Having done a lot of these "Heart to Heart" Shabbat dinners (over 40!), there are many things I've learned - some of which I came across by accident but which have proven to be very helpful. Here I'll share one such practice: One of the best things about the meals is that there's no set script - after explaining shalom aleichem, kiddush, and making motzi, we just go with the flow. And it always works, conversations spontaneously occur, people meet everyone around them and a certain level of comfort pervades the atmosphere. But it's always nice to help that process along, and hence the invention of ice breakers - where everyone goes around the table and introduces themselves as well as something about themselves. The big dilemma is always what should the ice breaker be? Something serious? Something funny? Something original? Something Jewish?
Something I've started using is "What's your favorite YouTube video?". I think it's great for a number of reasons, all of which I've seen borne out. Firstly, because everyone watches YouTube - this shows a common cultural language and is something over which everyone can bond. I don't know if people actually think that Orthodox/religious students don't watch YouTube or have their fingers on the pulses of pop culture, but this sure dispels that notion. The best is when people affirm each other's choices ("Oh man, I love that one too!"), instantly giving people a sense of validation and belonging. It also jump starts conversations, and gets people comfortable talking and sharing with everyone else at the table. Also, people often choose funny videos, leading to spontaneous and contageous laughter. Some people choose serious and important videos, which often lead to meaningful conversations. People's choices also tell a lot about them - their interests, their sense of humor, how much time they waste online, etc - which is exactly what you want out of the ice-breaker. Other than breaking the ice.
Another hard question is how to follow-up with people - you don't want to make it sound like you're required to send them a form-email saying "Thank you for coming." You want to make it real; you want to make it personal. What I started doing was emailing everyone from the meal with a link to my favorite video, as well as a line or two saying how wonderful it was sharing Shabbat with them. Then I'd get someone else to reply-all with their video, and if it catches on, you can start off a whole little email chain. (The dynamics for that to happen are a whole other story.) Once when we did it, someone replied that she had such a good time and wanted to do it again soon! So simple, yet so powerful.
The video I often pick is this one:
- I really do love it!
- I'm in it!
- I get to tell people how it happened: an impromptu group of people joining together to celebrate Judaism in a joyous, musical, magical and communal manner - not unlike what Shabbat dinner itself is.
- And because it's Jewish, but also cool and actually pretty good. And pretty popular - over 1,500 hits!
So when I send out the email to everyone after shabbat, I title it "Who's that good looking guitar player?" ;)