By Kate Casey
Everything Ilona Ehrlich and James Hackler had been working towards for the last month came together on Nov. 17 when the two hosted a conjoined SHABAM dinner for their sorority and fraternity, respectively.
Ehrlich, a sophomore history major of Phi Sigma Sigma, and Hackler, a junior marketing and operations management major of Theta Chi, signed up to host a dinner for Shabbat Across Maryland (SHABAM) to be able to celebrate Shabbat with friends while also making new ones, Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said she signed up as a Hillel Greek Life Fellow to encourage members of her chapter to learn more about Judaism while enjoying a dinner right before Thanksgiving.
“We wanted to embrace more than just Judaism, as both of our Greek organizations are not affiliated with a religion,” Ehrlich said. “Me and James thought it would be a good idea to say grace along with the Jewish blessings to reflect that.”
Hackler has attended SHABAM dinners for the last two years, and said he wanted to host his own dinner after learning more about Judaism through his previous experiences.
“I’m Christian, and I come from a place where there isn’t a lot of Judaism, so learning about it was really different and cool for me,” Hackler said. “I hope this event was able to shine light to those whose first time it was. Everyone learned how to bless the meal in Hebrew, and even though not many people knew what they were saying, it was cool to get the opportunity to expose them to that.”
There were Jewish, Christian and Muslim attendants from both chapters, and many individuals were celebrating their first Shabbat, according to Hackler.
“I think that’s a big part of Greek life,” he said, “to learn about things that are different.”
Ehrlich and Hacker agreed that they were excited to see how invested members of their chapters were in learning about Judaism and how Shabbat works. Before the dinner started, members of the organizations danced the hora, lifting attendees to a remixed version of Hava Nagila that one of the members of Theta Chi created.
“I was expecting it to be a pretty calm, traditional Shabbat meal, but it was really awesome to see people getting into it and making it their own,” Ehrlich said. “There was a lot of energy in the room, and a lot of the people who attended were excited – especially since this was a lot of their first times being exposed to Shabbat.”
Rabbi Ari Israel, who stopped by the dinner during the hora, said he was excited to see people of all faiths celebrating.
“We have never had an event like this,” Rabbi Israel said. “It is amazing to see all of the different ways people are celebrating Shabbat across campus, and we love to see people enjoying their time together.”
Ehrlich said she was surprised by the turnout at the event and the number of people who gave her positive feedback from the event being so close to Thanksgiving break.
“Almost everyone who was still in College Park came, and everyone seemed to have a great time,” she said. “One boy in Theta Chi, who isn’t Jewish, told me SHABAM is his favorite event of the year, and I was so happy to hear that I could have influenced that.”
Both Hackler and Ehrlich agree that the inclusiveness of their dinner is what gave it so much success.
“You don’t really hear about too many Greek chapters nowadays exposing their members to things like this,” Hackler said, going on to credit Ehrlich and Hillel for helping orchestrate the event. “I think it’s really cool that we were able to.”
Ehrlich added, “I hope people learned from this that Shabbat can be fun and all members of the UMD community are included and welcome to Hillel and Hillel sponsored events.”