By Jacqueline Hyman, opinion editor, @jacqbh58
Maryland Hillel recently launched the Shabbat Fund, a program designed to encourage students to create their own Shabbat experience and sign people up to host their own Friday night meals.
The program, which started accepting applications in February, has already exceeded Hillel’s expectations, said Jewish Experience Associate Lindsay Goldman.
“We’re so happy that students are spreading the word by saying how incredibly positive their experiences were from one person to another, that it is spreading like this,” Goldman said. “We’ve only had positive feedback from students, which has been really incredible.”
The fund, which is possible due to an anonymous donation to Hillel, allows students to host Shabbat dinners in their dorm rooms or apartments with Hillel’s support, whether that means providing a cooked meal, raw ingredients or reimbursement for food the students prepare themselves.
“We’re really trying to accommodate people as best as possible,” Goldman said, “just meeting people where they need to be met.”
The Shabbat Fund was launched alongside SHABAM, a Shabbat meal that brings together a large crowd each semester. However, Goldman said the Shabbat Fund allows students to celebrate the Sabbath in a more intimate setting.
“It’s really a personalized experience, where students can really sit down and ask questions,” Goldman said, “and I think during the SHABAM season I think it’s just a little bit more hurried, that’s all.”
Students can apply to host a meal online and then meet with Goldman to discuss their plans for the meal, which much have some kind of theme in order to make it a unique experience.
Freshman government and politics major Moshe Klein said when he heard about the Shabbat Fund, he was immediately interested.
“I love Shabbat,” said Klein, who hosted an introduction-to-Shabbat-themed dinner on March 25. “I wanted to share something that I love with other people that I thought would appreciate it.”
Guests at Shabbat Fund meals do not have to be Jewish, but can simply be interested in learning more about Judaism. At one point, said Klein, he and his guests discussed the similarities and differences between Jewish and Muslim culture. He said he learned a lot from the experience and would definitely recommend hosting to his friends.
“I think everyone involved was really happy, essentially because we were engaging people who are Jewish but usually don’t come to Hillel, and that was really awesome,” Klein said. “Not [having] an agenda purpose, but just to experience things. People have totally different points of view, kind of just to expand people’s horizons.”
“I think it’s nice to have an intimate Shabbat dinner, and there’s real value to having real serious conversations that I think happen more organically in an apartment, in a smaller space, than here [at Hillel] with 140 people having Shabbat dinner together,” Goldman added.
Goldman said the goal of the program is to allow students to “take their Shabbat experience into their own hands.” She said Hillel tries to meet with students who are not as familiar with the background of Shabbat, or who do not attend meals at Hillel regularly, such as those involved in Greek Life on campus.
“We’re trying to empower students to be really taking control of their own Jewish experiences,” Goldman said.
While meals don’t necessarily have to be kosher, Hillel requires that the meals be kosher-style, meaning that hosts cannot serve pork or shellfish, and cannot mix dairy and meat in their cooking.
Klein said he cooked “too much schnitzel” for his meal, and also served salad, rice, roasted vegetables and kugel.