New York – We live in an age of global access that our bubbies’ bubbies wouldn’t have dreamed of. Today, we can “visit” the Kosel via a 24/7 live broadcast; frum web sites make limud Torah a “click-to-download” away; and matchmakers are online, reuniting neshamas who last saw each other at Sinai. Now, in the spirit of online convenience, making Shabbos plans will be easier than ever before with www.seeyouonshabbos.com: an innovative new site that will match Shabbos hosts and their guests and put a hands-on kiruv opportunity within the reach of every frum family.
The seeds of this ambitious project were planted when Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, the site’s founder, realized the scope of the Shabbos placement problem. “Originally, the thought was, ‘We want to inspire people to keep Shabbos, but there are 52 shabbosim a year and if they don’t have places to go, then keeping Shabbos is not a practical option.'” In the end, he knew that a concerted effort was needed in order to link individuals to families. “We the Jewish people have many, many resources, but we’re not always as organized as we could be. Everyone has good intentions, so if we can take everyone’s good intentions and put them on one web site as a resource that everyone can use, we would have a tremendous amount of power.”
Geared primarily towards the newly religious and the hundreds of students around the world who are interested in learning more about Yiddishkeit, www.seeyouonshabbos.com is a revolutionary service that will provide Shabbos placement for any Jew, anywhere.. The site offers a number of features: “Search for hosts in your area,” view “A host’s profile,” and “Book a Shabbos,” to name a few. Using location and other criteria like pet or food allergies, a registered guest can select a host family that best fits their needs. There is even a link called “Shabbos Facts” which serves an informative, “Shabbos-101” tool for first-timers. For registered hosts, the site outlines five security measures (like viewing a guest’s profile) that will help protect the families who partake in this amazing chesed.
Rabbi Klatzko has been working on the front lines of kiruv and rabbonus for 21 years. As one of the initiators of kiruv on the West Coast, and currently a director for college outreach for North America, he has seen the need first-hand for this type of database. “Hundreds of people are becoming frum each year and many hundreds more are interested in learning about yiddishkeit. But the community is not organized enough to be a resource for them,” Rabbi Klatzko says. “All in all, it is almost impossible to arrange Shabbos while trying to maintain momentum on the front lines of kiruv.” A site like this, Klatzko envisioned, would serve the dual purpose of enabling a sustained path of growth through students’ connections to frum families and other like-minded individuals, “while eliminating much of the time and energy expended in order to place them for Shabbos.”
For kiruv professionals, who may have 100 students to place, the site will serve as a networking gold-mine.
Identifying the Shabbos placement problem was easy; creating the web site has been a lot more difficult. As one could imagine, there is a lot of grass-roots networking needed to implement a project of this magnitude.”We have been working on the project for 14 months, with a staff of 12 working full or part-time on the logistics,” Klatzko says. He needed each one of them because, “The logic behind how to create booking, add friends, and allow guests to confirm their plans, were all very difficult to create.”
Starting the site has involved a lot of brainstorming, Klatzko admits. After all, several key factors would affect the success of the site in achieving his objectives. The “See You On Shabbos” team discussed the following: “How do we give enough information that a guest will feel comfortable enough to go to a host without compromising the host’s security?”; “How do we create a design that is pleasing to the eye, and a simple user interface that wouldn’t be daunting to the average user?”; “How will we ensure that every Jew, regardless of their background and denomination, will want to use the site?” The issues are complex, and behind the scenes, combining them into a seamless web site has been a challenge.
Students who have heard of the site are thrilled about the prospect of finding Shabbos hosts more easily. “‘See you on Shabbos’ reflects the genuine desire of Jewish people all across the world to welcome other Jews into their homes,” says Sammie Goodman, from Merrick, NY, an alumna of Neve Yerushalayim seminary. “I think that this site will help create beautiful Shabbos experiences, connect people, and help to build Klal Yisrael. “As a ba’alas teshuvah who needs a place to spend Shabbos each week, the outpouring of people looking to host guests is very meaningful,” Goodman says.
The site will prove to be more of a long-awaited resource than many non-kiruv-professionals might think. “One of the hardest things about becoming frum is connecting to frum families,” says Marnie Kruschen of L.A. “As a ba’alas teshuva myself, I can remember the days when I felt too embarrassed and shy to call families I didn’t know to invite myself to their home. If I could have used ‘seeyouonshabbos.com’, my life would have been much easier. It would have taken the awkwardness out of calling families because I would have known [that since] they were on the sight, they wanted me!”
“Seeyouonshabbos.com” will also be an unparalleled resource for those returning from ba’al teshuvah seminaries or yeshivas in Israel, who may not have any personal contacts in frum communities in America. “Being newly frum, you live a dichotomous life that involves trying to shed the negatives of your past and embrace the positives of your future,” Kruschen says. “This website acknowledges that dichotomy and eases your way into your new frum lifestlye.”
Rabbi Klatzko’s vision for “See You On Shabbos” does not end at Shabbos placements. “Ultimately, I am looking at this site becoming the epicenter of the Jewish worldwide web, where a person can go on and find places for Shabbos–shuls, kosher eateries, shidduchim, and eventually, jobs as well.”
There is a lot of work to be done before www.seeyouonshabbos.com’s potential is realized. In its first month nearly fourteen hundred people signed up on the site, from countries as diverse as Sweden, Germany and Belgium. Its founders are hopeful that the efforts of those who hear about this exciting project in its early stages will help spread the word, register themselves as guests or hosts, and expand the resource base quickly.
Families who are thinking of participating should know how much the gesture of hosting one Shabbos meal can affect a Jewish neshama. “Shabbos is a time where an individual can get one-on-one time with inspirational individuals, get a taste for the beauty of Shabbos first-hand, and experience a life of honesty, spirituality, and purity,” says Kruschen. “Hosting individuals for shabbos is the single most impactful thing you can do for kiruv.”
For more information on www.seeyouonshabbos.com