Every Friday evening in Crown Heights was considered to be a holy experience. Jewish men of all ages would briskly walk through the windy Brooklyn streets, recognizing familiar faces as they entered Shabbat together. From a distance, one could see a swarm of black hats enter the modest home of the Hasidic Rebbe, where hundreds would gather to sit at his tisch. Melodious niggunim would be chanted, the volume of the singing increasing with each new tune. The Rebbe’s words of wisdom would echo through his dining room walls; they would enhance the warmth of Shabbat alongside the innumerable plates of chicken and vegetables. This tradition thrived in Hasidic communities; the Rebbe’s tisch was just one of the many enlightening factors that united that Jewish community.
Considering that the word tisch is a Yiddish term for table, it seems unusual that such a concept should be limited to religious Jews. Shortly after, however, I learned that a tisch is not only a Hasidic table of singing and eating Jews; it is rather a universal value that can be expanded to every community we visit.
A rejuvenating tisch is not limited to any age or gender. In fact, one does not need to a learned rabbinic figure to host such an enlightening experience. As a spiritually seeking seventeen year old, I found an ideal community in the grassy green acres of Clayton, Georgia. My growing passion for Judaism is nurtured and fostered at Camp Ramah Darom, a Conservative Jewish summer camp that eternally impacted my life. This past summer, I formed a unique bond with seventy-one other teens my age, each with a passion that compiled into one remarkable tisch. Every Friday evening, my Gesher eidah, or age group, would congregate around long tables and jubilantly sing various z’mirot together, laughing at the solos and hand motions that others would incorporate to the songs. Full from plates of baked chicken and boiled potatoes, my friends and I would listen attentively to the rebbes, or our college counselors, share personal stories regarding their faith and theology. This tradition constitutes a typical Shabbat evening at Camp Ramah Darom; it is what truly epitomizes the magic found there every summer.
After my life changing summers at Camp Ramah Darom, I was determined to find that same tisch, energy, and faith that my Conservative Jewish summer home provided. Eventually I came to realize that no two tables are alike; we must strive to create new spiritual circles rather than replicate them.
A tisch can be formed by a group of people that recognizes a common passion they share. That passion, however, need not be affiliated to any one Jewish denomination or synagogue. During my freshman year of high school, I was exposed to pluralistic Judaism during a RAVSAK teen shabbaton known as “Moot Beit Din.” With a common love for davening, studying, and debating, high school students from all over the country gathered for this one weekend in D.C to recognize and strengthen Jewish pluralism. Despite our denominational differences, my new friends and I were able to sit around a table on that Friday night and contribute to a memorable tisch, filled with rituals of every sect of Judaism. I sang with teens from every mark of the Jewish spectrum, expanding my standards for communal faith.
More recently, I have discovered that the essence of a tisch can be shared with other organized religions. I found myself delving into powerful discussions with my interfaith group, Common Ground Friends, over boxes of pizza at the local united Methodist church. Teens who are spiritually engaged in their own churches, mosques, and other worship centers joined me around a casual table in the church’s humble fellowship hall to share our religious differences, but also embrace the common ground that unites us all. Through music, food, and dialogue—everything which constitutes a traditional tisch—I fostered my own Jewish values while meeting teens that I consider my greatest friends today.
An ideal tisch community is nonexistent. How you expand your table, however, is what truly defines your walk of faith.