During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to pause our communal meals—a central part of how we celebrate Shabbat. Painful as it was, this interruption was an opportunity to reimagine these gatherings. As part of our shemita (sabbatical) year programming, we had conversations with BJ members to reflect on Shabbat morning community Kiddush—what worked well in the past, and what could be improved.
We held small group conversations with stakeholder constituencies, including the Early Childhood Committee, the BJ Environmental Advocates, BJ staff, and people who regularly attend Shabbat morning services. As we began to bring back Kiddush—first with snacks on the 88th Street sidewalk, then with boxed lunches on the terrace, and most recently back on the sidewalk with light fare—we informally asked everyone for their thoughts on the various adaptations. In addition, we held twenty individual conversations, and offered ways for our community to share their thoughts through several technological platforms.
What did we learn? BJ members value Kiddush as a social experience as much as a Shabbat meal, and are eager for opportunities to connect with friends and meet new people. Our community is excited to transform the atmosphere of Kiddush prior to the pandemic (which often felt chaotic, unfriendly, and a contrast to the beauty and sanctity of Shabbat services) into one that is warm, welcoming to new people, and in the spirit of Shabbat.
In addition, the intergenerational aspect of Kiddush cultivates a sense of belonging in the wider community for many parents of younger children, and provides inspiration to our older members who delight in seeing the next generation growing up at BJ. And while not everyone agrees on what food should be served (no surprise there!), there was widespread consensus that what we eat and how we eat it should intentionally express our values.
As we aspire for Kiddush to be driven by our values, we recognize that some of them may be in tension with others; we hope to achieve an overall balance even if one value is sometimes favored over another. Over the next several months, we will monitor these changes at Kiddush, solicit your input, and make further refinements. We will also launch new volunteer opportunities so that you can help make Kiddush a truly wonderful and special experience for our community.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the process that led to these changes, and thank you in advance to each of you– for your openness and imagination, and your willingness to test out something new.
Based on the community’s input, we are excited to share some initial changes to Kiddush that will align with our aspirational values. But to make Kiddush fully successful, we need support from the community as well. Take a look at what’s changing, as well as how you can help.
Elevating the atmosphere and Shabbat experience:
- A new room set up, designed to foster a more pleasant atmosphere and reduce crowding at the buffet tables.
- Closing our meal together with a song of gratitude, and making Zimrat Yah books available on the tables for those who would like to say the full Birkat Hamazon (prayer upon completion of a meal).
Social connections and community building:
- A designated table for anyone who wants to meet new people—whether you’re at BJ for the first time or are a community Kiddush maven!
- Smaller tables and chairs for Early Childhood families, placed on the “stage” at the front of the gym.
- Some previously offered post-Kiddush programming will return as we move into the new year, with a goal of facilitating interaction and connection among members.
Food, waste, and consumption:
- The amount of food order each week will be monitored and adjusted to ensure that the meal is abundant but not wasteful.
- Lox will be eliminated from the menu so we can do our part to reduce the environmental impact of pollution and overfishing.* (please see correction below) We know that for some this is a heretical move! We are here to support you as you process this change.
- Composting, recycling, and trash containers will be available on both sides of the gym.
- Starting in a few weeks, leftover food will be picked up by Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a food rescue organization, and donated to those in need.
Health and safety:
- Per our current COVID-19 policy, community Kiddush will take place in the gym with no testing taking place beforehand. Weather permitting, seating will be available on the 6th floor terrace for those who prefer to eat outside.
How you can help:
- Wait until the Kiddush and Hamotzi blessings have been made before taking food, so that we can begin this communal meal together with a moment of sanctity.
- Clean up after yourself and treat all other members of our community – especially the staff who make this meal possible– with kindness and consideration.
- Say hello and introduce yourself to someone you don’t recognize.
- Invite others to sit with you.
- Think about the amount of food you actually eat at Kiddush, and fill your plate accordingly.
- Take a moment to make sure you are disposing of things in the correct trash, recycling, or compost bin.
Sponsor a Kiddush
Sponsoring Kiddush is a wonderful way to honor or memorialize someone, or to celebrate a milestone and bring the community together in celebration.
The original version of this post incorrectly stated that consumption of lox contributes to the overfishing of salmon. Please read our full statement.