Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Like JDate, Uber, and AirBnb, GRAPEJUICE helps us find what we need, when and where we want it: a Shabbat dinner, a Passover seder, a Yom Kippur break-fast and most importantly, people with whom to celebrate. GRAPEJUICE empowers us to welcome and to be welcomed wherever we are, geographically, demographically, spiritually, or Jewishly. We’re reviving hachnasat orchim and facilitating tikkun olam, one small act of hospitality at a time. GRAPEJUICE.buzz: Your way home for the holidays, Shabbat and beyond.
Memories linger: the smell of baking challah. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, gathered round a table filled with sweet wine, candles, and food. Memories return: Shabbat dinners, Passover seders, apples and honey and big break-the-fasts. Memories motivate: Often when our life changes-- a birth or death or big move or otherwise-- we yearn for the familiar, for the smells and foods and sounds of our childhoods.
Teshuvah: We yearn to return to these comforting moments, to practice and revive the feeling of comfort. And yet, it’s not necessarily so easy to initiate, to suddenly start performing traditions at home, especially if we are out of practice, or if we live far from extended family, or if our partner comes from a different faith and has different memories of childhood traditions.
It takes time: We hope that someone will invite us to their home. We would love to experience other families’ traditions, to see how other people do it. But we don’t know how to find people who would welcome us to their homes, people who would not judge our irreligiosity, or our ignorance, or our sexuality, or our partner.
And if we are on the other side of the table, if we want to open our homes to share our family’s traditions with fellow travellers, we have no way of finding them. We admire Chabadnicks standing on busy street corners in big cities, searching the crowd for Jews, but this is not our style or purpose. We merely want to celebrate with others.
GRAPEJUICE was founded for this purpose: to help hosts find guests and vice versa; to help us connect with people and traditions that we may have seen before but have never had the opportunity to really get to know; to help us learn and celebrate together without having to wait for the big holidays.
Shevirah: Embrace imperfection. It’s not a matter of being perfect hosts, of having perfect food or cocktails or entertainment. We mumble and bumble: the dough doesn’t rise; the food gets burnt; we order pizza. Our kids scream and make a mess. And yet, together we embrace the Simcha, the joy of coming together as a community, even if this community is just two families, two couples, two people.
L’dor v’dor: From generation to generation, we try to transmit the best parts of our own childhoods, family traditions, values, and ethics. Shema instructs us to “teach them to your children.” We want to pass on the importance of repairing the world through generosity and hospitality. Children do not necessarily understand the abstraction of philanthropy, and they are not yet old enough to volunteer at soup kitchens. What they do understand is the simple act of welcoming people to our home, of sharing toys and food and songs and grape juice.
“Speak of them when you sit in your home…” After the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis designated the home, and specifically the dining room table, as a “mikdash me’at,” a sanctuary where the most important elements of Judaism would be performed, enjoyed and most importantly, shared. We are known as the People of the Book, but we are also a People of the Home.
We want to find others with whom to celebrate Jewishly, but we do not recognize each other: most of us do not wear our Jewishness on our sleeves (or heads, as it were) and Jewish families come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We do not ask whether someone is Jewish (or how they came to be Jewish); we want to know where you are if you want to connect Jewishly. Let all who are hungry come and eat. It is up to hosts and guests to ask each other: what makes this day special for you? What lead you to this tradition? What brought you to this time and space? How can we come together more often? How can we make the world a better place?
Our objective is simple: create a way for Jews to find each other, sit together face to face, and share “Jewish time.” Our hope is to plant the seeds that will grow relationships and create new Jewish memories.
Jewish leaders ask: How can we engage the unengaged? How can we reach the unaffiliated? How can we confront the challenges of exurban sprawl, intermarriage, and increasing secularism? We answer: start at home. Start with people who already celebrate Shabbat and who regularly host friends and family for holiday meals. Make it easy for us to invite guests: old friends and new friends who have never been to our home before, who are new to the community, who celebrate Shabbat differently (or not at all). And when we are on the other side--new to a community, settling into a new stage of life, a new home, a new city-- make it easy for us to find new friends and get invited by folks brave enough to “welcome the strangers” in their midst.
Hachnasat orchim transforms everyday people into masters of mitzvot, communal leaders following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sara, teachers of the highest ideals of Jewish tradition.
Funders ask: But how do we transform guests into hosts? How do we get more people to celebrate Shabbat? We answer: Na’aseh v’nishmah. We will do and we will hear. We give without expecting repayment. We learn by doing. Be patient with us. We learn to welcome others by being welcomed first. We promise to welcome others when we are ready.
Many of us search online content providers to explore how we can engage with Judaism in our own ways: we find d’varim Torah linking today’s news with Jewish wisdom; we find social action projects; we find resources for tweaking our parents’ traditions, for re-imagining Jewish foods, and for welcoming all of our guests’ participation. We can “like” or “share” on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest… but there is (not yet) a way for us for us to connect in real life with people who like these same resources, to find which of these people live in our neighborhoods (or even the same cities), and to celebrate together.
GRAPEJUICE allows us to embrace hachnasat orchim, to build community and teach by example, one small act of hospitality at a time. This is not a platform for planning or concocting super-cool big events; rather it is more akin to a dating site that empowers us to find each other, to build relationships and share celebrations close to home.
We are in our first year of operation, but already we have over 100 people registered on the site and have facilitated 15 gatherings, involving over 40 people in 3 different cities. This is without any publicity or PR or partnerships with Jewish organizations (such as Jewish alumni networks and online Jewish content providers), all of which will be crucial in order for us to have a broad effect across the Jewish world.
"I was looking for a family to share shabbat with one Friday. I looked on GRAPEJUICE and found a family who posted about their Shabbat dinner: they not only had kids roughly the same age and lived fairly close by, but they were super nice (and of course we knew people in common). We came with our daughter and bottle of wine not knowing what to expect. The kids had a wonderful time. It was warm and inviting and we were able to swap stories about Israel and international Jewry. Without the buzz, we would have never had the experience and now we can reciprocate by hosting as well. A great go-to site for all Jewish holidays!"
--Sharon Israeli, San Diego, CA
“I felt fabulous about the whole thing. I invited a few people, but the great part was that another GRAPEJUICE user found my event on the site. She asked me if I was still hosting— we communicated + then she got my address + she came with her husband and young daughter. Now I know someone new and I feel more connected to someone I had never met, and she belongs to my synagogue and lives in the same neighborhood… That was really special.”
--Edna Wallace, San Diego, CA
“My kids were really dubious/ambivalent beforehand. I told them we’d try it out. I explained that it’s a mitzvah to invite people: we always have a place to go on Shabbat + not everyone does + we take it for granted… To which they said, “I dunno Mom, what if they’re weird etc.?” But when the guests came, the kids had such a good time… And now the kids keep saying “that was really fun, when are we gonna do it again?”
--Eloise Vutsky, San Diego, CA
"I hosted a Shabbat dinner for a group of friends— We’ve all known each other for 15+ years, but even though we know each other through Jewish Federation and always see each other at Jewish events, we’ve never just met up as friends for a simple Shabbat dinner— i.e. something that wasn’t a big event… Grapejuice empowered me to host my friends for Shabbat. I could have done it any time over the last 20 years, but it didn’t occur to me until I heard about the Grapejuice platform and decided I wanted to make something happen… And now I want to do it every week!"
--Lisa Lisser, Orange, NJ
“We try to have people over for Shabbat… Our daughter loves having people over for Shabbat, but since she goes to public school, it’s harder to find lots of Jewish connections and GJ offers that… a platform for us to gather, without any pressure, without any motives other than to celebrate together. For those of us who are not as well-versed in all Jewish things, we can all learn together. Maybe I know some things that you don’t, and vice versa…”
--Claudia Turchin, La Jolla, CA
“We wanted to have a special birthday Shabbat dinner for a friend, to include new people and maybe make some new friends. I’m excited to do this again and welcome new friends to our celebrations! Especially since I remember when I was new. We were strangers in Egypt but we don’t have to be strangers with GRAPEJUICE!”
--Rebecca Gold, West Orange, NJ
“A lovely evening and will inspire me to gather friends for a shabbat dinner soon.”
--Teresa Friedson, Livingston, NJ
Our parents always made a point of inviting travellers and newcomers to our Passover seders, Shabbat dinners, and break-the-fasts. Once we moved away, however, we often felt outside and unwelcomed by Jewish community: unaffiliated and intermarried, far from home at the holidays, wishing someone would invite us to their home, warmly welcome us so we could celebrate together. The truth is that most people would have had no idea that we felt this way, that we felt outside and wanted to be invited inside.
We tried to get invited and we have tried to invite people. We tried organizing potluck Shabbat dinners, Saturday morning playdates and havdallah gatherings at the beach. People would contact us saying that they’d love to connect but that it was too far or too late or too early. We realized that something was missing: a way for us to find each other, to open ourselves to each other, and to do so conveniently and safely. Thus was born the idea to build GRAPEJUICE: Your way home for the holidays, Shabbat and beyond.
Along the way we learned that our parents’ practice of inviting the strangers in our midst was not some weird hippy anomaly. Rather, it was deeply grounded in wise Jewish traditions: Over and over again, we read of our forefathers’ and foremothers’ persistent efforts to offer hospitality to travellers and strangers. Over and over again, we read rabbinical commentaries elucidating the nuances and obligations of hachnasat orchim and tikkun olam. With each small act of hospitality, we can begin to repair the world. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our world to make such acts more accessible to more people.
©2016–2018 Lippman Kanfer Foundation For Living Torah — All Rights Reserved.