On a typical Friday morning, Yaniv Cohen makes several stops in his extensive round of grocery shopping. He begins at Costco in Van Nuys, then visits Cambridge Farms in Valley Village before moving on to Pistachio and Super Sal Market in Encino.
Then he goes home and starts preparing for the 80-plus guests he has invited for Shabbat dinner. The 35-year-old will hardly know most of his guests. Some he invited only that morning, when he met them in the fruit aisles at Costco or while perusing the sunflower seeds and almonds at Pistachio.
“If I hear people talk in Hebrew, I start talking to them and invite them over to my house for Shabbat dinner,” Cohen said. “I also publish my dinners on my Facebook page and on the pages of Jewish communities in the Unites States as well as Israel and South America. I love having people over for Shabbat, and I hope that one day I’ll host Shabbat dinner for a thousand people.”
Cohen was born in Haifa and immigrated to the United States 12 years ago. He became obsessed with sharing Shabbat hospitality in 2008, while living in Maryland.
“A friend [showed] me the beauty of Kabbalat Shabbat and how fun it is to have guests over and teach them the meaning of this Jewish tradition, and so it started then,” he said. “I used to meet people in the mall, the street, the supermarket, and after a two-minute conversation, I’d already invited them over for Shabbat dinner.”
In time, Cohen’s periodic dinners became more and more elaborate, with dozens of participants. Nine months ago, shortly after he purchased his 2,700-square-foot house in North Hollywood, his Friday night gatherings became a regular thing with guests coming for dinner and sometimes staying overnight.
“Before I had purchased my house, I used to live in a guest house not far from here, and although I was invited to Shabbat dinners, I always came back to a dark and quiet home and was pretty lonely,” he said. “So, when I saw this house in North Hollywood and saw how spacious the living room is, I immediately thought that it would be the perfect place to host, and I put an offer on it.”