With Comic-Con International: San Diego just around the corner, Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been making a push on social media, email and mailing lists to draw attendees to a Shabbat dinner this week organized by the Chabad of Downtown San Diego.

“What we’re trying to do is bring in a new crowd,” says Lightstone, who will head to the annual pop-culture-focused convention, which takes place this year from July 24 to July 27, later this week with his wife, Chana, and their kids. The couple have hosted other #openShabbat dinners at big events, like South by Southwest (SXSW), so attendees can unplug (no electronic devices allowed) and network within a Jewish environment.

When they get to California, they plan to distribute fliers at the convention as well, with the goal of letting people know about the unique Shabbat experience sandwiched between a long weekend of costumes, comics and more.


Comic-Con draws fans of movie, television, anime, graphic novels and, of course, comic books from across the country. Tickets for the event sell out long before it’s even held.

Participants, guests and local community members will convene on Friday night, July 25, for camaraderie and a Shabbat meal, and have the opportunity to explore Jewish identity against the backdrop of the festival. Lightstone says it offers a chance for them to unplug—to take a breather and see the event on more of a “meta” level.

“By stepping out for Shabbat, you’re able, so to speak, to approach it with new eyes,” he says. That means participants bringing their Jewish identity to the conversation, and in addition to enjoying Comic-Con, taking with them a Shabbat experience that could change their outlook, explains Lightstone.

“So down the road as they reflect about it,” he continues, “that reflection is less that ‘I went to Comic-Con,’ and more that ‘I went to Comic-Con and I had this Jewish experience I never thought I would have, and it showed me I could be a citizen of the world and an active, proud member of the Jewish community as well.’ ”

An image from a flier for #openShabbat
An image from a flier for #openShabbat

Chabad of Downtown San Diego, which operates out of a storefront in the city, is particularly well-placed to host the meal. It sits just two blocks from the San Diego Convention Center, the site of Comic-Con, which draws as many as 130,000 people.

Lightstone has been using social media to get the word out about the dinner; as of now, about 70 people are planning to attend.

For seven years now, the annual Shabbat meal has welcomed Comic-Con presenters, in addition to attendees. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that someone will show up in costume.

“The goal of it is that people attending the conference can come, step back for a minute and view things from afar, and also get that taste of home,” notes Lightstone. “It gives them a chance to reflect on what’s going on and who they are as Jews.”

‘City Becomes Alive’

Rabbi Zalman Carlebach, co-director of Chabad of Downtown San Diego with his wife, Nechama Dina, notes that some of Comic-Con’s founders are Jewish. And a number of presenters are sure to make Chabad a stop on their tour. The rabbi has heard from animation experts and political cartoonists, for example, during their stay.

Another factor that makes Comic-Con San Diego such a draw is its proximity to Los Angeles, and namely, Hollywood. Television and film studios see Comic-Con as the place to show trailers and clips, and it’s not uncommon to see celebrities show up.

The meal apparently draws a diverse crowd as well. “The majority of people who come for that week come specifically for Comic-Con,” says Carlebach. Meanwhile, people who don’t go to synagogue on a weekly basis will attend because of the speaker and the general buzz the event creates around town.

“The city becomes alive with Comic-Con,” says the rabbi.

Giving out matzah at BuzzFeed in New York City as part of #openShabbat's communal work for Jews in technology and media
Giving out matzah at BuzzFeed in New York City as part of #openShabbat's communal work for Jews in technology and media

Diane Gordon, a paralegal and professional caterer/baker who lives in San Diego, is helping cook for Friday night. “We look for [conference-related] freebies to put on the table to decorate and make it fun, whether they are straws or items we can put in or on the glasses—we try to do things that are comic-y,” she says.

Over the past several years, she has heard from the head of a comic camp, someone who helped them interpret political satire and a guest who wrote a book about the history of comics, among others.

Gordon, 55 and a self-described “once-a-year comic fan,” says she enjoys volunteering to help with the Shabbat meal. “I usually do it on Thursday—shop Wednesday, cook Thursday.”

There will also be Saturday-morning services, followed by a kiddish lunch. “I’m going to look for Superman plates, Batman plates, things like that,” she says. “I’ll probably do superhero napkins for Friday.”

Another volunteer makes the hummus for the dinner—three different kinds, including a spicy one. The goal? “We try to give the flavor of San Diego.”

Reservations for the Shabbat meals can be made here.