Web sites help Jews find home away from home
By MICHELE CHABIN RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
March 18, 2010, 4:37PM
JERUSALEM — Andre Ufferfilge figures he probably could have found a couch to crash on in Israel through friends of friends, but he instead found a home-cooked kosher meal and acceptance for his traditional Jewish lifestyle.
Before he left his university campus in Dusseldorf, Germany, Ufferfilge registered at www.jewgether.org, a social networking site dedicated to finding a home away from home for Jews on the road.
Through the site, Ufferfilge spent four days as a guest of a Jewish family in Neve Daniel, a Jewish settlement outside Jerusalem, and two more days with students in Beersheva.
“I wanted to be in a Jewish home, where I could keep kosher and where I would not be seen as an exotic being when I pray with a tallit and tefillin,” Ufferflige said, referring to the Jewish prayer shawl and cases containing scriptural passages.
Started in June by three Israeli college students, Jewgether now counts 650 members across 32 countries. A similar site, See You on Shabbos (www.seeyouonshabbos.com), was launched by an Orthodox rabbi in New York less than four months ago and now boasts nearly 4,000 members in 31 countries.
The two sites — established 6,000 miles apart by Jews from very different backgrounds — share a common goal: forging meaningful relationships among Jews of different ages, nationalities and religious observance.
Like most Israelis who take a break after completing their mandatory military service, Jewgether cofounder Tamir Einy and his partners were seasoned world travelers. Yet they were struck by the warm reception they received from Jews in the Diaspora.
“There was this bond,” Einy said. “I remember being in Santa Cruz, Calif., and through a friend, a family invited us for Shabbat dinner. We talked for four straight hours. Then they invited us for Shabbat lunch the next day. Then the mother of the house told us her brother lived in San Diego and that we could stay with him. The entire trip was like that.”
Though experiencing Shabbat is an important part of Jewish hospitality and identity, “our goal is to make every day a good one,” Einy said. “The experience doesn't have to be religious.”
That's where See You on Shabbos differs slightly.
Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, a father of 11 who works for a New York foundation that trains rabbis to serve on college campuses, says his site focuses solely on matching guests and hosts for Shabbat because “it is the most joyous of times.”
“It's the day when parents don't work,” Klatzko said. “It's the day you turn off your computer, sit down to a beautiful meal together and reconnect as a family.”
Klatzko decided to launch his site when college students living away from home reported a common facet of campus life: homesickness.
“Hillel and Chabad are wonderful,” Klatzko said, referring to two popular Jewish campus groups. “But the kids wanted something homey, and I realized that families would be more than happy to invite them. … Someone had to make the connection.”
Jeff Seidel, an American-Israeli whose Jewish Student Information Center has run outreach programs and Shabbat hospitality for almost three decades, said Jews are almost unique in their shared culture, history, language and religion that is rooted in a country — Israel — but not dependent on it.
“We share the Torah, which means we are all part of a long continuous chain. We're a people and a community. When something happens, both positive or negative, we feel part of it,” Seidel said.
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