Deep Dive I: Celebrating Shabbat with the Smith College Jewish Community (SCJC)

In Uncategorized by Rose Silverman

For my Deep Dive, I wanted to go to a space that I am deeply invested in: the Smith College Jewish Community Friday night Shabbat gathering. As someone who has attended countless Shabbats there, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of all that both expands and constrains the capacity of this space to be joyful and meaningful for those who attend. However, I wanted to deepen this knowledge. To do this, I followed the Design Thinking method to interrogate how the experience of those who come to this space could be improved for others (and perhaps through doing this, myself!).

Through the process of interviewing people, a few key things became clear. The overarching challenge of the SCJC that was made apparent through these interviews is that Shabbat means a lot to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Some folks find meaning from seeing their friends in the space, some people enjoy the food, some love the singing that happens in the space, some enjoy saying prayers, some love that they could hypothetically meet new people in the space and some love many other things that I did not list. Did I mention that it’s a lot? I also learned that the space has the capacity to be very cliquey and this often has to do with where people sit which is also informed by another drawback of this space, which is its physically limiting size. All my interviewees mentioned this. Beyond the physical limitations of the space, the competing needs of folks who attend Shabbat make it hard to know which path to follow when it comes to implementing a design.

Nevertheless, my prototype is of the wheel and suggestion box that is pictured here. The wheel and its attached spinner give people in the space the option of a tool that has (hypothetically) synthesized the needs and desires of the SCJC community. The spinner could land on the activity of everyone singing a song or it could land on taking five minutes to silently reflect. By placing the decision in the spinner, it takes the pressure off of those who might feel self-conscious about asserting their needs in the space. The box is a way for people to write down things they would like to see on the spinner. This way, it is a constantly adaptable tool. This wheel is flexible and provides structure for an evening that sometimes needs it. However, upon talking to my users it is clear that there is some hesitation about how it might feel to be told what to do in a space that often flows naturally. I am reminded, though, that users also spoke of how (despite the flow) they have unmet needs from the space. It is important to think about how to not force the type of intentional structure the wheel would create for the space while still creating more opportunities to do what those who attend Shabbat want to do. It is a balancing game and I am glad to have had the opportunity to start to think about it!