The Story of Friday Night and Creating a Low Key Shabbat Experience
The struggle can be real when you move to Chicago from another state. The Jewish community of Chicago often return back home so it can be difficult for newcomers to find their roots.
When Rabbis Carlie and Ryan moved to Chicago, they struggled to find Jewish life outside of their new congregations. Alan Goodis, a Jewish musician, also faced similar challenges meeting new people when he first moved so the URJ crew teamed up to help solve the problem they saw in their community.
We got to talk to Carlie, Ryan, and Alan – and hear how a Canadian, a New Yorker, and a Floridian ended up starting “Friday Night” in Chicago.
Who runs Friday Night?
Ryan grew up at Camp Eisner and served as youth group president of his NFTY chapter. Combined years as a camper and on staff, Ryan spent 15 years at camp. He also worked as an Addiction Counselor in Buffalo before Rabbinical School.
While classmates at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Ryan claims he tried for a long time to get Carlie to date him. Carlie disagrees. She notes they started dating only a month after they met, so it did not take very long at all to convince her.
This sort of project is exciting for us because our work does not usually overlap. We have to make the opportunities for synergy in what we are doing other than leading teen travel tours together. This makes Friday Night even more exciting! -Carlie
Ryan grew up in Queens in New York. Carlie and Ryan moved to Chicago in 2015 after Rabbinical school.
Carlie grew up in Rockledge, Florida which is near Coco Beach and the Kennedy Space Center. Carlie’s mother also grew up in Rockledge where her father worked Space Center nearby. Many members of Carlie’s family are involved with the Kennedy Space Center including her mother who is a zoologist. Growing up, Carlie went to a science and technology program in middle school. Instead of normal field trips to museums, she was transported out to NASA every month for on site learning. Carlie’s relationship with science informs her views on Judaism her understanding of the universe.
There is something bigger than us. If you call that God or science or a little bit of both, I am on board. -Carlie
Carlie grew up in a small Jewish community consisting mostly of her synagogue and youth group. She did not go to camp but was very involved in Hebrew school. During college, she worked at Camp Coleman and worked on staff at IU Hillel before Rabbinical school. Carlie grew up as the token Jew. She was fortunate to meet some inspiring women clergy and realized,”hey maybe I could do something like that”.
Carley attended the University of Florida and studied music. Ryan attended the University of Buffalo and majored in both Political Science and Community Mental Health. Alan attended the University of Western Ontario and majored in political science. Though he took a few classes, he never considered a career in music.
Alan grew up in Toronto and moved Chicago with his girlfriend (now wife) in 2006. Moving straight out of college, he had no real job or any real ideas. Alan was suspended from confirmation class because of insubordination (who wasn’t?!). He was the kind of kid who always asked “Why are we doing this?” searching for deeper meaning.
When Alan first moved to Chicago, he was fresh out of school and not totally sure what he wanted to do. He grew up at GUCI URJ camp outside of Indianapolis and when he moved, he found opportunities across the spectrum of song leading. Working mostly in the suburbs, Alan noticed there was a huge gap between 19-35 in the congregational scene.
All throughout school there is a natural evolution to just making friends. Now everyone is in their own world and it is awkward to say “Hey will you be my friend” -Alan
When he was first starting out the economy was collapsing and temple memberships on the whole took a nose dive across communities around the country. As an insider in the synagogue space, he knew the leadership recognized the importance of young adult engagement but they did not know how or what to do to be successful. They were just not really able to connect with the mindset of a person who is 30 and looking to do some Jewish things.
Struggling to Make Friends in Chicago
The core of Alan’s social network was camp and Cody, his wife and Chicago native. It turns out, Cody went to Indiana University like many people who move here after going to school in the Big 10. It also turns our, if you did not go to a Big Ten School, meeting people can be tough. In 2006, Alan was working every weekend and struggled to meet anyone outside of Cody’s work and school friends.
For Carley and Ryan, Alan and Cody were really their only friends. It proved extraordinarily difficult to make friends outside of their work. But they were in it together.
It is challenging particularly for people who didn’t grow up in Chicago. There is a cycle to Chicago Jewish life. First, high-school kids go to college, and after they come back . This is a real barrier for people new to the scene. And when you do not work regular hours, it becomes even more complicated to make friends. – Carlie
Making it Easier to Find Friends
For this crew, it is difficult to engage with the events they are not leading. They do not have the time or ability to go to many events that they have not planned. They also do not know of everything going on in the city because they are deeply involved with suburban communities.
Friday Night: The Low Key Shabbat Experience
It all started in 2016 when these URJ alumni united in Chicago. They noticed social bar nights were popular for Jewish young adults but there seemed to be missing any deep content. Using the “Happy Hour” model as a jumping off point, this team focuses on what they can offer on shabbat to give people a social experience with some real content.
We are pretty clear that it is a shabbat event, and we are going to acknowledge that with a service and a great time. -Carlie
This event is not about numbers.
Our goal is to acknowledge the people that are coming. We care that you are coming because you are you, not because you are another ticket we can sell. -Alan
To be clear, Friday Night is not a sit down dinner at all. There are heavy hor d’ourves and an open bar the entire time. The first hour is when people arrive and schmooze with food, after which point the leaders begin a 25 minute service piece with music. The services concludes with a kiddush cocktail anda l’chayim. People can hang out and some stay in the venue long past when the service ends and others grab dinner.
It is about having a low key shabbat experience -Ryan
There is no sales pitch. No table set up with business cards and “come join the temple heres who we are heres the next event”. The Friday Night crew pride themselves on creating the experience they want to see and fully believe if participants are excited and want to learn more, they will simply ask. The goal is simple. To think about and know you learned some explicitly Jewish content. With some great guitar and percussive flow, this is NOT your 3rd grade hebrew school class.
We know everyone is going out and meeting friends for drinks in River North and Bucktown on Friday nights, so we thought: Lets make the venue somewhere you can start your evening with. -Alan
Well, we had to ask them…What is Your Favorite Way to Spend a Shabbat?
Shabbat is an important weekly celebration in the lives of the Friday Night team. This means being close to friends and family and being able to relax and unwind. Music is important to Carlie and Alan and really good food is important to Ryan. The ultimate shabbat in unanimously: Good food and good company.
And…When the tribe gathers… There will be opinions (Alan), You can expect good food (Ryan), It’s Friday Night! (Carlie)
The Event: This Friday! December 14th 6-8:30pm
6pm Craft cocktails and hors d’oeuvres
7pm Musical Shabbat experience
7:30pm More food and drinks
$25: Includes Open Bar and Food
Chinese Food and Chill is happening, LIVE – this Christmas at Picante! Get your tickets today!