Shabbat.com brings people together – and not just for Shabbat
By Ilan Preskovsky
As a community and campus rabbi, Rabbi Benzion Klatzko has long hosted Jews of all ages, stripes, and religious affiliations at his Shabbos table. He has done so in such number, in fact, that neighbours would ask if they could take on some of those guests, but, with hachnasas orchim (hospitality) being so near and dear to Rabbi Klatzko’s heart, he asked why they couldn’t find guests of their own. Quite reasonably for people not as highly connected as he, they answered simply that they had no idea where to find them. This simple conversation sparked something that would prove to be the culmination of Rabbi Klatzko’s life work in bringing Jews together; one that, in its mere year and a half of proper operation, would connect Jews throughout the world in a way that arguably nothing had managed before.
Shabbat.com is an app and website that, at its core, uses its own social networking platform to allow Jews anywhere in the world to either find a host for a Shabbos meal or to find guests for their own Shabbos table, and although the hosts, as a rule, keep Shabbos and kosher, Shabbat.com is itself intentionally unaffiliated to any Jewish institution. In extremely short order, though, it became clear that its users were already expanding the remit of the site/app to connecting in all sorts of other ways, so Rabbi Klatzko and his team quickly adapted Shabbat.com to become a one-stop Jewish social media tool that would not only connect Shabbos hosts with Shabbos guests but employers with employees, learners with learning partners, and, perhaps most profoundly of all, singles with singles.
Working off a wonderfully intuitive interface that should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has so much as logged onto Facebook or Instagram, Shabbat.com offers a simple set of tools to find exactly who or what you’re looking for, as well as extensive filters to narrow down your search according to specific criteria like age, gender, religious affiliation, and proximity.
It’s also packed with features that include free shiurim and a Shabbos calendar for your area, as well as all the typical functionality of any social networking site worth its salt. One particularly useful feature is the ability to tailor your user profile according to what you’re using the site for: be it to find a date, a Shabbos meal, or a learning partner, making your entire experience with the site/app just that much better. Needless to say, it also has a number of security measures in place to ensure that your real-life meetings go as smoothly as your virtual ones.
As a not-for-profit enterprise, Shabbat.com works entirely off fundraising and donations, but for all of its humble roots, small operating team, modest budget, and newness in the field, its achievements are considerable. Along with very much succeeding in what it has set out to do, as it has been the source of countless learning connections, marriages, and Shabbos meals shared between once perfect strangers, it has also grown exponentially in acclaim and recognition. Just recently they were chosen by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs as the most effective way to connect Jews throughout the world, both to one another and to their Judaism – coming in first out of a pool of some eighty contenders.
Apropos of our own Jewish community, Shabbat.com also found a new purpose with Chief Rabbi Goldstein’s now-international Shabbos Project by ensuring that those who were inspired by observing that single, annual Shabbos would be able to follow it up by giving them somewhere to go for any and all of the following weeks, months, years. It’s not only an incredibly helpful tool for those wishing to connect more to their Judaism, but for non-Jews who are in the middle of converting to a new religion and peoplehood and who are still trying to break into what can often be quite closed Jewish communities, Shabbat.com is utterly invaluable.
Shabbat.com’s humble past has already paved the way for a remarkable present with over 100 000 registered users connecting across countries, walks of life, and religious denominations to date, learn or work together and, of course, join each other for a Shabbos meal, but Rabbi Klatzko is hardly resting on his laurels. In the immediate future, Rabbi Klatzko is readying to take Shabbat.com to the next level by expanding beyond its English-speaking base and offering the site in Hebrew and eventually every other major language. And if this sounds like impossibly high ambitions for what is still a small company, just remember how much Rabbi Klatzko and his team have already achieved. Hardly seems so unlikely now, does it?