By Kyla Sokoll-Ward, Moishe House San Francisco NOPA Resident

For the past 2 years, I’ve been living in the San Francisco NOPA Moishe House and have had the privilege of hosting dozens of events for our ever-changing community of humans in the city by the Bay. One of the most important pieces of my Moishe House experience so far has been the opportunity to build community that connects beyond the small talk.

If you’re anything like me, you find small talk exhausting. I mean exhausting. By the end of a Shabbat dinner with anywhere between 30 and 60 people in my house, I’m pretty much at my wits end after answering the question, “So, what do you do?” 80 billion times in a row.

I’ve always struggled with small talk, and conversations that go deep right off the bat have always been my jam. As a Moishe House resident, MHWOW host, or general human being, I believe it’s our duty to more intentionally connect with others beyond the surface-level as we’re so conditioned to do. After all, are we really building community if we only know the first name and day job of every person that walks through the doors of our homes?

But never fear — you don’t have to dive into someone’s childhood woes within the first 5 minutes of meeting them for it to count as a meaningful conversation. As a professional speaker who speaks to the topic of loneliness in the millennial generation and how we can use our emotional experiences as tools for connection, I’ve found that true connection doesn’t have to be extreme – it just requires some intentionality… and probably a little nudging of a comfort zone edge here and there 🙂

Below are some guidelines for how you can more effectively and intentionally connect with your community members!

1. Ask better questions

Work on asking questions that help you discover who a person is versus information about them. Most of the time, we’re asking questions that only allow for answering in one definitive way and don’t necessarily open up space for further discovery. Below are some easy swaps you can make:

“How are you?” → “What’s a theme in your life these days?”

“Where are you from?” → “What feels like home for you?”

“What do you do?” → “What do you love to do?”

2. Create ritual

Ritual is a huge thing that draws communities closer. Think about it: Have you ever walked into a synagogue, Shabbat dinner, or Moishe House (for instance) and, even though you might’ve felt awkward at first in a new place, automatically felt at home when the kiddush was recited? Whatever your Jewish practices are, we have an incredible opportunity as Jewish community builders to bring solid ritual – Jewish or otherwise – into our events that can help old friends feel at home and new friends feel a part of something meaningful. For example, at our home we have a monthly open mic which in and of itself creates ritual, but every time someone in our community shares something new with the crowd for the first time, we have a special chant that celebrates them sharing. This is something fun, silly, and easy that makes new people feel welcomed and a part of something that is already established in our home.

3. Explore new resources for authentic relating!

There are lots of organizations dedicated to helping adults connect more meaningfully and move beyond the small talk. One such organization is The School of Life. They’ve created at least a dozen different types of conversation cards – cards with question prompts used to provoke curiosity, deeper conversation, and introspection. We keep these out on the coffee table in our living room during events!

Connection Shabbat, Moishe House San Francisco NOPA

Another org to check out is Authentic Revolution. Creators of the Authentic Relating Games, they’ve got an entire manual (which is available for free!) of dozens of games that are used to help adults get playful, understand their relationships to others, and connect intentionally. I’ve led multiple events using these games – one such being Connection Shabbat! Connection Shabbat is where our community gathers for a delicious Shabbat meal and then we play these games for an hour. As the facilitator, I make sure to choose the games beforehand and that they flow in a way where community members aren’t diving too deep too fast. It’s best to ease your community in by playing some silly games first, then those that inspire curiosity, and then start diving into the deeper end of things. This is one of my favorite events I’ve done in my 2 years as a resident and our community really looks forward to it!

If you’re seeking to get more deeply connected with your community members, know that it’s not hard to do – it’ll likely just take some shaking-off of old conditioning and willingness to be vulnerable. You’ve got resources to utilize, Moishe House team members to cheer you on, and a society of connection-hungry humans waiting to get to know you better.