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With Grant from Templeton World Charity Foundation, OneTable and CASJE at George Washington University Begin Project to Determine How Shabbat Dinner Ritual Can Lead to Human Flourishing

Researchers aim to understand if gathering over food, sharing reflections, and marking sacred time help increase social connection and flourishing

September 12, 2022 – A new research project supported by Templeton World Charity Foundation will explore the impact of Shabbat dinner as a spiritual exercise to promote flourishing. The project, led by CASJE (Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) at George Washington University, is a partnership with OneTable, a national nonprofit that empowers young adults to find, share, and enjoy Shabbat dinners. The research is also supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the BeWell Initiative at Jewish Federations of North America. CASJE Managing Director Arielle Levites, PhD, leads the research team.

“What if Shabbat offers a framework to help all humans flourish? What if the main components of Shabbat dinner – gathering over food, shared reflection, and marking sacred time – can help everyone increase social connections and decrease feelings of loneliness?” says Aliza Kline, President and CEO of OneTable. 

This new study is the first rigorous scientific investigation of this ancient and ever evolving tool for social connectedness. 

“There’s a national epidemic of loneliness, there’s deep political divisiveness, there’s a real fraying of society and social connectedness,” says Dr. Levites. “Shabbat dinner, in particular, is often used by Jewish communities as a tool for fostering connection and community. Now we have an opportunity to use empirical data to test this hypothesis. Social connection is a fundamental, universal human need. By deepening our understanding of the Shabbat dinner experience and its potential effects, we hope to reveal new ways to promote connection among people.” 

Dr. Levites is joined on the research team by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad, a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University and a national expert on loneliness who advises the US Surgeon General, and Dr. Adam Cohen a professor of Psychology at Arizona State University who studies how world religions, including Judaism, affect well-being.

The study’s focus on social connection honors the collectivist nature of Judaism, seeking to understand how Jewish practice can promote not only individual, but also, group flourishing. 

“Different faith or civic groups might adapt these Shabbat dinner components, inspiring meaningful, ritualized gatherings that result in a more cohesive community, ” adds Kline. “In the Jewish community, we certainly see Shabbat dinner’s influence on social connectedness which leads to happy, healthier lives. Other communities might develop their own programs and infrastructure to help combat a national epidemic of loneliness and social fraying."

The study’s key findings will be shared widely when completed in three years, particularly with mental health and community-engagement oriented organizations, leaders of interfaith organizations, and leaders of civic organizations that build connections across neighborhoods and cities. 

Since its founding in 2014, OneTable has supported close to 200,000 young adults as they create meaningful Shabbat dinners, elevating three central components – gathering over food, shared reflection, and marking sacred time. CASJE’s mission is to improve the quality of knowledge that guides Jewish education practice and policy. Its process to develop research is highly collaborative, bringing together scholars, educators, and policymakers to identify areas of focus, formulate critical researchable questions and frame evidence-based interventions. 

“Jews treasure Shabbat in part for the way they believe it binds them together as a collective people,” adds Levites. “There has been little research to date about the relationship between Jewish practice and flourishing; as such this study fills a critical gap in the research literature.”

This project was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc (funder DOI 501100011730) through grant TWCF-2022-30280. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc.

 

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About OneTable

OneTable empowers people who don’t yet have a consistent Shabbat dinner practice to build one that feels authentic, sustainable, and valuable. OneTable is a national nonprofit founded to support people (21-39ish) looking to find and share this powerful experience. We envision a whole generation of slowing down, joining together, unplugging from the week, creating intention in their lives, and building meaningful communities. onetable.org

About CASJE

CASJE is housed at The George Washington University in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The Collaborative is an evolving community of researchers, practitioners, and philanthropic leaders dedicated to improving the quality of knowledge that can be used to guide the work of Jewish education. casje.org