Shabbat Crew serves meals despite pandemic

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Maryland Hillel’s Shabbat Crew is serving food for outdoor meals. Photo courtesy of Batya Teitz.

Ben Baruch
For Mitzpeh
@Ben_J_Baruch 

The “Shabbat Crew” is serving Shabbat dinner and lunch again now that Maryland Hillel is allowed to host outdoor or socially distant indoor meals. Hillel is the only place students at this university can get kosher food during the week, and one of only a few on Shabbat and holidays.

The Shabbat atmosphere this year at Hillel is much more subdued, and some servers said they miss the social benefits that came with the job. 

“We miss the fun interactions we had with everyone on Shabbat,” crew manager and senior neurobiology major David Lee said. “For some people, Shabbat Crew was the time of the week where they took a break from work and socialized with the community.”

Crew manager and senior biology major Batya Teitz agreed with the sentiment. 

“The students who volunteer for Shabbat Crew are a lot of fun, so it’s fun hanging out with them and it’s a nice way to meet new students who are picking up food,” Teitz said.

Before the pandemic, the crew was responsible for feeding about 100 people every Friday night and slightly fewer on Saturday morning. The meals follow prayer services, so once they ended, the students got right to work preparing the food. 

Naomi Gohn, Maryland Hillel’s associate executive director, had high praise for the Shabbat Crew. “Our Shabbat Crew is a wonderful group of committed students who help serve meals at Hillel on Shabbat, allowing students the opportunity to enjoy hot meals over the holiday,” she said.

Even though there are fewer people taking food on Shabbat during the pandemic, the students who serve them are still working hard. 

Servers have to wear protective equipment when handling food, including masks, aprons and clean gloves. They also work within a designated “clean area,” so if someone leaves the clean area or touches anything outside, they have to wash their hands immediately and change gloves. Lee said the staff understands the guidelines and wants the serving process to be safe.

Additionally, instead of an open buffet where students can serve themselves, the Shabbat Crew now serves students their food from behind a plexiglass barrier. Their new focus has been on packing to-go Shabbat meals for students who wish to eat in their dorm or apartment. 

“During this fall semester, [Shabbat Crew’s role] has shifted dramatically to accommodate UMD and Hillel’s COVID-safe protocols,” Gohn said. “Despite these challenges, Shabbat Crew has risen to the occasion, ensuring safe meals are given to our student community so all can celebrate Shabbat.” 

Until recently, if students wanted kosher food for Shabbat, they would have to pick it up all at once on Friday afternoon. Since the Crew has gone back to work, they’ve been able to make sure that students also get hot food on Saturday. 

“I like being able to be there for the community,” Teitz said. “Before these past two weeks the students who were on a meal plan would have to pick up everything at once, so their lunch would be cold. That’s just a nice thing to be able to provide for them.” 

Managers also have new responsibilities. They’re in charge of making sure the dining room stays at or under capacity and that people are wearing masks when they’re not eating. However, Lee says only a fourth of the people who normally take part in Shabbat meals are coming this year. Most of them also stay briefly, just picking up their food and leaving. 

Lee said the work Shabbat Crew does is extremely valuable to the Jewish community. 

“We’re lucky to have a very large Jewish population on campus,” Lee said. “But that means it’s even more important that we provide kosher food on Shabbat. The service we provide is invaluable and I can’t imagine Jewish life in Maryland without it.”

Lee also looks forward to life after the pandemic, when he can resume his normal Shabbat Crew duties.