More than 400 Northwestern students attend first Mega Shabbat

Paulina Firozi and Paulina Firozi

More than 400 people gathered in Allison dining hall Friday evening for Northwestern’s first Mega Shabbat, an event put together by members of the Jewish community on campus with contributions from the University. The event was open to all students, faculty and staff.

Shabbat is the traditional Jewish day of rest that begins just before sunset on Fridays with dinner and religious ceremonies. Northwestern Hillel, the Tannenbaum Chabad House at Northwestern and Meor Northwestern began planning for a University-wide Shabbat in spring of last year. The event was also sponsored by the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, Office of the University Chaplains, the Center for Student Involvement’s Be the Change grant and the Office of the President.

Hillel Executive Director Michael Simon said he knew of other schools that had a “Mega Shabbat-like” event and said he began considering the possibility of one at NU when he met Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein of Chabad and Rabbi Josh Livingstone of Meor. While there had been a lot of talk about having this event, Simon said it did not come to fruition until last spring.

Simon said an important aspect of Mega Shabbat was seeing students who are involved in both the Jewish community and other organizations on campus bring their worlds together.

“We have a strong Hillel, we have a strong Chabad and we have a strong Meor, and all in our different ways, we help to promote Jewish life,” Simon said. “We often are doing our own programs on Shabbat or Passover or the High Holidays and a lot of the students involved in Hillel are involved in Chabad and/or Meor. It shows that while we each have our own distinctive and valuable programming and events, we can also come together in a united Jewish community, no matter what differences.”

Hillel president Ben Goldberg said the groups began prioritizing Mega Shabbat last year.

“We wanted something that would demonstrate the size and diversity of the Jewish community on campus,” the Weinberg senior said.

He said because there would be so many people at the event, those who might normally be wary of coming to a smaller Shabbat dinner at one of the organizations on campus would be more comfortable in the “low-key environment.”

Weinberg freshman Maddie Elkins said Mega Shabbat did make her want to participate in activities surrounding Jewish culture on campus.

“I had been meaning to get involved in the Jewish community here and I hadn’t had the opportunity,” Elkins said. “I just wanted to not lose touch with my Jewish roots and their culture once I came to college.”

Communication junior Nora Cohen, Mega Shabbat’s recruitment chair and a member of Hillel’s Leadership Council, said a lot of planning went into Friday’s event, from recruiting people to register and coordinating a date that would work out for all of the Jewish organizations to discussion of funding and catering with Allison dining hall. Attendees registered on the Mega Shabbat website and could choose to sit at specific organizations’ tables or in general seating.

Cohen added there are many rules and traditions, such as the prohibition of electricity on Sabbath, that complicated the planning process. Goldberg said accommodating the many different articulations and patterns of observance for Shabbat was an important aspect of planning: for example, compromising on the ritual songs sung before the meal. Overall, however, Cohen said organizers executed the event very well.

“For it being the first year, it went so smoothly,” Cohen said.

Many people said they were surprised at the event’s high attendance despite the heavy snowfall outside.

Weinberg junior Nicole Schindler said she hoped the groups would have more Mega Shabbats in the future. Although she has not been involved in the Jewish community on campus in an official way, she said she thought Mega Shabbat would be fun because it was a bigger event than usual.

“It didn’t feel crowded at all,” she said. “It felt really nice that such a big group of people were there.”

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