A native of Florida, resident of the Lower East Side and active participant in the Chabad-affiliated Kehillas Atid community of downtown young Jewish professionals, Evie Gross regularly receives invitations to Shabbat meals with nearby Jewish families.
But, she realized a year ago, many of her peers don’t.
So she decided to fix up hosts and guests.
“I call myself the Shabbos Shadchan,” said Gross, who founded the Friday Night Lights (FNL) program, an independent initiative that helps arrange Shabbat invitations from Modern Orthodox families who are members of Kehillas Atid, for men and women in Meor Manhattan, a Jewish education program where she takes weekly classes.
She recruits and vets the hosts and guests, who online finalize their monthly meals together. “I take myself out of the equation,” she said.
The number of participating hosts and guests has steadily grown. “I am surprised it took off the way it did — there is a real need for this. It’s part of community building,” she said.
Gross, who works in commercial real estate leasing, said FNL is the only such program geared to the spiritual needs of Jews in their 20s and 30s in a targeted neighborhood. A few other Jewish communities have asked her advice for establishing similar programs.
She keeps the number of Shabbat invitations small, typically 4-6 guests, to keep the atmosphere intimate and manageable (“At a big dinner, you don’t meet anyone,” she said), and suggests that each host family invite guests once a month, to not overburden the hosts financially or logistically.
Unlike the hosts, few of the guests are Orthodox.
Gross asks each guest to pay $15 per Shabbat to help the hosts with expenses.
If the program leads to a few engagements, Gross will deem it a success. “I don’t know if it has happened yet,” she said.
Cinco semanas en Madrid: Gross, during college, spent five months in Madrid, taking classes and working as an intern at Glamour magazine. She chose the Spanish city, she said, because she “liked the culture and the people. It was a much slower pace.”