“It started over a dinner conversation a few years ago,” recalls Jeffrey Kay. “We were talking about…[taking] virtual communities and somehow [creating]…real community,” and then taking “advantage of it for the Jewish community.”
Jeffrey wanted to see if he could make this work, so the Microsoft programmer and Herzl-Ner Tamid member set up a Shabbat dinner Facebook community for greater Seattle. But that effort, he says, “didn’t work out.”
Then inspiration struck and the Shabbat Dinner Crowd (www.shabbatdinnercrowd.com) was formed.
Its success comes from being a “self-perpetuating community,” says Jeffrey. Many synagogue or Jewish Community Center programs fail, he observes, because they need a dedicated organizer.
“For a long-running thing, it’s not necessarily the right model,” he says.
It’s easy to subscribe on the website, which puts you on a closed-loop email list that provides privacy. Instructions are clearly posted on the site. Hosts initiate dinners by posting the date and providing paper goods, challah, wine and drinks. RSVPs are essential, dress is informal, kids are welcome, and food is usually dairy or parve, as a small minority keep kosher.
“We’ve had everything from pizza to elaborate fish dishes,” says Jeffrey, who adds that hosts lead the Shabbat prayers, “but we don’t bentsch [say grace after meals].”
There can be three dinners in a row, or fewer than one a month, and the community continues to expand. Right now, it’s primarily Eastsiders, but Jeffrey is hoping Seattle, Bellingham or Tacoma contingents will grow.
A profile of Jeffrey in these pages a few years ago focused on his interest in motorcycles and another Jewish community, The Tribe motorcycle club. The Virginia native, who admits he’s still getting used to Northwest weather, is also an avid bicycle rider and CrossFit enthusiast.
“I believe it’s very important to provide places for Jews to get together around common interests” both in and outside of the synagogue or community center, he says. A lot of the Shabbat Dinner Crowd participants never set foot in a synagogue, so this gathering also provides an alternative to our area’s vast unaffiliated community.
“For the kids that attend, who knows how many Shabbat dinners they go to otherwise?” asks Jeffrey. “To bring a little candle lighting and kiddush into someone’s house…it’s a huge, huge win.”
• • •
It’s a JT Bar Mitzvah for Stuart Fitelson, a.k.a. “Seattle Stu.” Stu first appeared in this paper’s pages 13 years ago in a feature about the active athletic life of the then 67 year old. Back then, the one-time tennis pro was playing tennis, basketball, baseball and hockey in local leagues and competing frequently, sometimes nationally.
Not much has changed for the father of four and grandfather of two, although he admits to a bit of slowing. At 80, he plays all those sports and sells insurance from his downtown office, which is decorated with sports memorabilia.
Stu’s longest involvement is with basketball. He started playing in junior high and now plays in the over-50 league at Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club. He took up ice hockey when he moved here in the mid-1990s, although he did play on “a pond in Rhode Island” as a kid.
A jazz aficionado, Stu peppered our conversation with songs, although by his own admission he’s not much of a singer. When I asked if he went to synagogue, he answered with a few bars of “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” A regular at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, he says he once auditioned informally for late bandleader Lionel Hampton, who was playing at Jazz Alley. (“Hamp” rejected him.)
In addition to his “four-and-a-half sports” — the half being the 100 meter race he runs annually in the Northwest Senior Games — Stu took up playing the drums about five years ago and has even played a few paid gigs with some local musicians.
“I was looking in the ‘Seattle Weekly’ to see who was playing in the clubs, and I see this two-line thing, ‘expert drum lessons.’” he says. “A day or two later, I’m taking my first lesson.”
Stu is a model for technology use in his age group, too. He has a website (www.seattlestu.com) where you can read a lot more about his long and active life, and he tweets from @StuFitelson.