Maryland Hillel experiments with early Shabbat dinner

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By Jamie Weissman

The University of Maryland’s Hillel will cater to more students this semester with a new Shabbat dinner option. In addition to the usual 8 p.m. Shabbat meal, Hillel staff will offer an earlier alternative for attendees beginning at 6 p.m.

“It’s really a place where we can experience more outside the routine dinner that happens every single week,” Lindsay Goldman, Hillel’s Jewish experience associate, said. Hillel hopes the earlier dinner will expand the Hillel community to more students.

As opposed to the routine time slot, which Goldman said students consider “ classic” and “ traditional,” the new addition will give attendees the chance to experience a different type of setting.

“We’ve really gone out of our way to explain some of the rituals before performing them.” Goldman said. “Some people even tell stories of how they did it growing up. We have been switching up the structure of the room, putting out different flowers and candles and tablecloths and icebreakers to create a more intimate feel.”

Goldman described the dinner, which has had about 50 attendees every weekend, as “ accessible”, “vibrant”, and “progressive.”

Hillel will reevaluate the status of the new dinner option once Shabbat starts at an earlier hour.

“I think it will draw more people in and enable more people to learn about being Jewish, thus creating a larger and more close community,” said freshman computer science major BT Rappaport, who attended the first 6 p.m. dinner on Sept. 5.

Rachel Venaglia, a graduate student working toward her PhD in social psychology, described the dinner as a relaxing way to end the week.

“It was just really nice to be in an environment where I could relax after a week of working hard, and start Shabbos with good people and good food,” Venaglia said. “I definitely think that all of these things will appeal to people and help build the Hillel community at Maryland because for a lot of students, myself included, 6 p.m. is a much more convenient time on a Friday night to have dinner.”

Hillel is the only Jewish organization at Maryland to offer the earlier dinner option. In comparison, the University of Maryland Chabad and MEOR offer a Shabbat dinner around 8 p.m.

To build the success of the new dinner option, Goldman hopes to work with Maryland students to create a leadership team that will lead the way in Hillel’s new venture.

Rappaport, who became involved in setting up every weekend, suggests other students do the same.

“There is a really nice and accepting atmosphere in which you are not pressured to do anything you don’t want to,” Rappaport said. “There is so much to learn about Judaism and Jewish culture, and you are able to at your own comfort level. It is only going to get better from here.”

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