By Ryan Connors
Maryland Hillel hosted a “Shabbat-a-thon” every Friday night through Thanksgiving weekend this November. Each Shabbat dinner had a different event or theme, and according to Hillel, these meals attracted more people than their weekly Shabbat dinners usually do.
Shabbat-a-thon replaced Shabbat Across Maryland (SHABAM), an event in which Hillel sponsored up to 100 simultaneous Shabbat dinners across the campus and served 1500-1600 students, said Lindsay Goldman, Hillel’s Jewish experience associate.
Goldman said SHABAM was originally planned for this semester, but turned out to be the same weekend as the Michigan State football game, so she made the decision to move it to next semester.
“It’s been met with great positivity in the past, so we wanted to do something to get the students equally as excited,” Goldman said.
As it has done with SHABAM in the past, Hillel used the excitement it drummed up on Facebook to get the message out.
The first week of Shabbat-a-thon featured five Jewish student a cappella groups at a concert Saturday night as well as a preview performance after Shabbat dinner on Friday, Nov. 7, part of Hillel’s family weekend. The Shabbat dinner attracted about 400 people, Goldman said, up from the typical 150 people who come to Shabbat dinner on an ordinary Friday night..
The next week, Nov. 14, was pluralism Shabbat, an event Goldman said helped bring together students from all sects of Judaism.
Jewish students of a variety of levels of religious observance attended the dinner. Throughout the structured meal, individuals from different denominations rose and shared stories of their Jewish upbringings. The discussion that followed gave students a chance to understand and relate to each other, according to sophomore elementary education major Leah Schatz.
“You got to socialize with people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. Usually it can be awkward to talk about things like that, but people were respectful and took time to learn what other sects of Judaism are all about,” Schatz said.
The last on-campus Shabbat dinner of the month took place Nov. 21 and focused on study abroad. At the dinner, students planning on traveling to the same countries had the opportunity to meet, and some shared their experiences from past study abroad.
“The goal of the Shabbat-a-thon is to engage a lot of students and to really utilize the diverse population that we have at the University of Maryland, with over 6,000 Jewish students,” Goldman said. “We recognize that the classic Shabbat dinner that we put on every week isn’t necessarily enough to engage everyone, and this allows us to gauge interest and help build a community.”