Young Jews seek out the weekly ritual of Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners to build social connections, mitigate loneliness, and deepen ties to their community and Jewish identity, says a new report released today from OneTable.

The study, Craving Connection: Researching OneTable’s Impact, was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) and provides rich data and insights about why young adults host and engage in Shabbat dinners, a designated time for rest in Judaism, and what keeps them coming back.

BSG fielded a quantitative study on attitudes and behaviors with 1,938 responses from OneTable participants and a comparison group of 814 Jewish young adults who had never participated in OneTable. Inspired by ancient Jewish wisdom, OneTable is a national nonprofit that empowers people (21-39ish) to find, share, and enjoy Shabbat dinners in ways that are DIY and personally meaningful, making the most of their Friday nights. OneTable’s social dining platform makes it easy for Shabbat hosts to become the producer of their own experiences, and for Shabbat dinner to become a platform for community building.

Key Findings of Craving Connection include:

  • They come for the connections and stay for the intention. First–time OneTable participants sign up for a Shabbat dinner for a Jewish experience and the chance to connect with their peers. This means they’re looking for those important social connections within Jewish experiences. This is true for participants with fewer Jewish experiences growing up, as of those with many. They leave with both purposes fulfilled and with a newfound appreciation for the depth of Shabbat, too.

  • Big issues of the day bring young people to Shabbat dinner. Researchers sought to understand the impact of rising antisemitism and the conflict between Israelis and Muslim Arabs on young adults. OneTable Shabbat participants and other young adults express concern over both antisemitism in general and the conflict at similar rates; however, these two critical topics are not considered as pressing as climate change, racism, and the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic. The concerns don’t keep people away from OneTable; if anything they increase their desire to attend a dinner.

  • Young adults experiencing Shabbat dinners with peers feel less lonely. Most OneTable hosts (86%) and guests (79%) say that they’ve become closer with people and “felt less lonely” at their OneTable dinner. Nearly 1–in–3 guests met up again with someone they met at dinner. OneTable participants report feeling less lonely than the comparison group of other Jewish young adults and are much less likely to hold feelings and attitudes associated with social loneliness than other Jewish young adults.

  • Shabbat dinners can lead to more Jewish engagement. OneTable leads some participants to seek out new Jewish organizations and communities. About 1 in 4 participants say that they’ve adopted new Jewish rituals or practices since their first dinner, and nearly 1 in 3 have sought out new Jewish organizations or communities.

  • 75% of OneTable participants stated that because of OneTable, they are celebrating Shabbat when they wouldn’t have otherwise – and that’s especially true of participants who did not have a regular Shabbat practice growing up.

"The data send a timely message about the power of intentionally created spaces for people to come together and make meaning,” says Casper ter Kuile, author of The Power of Ritual and co-founder of Sacred Design Labs, and a former Research Advisory Board member. Young adults specifically crave the DIY aspect of a OneTable dinner. Guests at these dinners are three times less likely to experience a sense of emptiness or rejection than other young adults.

"Anyone who cares about young adults, especially during these challenging times, can build on these important learnings," ter Kuile adds.

"Amid a pandemic, increased mental health challenges, and feelings of loneliness, the ancient Jewish ritual of Shabbat dinner is as relevant as ever," says Aliza Kline, co-founder and CEO of OneTable.

"Young adults in particular want the powerful social and emotional components of a peer Shabbat dinner and the Jewish experiences. To many participants, they are intrinsically tied together. These findings can inform how we all think about engaging young people in meaningful ways that add value and support to their lives."

"By leveraging technology to help build connections, OneTable is tackling the crises of loneliness and dissociation from Judaism head-on," adds David Siegel, founder and CEO of Meetup, which is the largest platform for finding and building local community. "It’s exciting to see the impact of OneTable's strategy."