community … we can leverage our resources to make it easier.”
“It’s not necessarily about being observant. It’s social and community based.”
Launched here as Startup Shabbat in 2014, OneTable now has chapters in six cities and has helped to facilitate over 30,000 dinners. Kline says to think of the service as a kind of spiritual Airbnb: there are hosts, guests, newly formed connections among people searching for a common experience, and those interested in hosting go through a basic vetting process. There is even an app in the works.
For those looking for more than just the phone number of a good deli, OneTable offers a slew of resources — from guidance on Jewish ritual and hospitality to recipes and cooking classes — and it subsidizes the cost. It even offers “Shabbat coaches” who will meet with hosts and ask questions such as: “What do you want your guests to walk away from the night feeling?”
For Hindman, that meant bringing two dormant passions back to life: Hosting Shabbat gatherings — and rapping. Hindman prides himself as being a “semi-professional beatboxer” — freestyling with friends at boarding school and beatboxing with his a cappella group at Vanderbilt.
Hindman’s first-ever “ShabBattle” featured rap-battling artists SoSoon, D Dave, Cryssy Bandz and G Fisher, and was emceed by storyteller Max Stossel. Later in the night, the rock band Legs performed.
“People were lined up around the block … like a club,” said Hindman, who said he’s been wanting to bring together the Jewish tech community for a while. “We’re not super religious [as a whole] so we’re not going to run into each other at temple,” Hindman said. “It’s not necessarily about being observant. It’s social and community based.”
For Hindman, who grew up in a Conservative home, attended Solomon Schechter Day School and whose family has made aliyah, attending a Catholic school wasn’t so much a cultural challenge as it was an opportunity for him, the only Jewish kid in his class, to exercise his talent for forging connections in unlikely places. “We’re pretty Jewy,” he said of his family, but going to high school and college where there wasn’t much of a Jewish presence he had to make an active effort. “To really make the impact we have to get everyone involved.”
At the beginning of the night, guests gathered around a massive pile of challahs over which Hindman said HaMotzi. He then tossed the holy rolls into the crowd. Dinner, which included small sandwiches, hummus, baba ganoush and Israeli salad, was served buffet-style.
“A rap battle may not attract a family from the Upper West Side,” said Kline, “but if you work in tech and in a cool area you may be psyched to do it.” Whatever the goal, she said, “Our job is to make that idea real. … To deepen and elevate it to make that Shabbat connection.”
With the inaugural rap battle proving to be a success, Hindman already has the next ShabBattle in the works: an air-guitar contest (which may appeal to observant MOTs as air instruments don’t call for electricity … just saying).
As night fell, almost 200 guests filled the space on West 26th Street, dancing to the flickering Shabbat candles that cast a glow over faces familiar and new. “[Shabbat] is a special thing that can shared with so many people,” said Hindman. “Allow the power of Shabbat to happen.”