A Traditional Meeting Place

It all begins on a Friday around sundown. You, theparticipant, are assigned to a family’s house. Perhaps you arrive attheir doorstep, or maybe you meet them at Aish HaTorah’s KabbalatShabbat services at Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive and walk homewith them afterward.

At the dinner table, your hosts guide you and anintimate gathering of singles through a series of Shabbat customs –singing “Shalom Alechem”; saying the “Kiddush” (wine blessing); andwashing for “Hamotzeh” (bread blessing). Introductions are madearound the table. Those in attendance reflect back on the past weekand offer a highlight for which they are grateful.

Following the meal, your hosts lead a discussionof the week’s Torah portion. More songs are sung. By 9:30 p.m., yourparty returns to Aish’s shul, where a guest speaker — such as pastspeakers Rabbi Nachum Braverman and David Sax, executive producer of”Third Rock from the Sun” — talks about relationships to a roomfulof young singles. Afterward, everybody spills into the adjacentsocial hall and kibitzes late into the night over a selection ofbeverages and finger foods.

What’s going on here?

You have just been through the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience.

The goal is “to introduce young adults to aShabbos experience and expose them to an open and loving and caringcommunity,” says program founder David Nisenbaum, 36.

The namesake of this Aish HaTorah-sponsored affair– a survivor who emerged from the Holocaust an observant Jew — wasregarded as a tzadik (a “righteous individual”) by the Pico-Robertsoncommunity.

“Bart Stern went out of his way to performmitzvahs,” says Nisenbaum. “We started the program about a monthafter his passing.”

The program itself had its genesis in anotherpopular local singles event.

“I really conceived this program from hostingMakor,” says Nisenbaum. What separates the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience from Makor is the Shabbat meal, which takes place at thehome of an observant family, as opposed to single peers.

Many of them point out that the organization’sm.o. is to lead people with little Jewish background into anincreasingly more Orthodox lifestyle, without exposing them to thevarieties of Judaic experience. But for a simple night out, BartStern provides good food and company.

Controversy has not diminished the popularity of agrass-roots network such as Bart Stern. On a typical night, anywherebetween 150 and 180 people spend Shabbat at 30 homes throughout thecommunity. And there is always a demand for more participants –hosts and guests alike.

As with any newer program, Bart Stern hasexperienced its growing pains. A recent blow was the Jan. 27 death oftelevision producer Leibel Rudolph (“Roots,” “Rich Man, Poor Man”).As Nisenbaum puts it, Rudolph was “a driving force behind launchingthe program…. When you went to Leibel’s table, he could read anyperson and make them feel special.” It was not uncommon for Rudolphto extend himself to people interested in strengthening their Jewishidentity. He even facilitated trips for people to learn inIsrael.

Presently, Nisenbaum has taken up the reins again,running the program with Tali Rosenthal. In the works for next monthis the Leibel Rudolph Discovery Experience, a Shabbaton weekend thatwill feature seminars on the Torah and Judaism.

When pressed for specific highlights of past BartStern events, Nisenbaum opts for an overview: “Our highlight is thegrowth of the community as a result of the program. The unity itbrings…. The warmth and love of what being Jewish is allabout.”

To participate in the Bart Stern ShabbosExperience, call Aish HaTorah’s 24-hour phone line — (310) 278-8672.Leave your name, address, phone, sex and age on the answeringmachine, and you will be contacted.