The Faces Behind Shabbat San Diego

If there was a simple way to bring family and old friends together, meet new people, and create community connections, would you do it?

Theresa Dupuis and Simone Abelsohn – the lay-professional powerhouse team behind Home Hosted Dinners that is part of Shabbat San Diego – not only want you to say “yes,” they will also give you the tools and the support you may need to make it happen.

Dupuis, who went from Shabbat San Diego participant to Home Hosted Dinners Chair says, “What most resonated with me is the idea of finding time during the year to go out into the community and invite people for Shabbat that I wouldn’t normally invite. I’ve met great people who I otherwise wouldn’t have met.”

A local grassroots effort that began five years ago, one of the goals of this three-day Shabbat celebration, from October 25th-27th, is to bring San Diegans together as one community. The festivities are part of an international phenomenon that takes place in 97 countries and 1,500 cities around the globe. 

“This is part of a chain in the worldwide Jewish community,” explains, Dupuis, Federation’s Immediate Past Board Chair who also serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Foundation, Sand Diego Jewish Academy, and Save a Child’s Heart (an Israeli humanitarian project). “We are doing this together.”

The program is also part of San Diego’s Jewish Xperience Week that begins October 21st, with more than 90 activities designed to engage Jews of all ages, interests, and affiliations or no affiliation.

Abelsohn, Shabbat San Diego’s Program Coordinator, notes, “In our community, there are a lot of different ways of practicing Judaism or doing Jewish your way. No matter how you choose your Jewish, Shabbat dinner is one of the main things we all have in common. Sitting down together is a great way for us to unite with each other, no matter if you’re Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, or Reconstructionist.”

Dupuis, the 2014 recipient of the prestigious Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award that recognizes philanthropic women who have set a high standard for volunteerism, agrees. “It doesn’t matter how observant or whatever you are. This is a way to get together and celebrate Friday night. It’s low entry. You don’t need to know anything.”

With the support of hundreds of volunteers and organizations including Federation, Dupuis and Abelsohn have the goal of 1,000 hosted Shabbat dinners throughout San Diego County. Dupuis calls the effort “radical hospitality” with the hope that community members will think outside the box as they create their guest list, whether that means knocking on a door where you noticed a mezuzah or like she did, emailing the president of San Diego State after discovering he was Jewish and inviting him to share Shabbat.

“Now,” Dupuis says, “we have a relationship. This is a way to expand your own community by having an intimate dinner. These are small events with less than 20 people. It’s different than being at a megaevent.”

Abelsohn, a Jewish educator turned real estate professional turned Jewish communal professional who is Past Chair of NextGen and, like Dupuis, a current member of Federation’s Board, is using social media to attract hosts of all kinds. One elderly couple reached out and told her they hadn’t hosted a Shabbat dinner for 30 years. Concerned about costs and rituals, Abelsohn’s response was, “There is no wrong way to host. You can look at this as engaging or reengaging, or looking at Judaism as a culture where you create community, or to find your place within the community.”

To sign up for Shabbat San Diego, visit


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