Shabes and Spirituality in a Secular Community

Starting last year, we have hosted monthly Shabes dinners at Boston Workmen’s Circle. We’re pleased to share the comments of Marsha Lazar, chair of the Shabes Committee, looking back at the past year of Shabes gatherings and looking forward to another year of gatherings to come.


One year ago at Rosh Hashanah, I was invited to give the d’var. In my talk, I asked us to consider the meaning of spirituality in a secular community like the Boston Workmen’s Circle. As an outgrowth of my talk, as well as of the lively discussion at the 2012 Annual Members Meeting, a group of BWC members planned and hosted six monthly Shabes Dinners last year, each attended by between 10 and 60 members of the community.

Each dinner is hosted at the Boston Workmen’s Circle building by a pair of community members, and includes a program that allows us to step away from our weekly routine to reflect on and appreciate the gifts we find in ourselves, our families and the world around us. Over the past year, participants have appreciated the opportunity to be together in this new way – a smaller group, more time to interact, a quiet and peaceful evening, the lack of an “agenda” – all focused on experimenting with the many definitions of spirituality that our members hold.

By far the most common way our members have defined “spirituality” so far is connection with other people – and over time, we have experimented with ways to set up the space to maximize that connection. Some people have come to every single gathering, and appreciate the regularity of a monthly shared ritual and dinner. The group has been multi-generational, with many new faces – young adults have even invited their parents, when their parents were in town. Even though winter storms cancelled our Shabes gatherings two months in a row, the enthusiastic participation in this new program has convinced the Shabes committee that there is strong interest in further exploring the role of spirituality at Boston Workmen’s Circle.

Shabes dinners revolve around the Shabes ritual template we have developed: a short program of music, poetry, silent reflection and personal sharing, as well as blessings over the candles, wine and challah, followed by a potluck dinner. We created the ritual as a guideline to each set of hosts, who choose to follow it whole or adapt it to include readings or activities that are meaningful to them, and that create a Shabes mood.  Last year, hosts’ additions included poetry, live cello music, yoga, and more. We also developed a Shabes Manual, with instructions for hosts, a place for BWC members to contribute readings, and activity suggestions for hosts to use.  

As we reflect on our first year, it is clear that there is good reason to continue this opportunity for BWC members to share a regular time and space outside of our usual individual and collective responsibilities. I’m pleased to announce that beginning on October 11 – the second Friday of October – we will host six monthly dinners at the Boston Workmen’s Circle building.

I hope you plan to attend one – or more! Call a friend or someone you’d like to know better, and volunteer to host one month. Or maybe join the Shabes Committee. We would love your help in making the BWC Second Friday Shabes an important of our community life.

To volunteer or for questions/comments, please contact Marsha Lazar at 617-964-4943 or