Douglass Dining Center welcomed its biggest crowd so far this year Oct. 24 at the seventh annual campus- and community-wide Shabbat. Co-sponsored by Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Chabad, the annual event was dubbed Shabbat Hagadol, or the Great Shabbat, to reflect the large turnout expected. The over 600-person event, which provided a traditional Shabbat dinner, welcomed students from UR, RIT and SUNY Geneseo as well as the Rochester Jewish community.
Rabbi Vogel of Chabad kicked off the Great Shabbat with an enthusiastic welcome. “Shabbat is a day to slow down, to take our time over the meal,” Vogel said. “It is a very holy day’- a day of blessing. It’s time to take the opportunity to appreciate people around us.”
To start off the meal, Vogel entertained the gathering with a Jewish fable. Throughout dinner, UR Hillel president and senior Jason Kay and junior Laura Rosen Puzio led the crowd in traditional Jewish song.
This year, Shabbat Hagadol made the leap from the Hillel calendar to the UR calendar. “More people know about the Great Shabbat this year,” Kay said. “We are all satisfied with the turnout.”
According to Aviva Raichelson, Director of Development for Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges, a greater attendance meant extensive community outreach. “We invited local alumni and local parents as well as members of the Rochester area Jewish community,” Raichelson said.
Despite increased community attendance, Kay notes that student turnout has been larger in past years. However, he and other Hillel representatives are not discouraged. “This year we went for quality over quantity,” Kay said.
With the focus of the dinner shifting to quality, a change was this year was in terms of seating. The upper level of Douglass, which was necessary to facilitate attendance at last year’s Shabbat 806, was not available Friday – only the lower was used. “Organizing [the Great Shabbat] was hard because it was so big, but we made the tables smaller to help keep a family feeling,” Kay said. “We try to keep our weekly Shabbat services as family-like as possible.”
Hillel is not SA funded and must rely on the contributions of alumni and community members to finance such projects as Shabbat Hagadol. “We receive very good funding from the community,” Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges Program Director Tamara Cohen said.
The Great Shabbat – along with weekly Shabbat dinners at the Interfaith Chapel – is part of the Ron and Marilyn Furman Advised Fund, started by Ron and Marilyn Furman to provide free Shabbat meals to UR students. “We thought charging for Shabbat could be offensive, so we created this program,” Ron Furman said.
“We live in a predominantly Christian nation, and there needs to be somewhere for young Jewish people to belong,” Furman continued, explaining how the Shabbat meals he and his wife sponsor are intended to encourage students to attend Shabbat and strengthen their Jewish identities.
Another of goal of the annual Shabbat is to spread awareness of Judaism. “Hopefully tonight was a way for uncertain students to venture to Shabbat and be comfortable here,” Marilyn Furman said. “Shabbat Hagadol is cross beneficial – students see the support of the community and the community learns from the students.”
Despite a student turnout lower than last year’s, Shabbat Hagadol was well received by those who helped plan as well as those who attended. “It was nice because where I’m from there isn’t a big Jewish community and I’ve found that at [UR],” freshman Stephanie Putter said.
“This Shabbat Hagadol was the best ever,” Rabbi Vogel said, summing up Shabbat Hagadol. “and next year’s will be even better!”
Borchardt can be reached at email@example.com.