By Kira Cohen
The annual phenomenon known as “SHABBAM” is the latest buzz among Jews on campus this week. Formally known as Shabbat Across Maryland, students are gearing up for what promises to be a dynamic Friday night all over campus.
SHABBAM, a program funded by the Gorlin Family Foundation, is an opportunity for both Jewish and non-Jewish students to be part of a Shabbat celebration. Participants can select to host or be placed at a meal, either randomly or with friends on and off campus.
“[SHABBAM] lets people celebrate Shabbat, specifically Shabbat dinner, on their own terms,” said MJ Kurs-Lasky, assistant director of Student Life Programming for Maryland Hillel and organizer of this year’s program. “Whether someone is living in the Landmark or on North Campus or in a small dorm, Shabbat can happen anywhere and we want to help make that happen.”
This year, more than 1,000 Jewish students and 75 hosts have signed up for SHABBAM, a significant increase from last year’s event, said Kurs-Lasky. And although SHABBAM is just days away, people are still signing up.
“[SHABBAM] helps take the large community and make it smaller…encouraging students to mix it up a little bit more so they’re inviting new and different people to it,” said Kurs-Lasky.
Hillel facilitates the logistics of the meals so that everyone who wants to participate can do so easily. Hosts can choose to receive catered food from Hillel or cook and be reimbursed. Hillel also provides Shabbat essentials, such as grape juice and challah.
Ashley Wilbur, a sophomore special education major, hosted a meal in her apartment last year when she was a freshman.
“It wasn’t even so hard because Hillel gave us all the food. It was really, really easy to host,” said Wilbur.
On Thursday night, Hillel will host a Mega Challah Bake to bake challahs for over 75 meals. Additionally, Hillel is conducting workshops prior to the event to prepare both hosts and guests to celebrate Shabbat with a diverse group of participants, many of whom are new to Shabbat or even Judaism. Activities range from brainstorming icebreakers to “creative rituals” sessions where students can learn how to tailor Shabbat customs, like blessing grape juice, to include those who are inexperienced with the holiday.
This year, SHABBAM is partnering with MitzVote, a Jewish organization that provides information about civic engagement and voting. Like many Hillels across college campuses, the Hillel at this university has chosen to join the cause, and is taking action by giving different SHABBAM meals informational materials to prepare for the upcoming midterm elections.
Many of the hosts chose to give their meal a theme. Some use the opportunity to theme their meal to get different communities involved. This year, themes range from various Birthright groups to an S.A.R High School alum meal to another that’s serving Chinese food.
Maddy Wilbur, a sophomore psychology major, will be co-hosting a “Food for Thought” themed meal for psychology majors this year in an effort to bond with different people over shared interests.
“It’s a really really cool idea and and a good program. At Hillel you end up just seeing the same people over and over again,” she said. “It will be really nice to meet new people.”
Additionally, Kurs-Lasky said that many sororities and fraternities will be hosting Shabbat meals this year to teach their Jewish and non-Jewish friends about Shabbat.
“I think that’s really special, that people use this as a coming-together opportunity regardless of what their background is,” said Kurs-Lasky. “It’s a cultural teaching moment.”