Strangers Welcome at Shearith
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Strangers Welcome at Shearith

In memory of a professor's wife, Cydney Schwartz is making sure everyone has a place at Shabbat.

Cydney Schwartz is striving to honor the legacy of the wife of Hank Richardson, her professor at the Portfolio Center.
Cydney Schwartz is striving to honor the legacy of the wife of Hank Richardson, her professor at the Portfolio Center.

Nora Richardson dedicated her life to helping others.

She invited a couple new to Atlanta with a broken-down car to stay at her home until the car was fixed. She bought supplies for an artist who couldn’t afford them. She picked up a homeless woman on Interstate 85 and took her to get a hot meal.

Richardson’s husband, Hank, said his wife was put on Earth to do G-d’s work.

“She was one of those people who was very humble and stayed in the background,” Richardson said. “She never wanted anyone to know what she was doing. She would do so much good for people and help them in every way.”

After Nora died last fall, her husband wanted his design students at Atlanta’s Portfolio Center to create a project based on her values. One student, Cydney Schwartz, who came to Atlanta after evacuating New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina shortly before her bat mitzvah celebration, decided to combine Nora’s passion for helping strangers with the Jewish tradition of bringing someone you don’t know into your Shabbat.

That combination inspired her to start the Strangers Shabbat program. Originally, the program was going to be for the Jewish community, but Rabbi Ari Kaiman encouraged her to take the program outside the community to those who aren’t Jewish.

“That’s when it really started to take off,” Schwartz said. “When you uproot your life to a new city, you really don’t have any sense of community. It’s hard to make friends.”

She said the goal is for people who start Shabbat as strangers to leave with friends. “This is an opportunity to bring so many people together to learn new things and really get to know someone who would be outside of your circle.”

Schwartz has teamed up with OneTable and is using its platform to bring people to the dinners. The organization provided funding to feed people who sign up for the meals. That funding, in addition to money raised from a GoFundMe campaign, will feed more than 100 people at the first dinner, which is scheduled for Friday night, March 31, at Congregation Shearith Israel.

The ultimate goal is to host dinners twice a month in congregants’ homes.

“It’s going to be very, very big,” Schwartz said. “Through this dinner, I’m wanting to build a community with Stranger Shabbat hosts. We already do have a lot of people who want to be involved. If you can’t host, you can help host the meals. We want several Jewish people at each meal to show what Shabbat is about and bring the two aspects together.”

As of this writing, Schwartz has raised $1,248 of her $1,500 crowdfunding goal. You can donate at

“It truly warms my heart,” Schwartz said. “To have something like this that has grown and is reaching another part of my life, my family, my heritage, is just overwhelming for me in so many ways to just know that this is something that is going to continue to grow past my time at school and can go for years and years and years. To know I’ve done something to help is very exciting.”

Richardson said Schwartz is empathetic, as his wife was, and has interpreted his wife’s values the way she saw them.

“It’s a great way for the values that Nora shared to be continued,” he said. “It helps so many people in bringing people together the way Nora did herself. She put her passion and her energy together, and it’s starting to work. It’s just terrific. I could not be more pleased with what she’s done and how she’s pulled everyone together at every level. What was Nora’s is hers now. That’s the amazing thing.”

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