by Elisheva Rosen
The Jewish Holidays are a vibrant and busy time for the Jewish community. Throughout the months of September and October, Chabad became a beehive of activity, providing numerous programs and events for Rutgers students so that all students would be able to experience the Jewish holidays.
Rutgers Chabad welcomed students back to school in September with a new Sephardic synagogue, part of Chabad’s thirteen million dollar expansion. The grand opening of the “Franco and Ashkenazi” Sephardic Synagogue featured Sephardic style Friday Night and Shabbat prayers. “So many students attended the inaugural Shabbat celebration that the men’s prayer section needed to be expanded,” said Talia Friedman, a senior at Rutgers University. The Sephardic synagogue, which is the first of its kind to be built on an American public college campus, was constructed to service the growing Sephardic Jewish community at Rutgers University. It also serves as the Beit Midrash for many Rutgers students looking for a comfortable place to learn.
Late Saturday night on September 20, into the early hours ofSunday morning, Rutgers students celebrated the countdown to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at the Rutgers Chabad House beginning with Selichot. Selichot is a series of liturgical and repentant prayers recited daily prior to Rosh Hashanah. The celebrations began with a midnight Farbrengen where students joined the Rabbis for a delicious dinner accompanied with l’chaims for the New Year, singing, and inspirational stories. The story told by Rabbi Shaya about hope for the future and the infinite possibilities for atonement was described as “uplifting” and “beautiful” by numerous students. First-Year Student, Rigel Janette, also gave a short speech about teshuvah,Hebrew for repentance. Following the Farbrengen, students were invited to the Chabad House’s new synagogue to recite the day’s first Selichot.
On Sunday, September 28, Rutgers Chabad organized a Kaparos event for the Jewish community at Rutgers University and the larger New Brunswick area. Kaparos is a symbolic ritual to pray for atonement prior to the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ritual consists of the symbolic transfer of a person’s sins to a chicken which is then donated to charity. For many Rutgers students, this was the first time that they participated in the Jewish ritual. “It was really fun!” exclaimed sophomore Jasmine Moradi, “Rabbi Shaya guided me through Kaparos with a live rooster!”
After Yom Kippur, Rutgers students helped to build a Sukkah in the Chabad House’s parking lot for the holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot, the festival of booths, is a religious holiday that commemorates the Jews’ journey through the desert. The Rutgers Chabad’s Sukkah is a one-of-the-kind structure, designed by an alumnus so that it would be able to accommodate the three hundred plus guests that attend Chabad’s holiday meals. Throughout the eight day festival, Chabad held both holiday and weekday meals in the Sukkah. A few dedicated students, led by senior Talia Friedman, slept inside the sukkah for the duration of the holiday. The Chabad House at Rutgers also organized a Lulav and Etrog sale, the four species used on the holiday as part of the celebratory rituals.
During the intermediary days of Sukkot, Rabbi Shaya, the educational director of Rutgers Chabad, organized a trip to Crown Heights for the Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeva. Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeva is a festival instituted during the times of the Temple to celebrate the beginning of the rain season. The celebration in Crown Heights was attended by thousands of people who danced in the streets to live music. “Going to a Simchas Beit Hashoeva in Crown Heights with Rabbi Shaya and some other guys was a great experience,” said first-year Rutgers student, Rigel Janette. “It was an unbelievable sight to see so many Jews, and it was fun to dance– everybody kind of felt like family; it didn’t matter who you were next to, we were all brothers.” “It was an absolutely unforgettable night,” echoed freshman, Steve Gotlib, “definitely my favorite event so far.”
The holidays concluded with a huge Simchat Torah event. Simchat Torah signals the conclusion and restarting of the annual Torah reading cycle. Rutgers students celebrated with a night and day of dancing, singing and feasting at the Chabad House. Over the course of the evening, students and the Chabad rabbis poured out of the building and danced through College Avenue, the main thorough fair of the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. The culmination of the Simchat Torah celebrations took place outside of the College Avenue Student Center, formerly known as the Rutgers Student Center, where the Rutgers Chabad House was joined by students from Rutgers Hillel, another Jewish organization on campus. Together, the two Jewish organizations celebrated Simchat Torah with over two hundred students dancing together throughout the night.