“I’ve never seen a Jewish event of this magnitude ever before at Rutgers,” exclaimed Rutgers University senior Lauren Hayman of Cherry Hill, NJ. Chabad House at Rutgers hosted yet another Mega Shabbat for 1000 collegiates this past weekend which brought together young men and women from all 5 campuses of Rutgers, as well as friends of students from other colleges including Middlesex County College, Rowan University, The College of New Jersey, Kean College, and the Rutgers Medical School, and as far away as the University of Maryland, Delaware, and SUNY Binghamton. On campus, the event brought together students from Rutgers’ other Jewish organizations, including Hillel and RJX as well.
The event began traditionally enough, with the singing of lively, introductory Shabbat services, the lighting of the Shabbat candles with the recitation of the sacred Hebrew blessings, but soon became highly unorthodox as hundreds and hundreds of college students from all backgrounds and levels of observance started filling up the decked out Grand Ballroom of Chabad. “It was an electrifying sight to see so many Jews coming together to celebrate Shabbat, most of whom had never experienced Shabbat before,” commented Rutgers Sophomore, Carly Parker, of Deal, NJ.
Weeks of planning and hard work on the part of dozens of students paid off as Rutgers Chabad once again maintained its record and gathered the largest group of Jews at Rutgers in one Shabbat celebration. The program included a Kiddush and Hamotzi prayer over 1000 fresh baked challah rolls baked by Rutgers Senior and Master Challah Baker Alex Kreitman of Teaneck, NJ, and her staff, opening enthusiastic words by Chabad’s student president, Rutgers Senior, Jessica Yenk of Marlboro, NJ, a personal message of “what Shabbat means to me” by Chabad’s Master of Ceremonies and ZBT Fraternity Liaison, Rutgers Senior Logan Weiss, and an inspiring moment of silence in appreciation of G-d’s gift of Shabbat, announced by Shabbat for 1000 Student Director, Nicole Collins from Voorhees, NJ. A 5-course hot, traditional Shabbat dinner deliciously prepared by Chabad’s Head Chef, Shmuli Schwinger, was served by brothers of the AEPi Fraternity and its pledges, as well as many student volunteers. In addition, there were plenty of songs, conversation, and socializing over the stellar Viennese dessert tables. “You felt the feeling of communal belonging and Jewish pride that night!” added Logan Weiss.
Shabbat for 1000, an event sponsored by Rutgers Chabad since 2002, brings the Torah mitzvah of Shabbat to life in real time, enabling students from traditional backgrounds to interact with those who never heretofore even heard of this mitzvah. Rabbi Baruch Goodman, Campus Director of Chabad House, spoke of the little miracle that took place in conjunction with this year’s Shabbat 1000, stating how “originally, the event was to have taken place back in February, but due to a conflict in scheduling with our sister organization on campus, Hillel, it was voted on by Chabad’s Student Executive Leadership Team to move the event to the Shabbat immediately after Spring Break. Little did we know then that that Shabbat was none other than the Shabbat when Jews all over the world read the Torah portion of Vayakel, the very Torah portion which speaks of the Divine command to gather the entire nation of Israel together and for Moses to teach them all about the observance of Shabbat! We were blown away by the Divine providence and mazel in picking this day to gather Rutgers’ Jews together for Shabbat 1000!”
Student volunteers spent and sacrificed precious study hours, and even days, to share their love and excitement for Shabbos with their fellow Jewish students. Volunteers included: Jessica Yenk (President), Nicole Collins (Shabbos for 1000 Director), Logan Weiss (M.C. and ZBT Liaison), Arielle Greenspan (Shabbos Director), Maayan Krispin, Taylor Donato, Solomon Sultan (Treasurer), Daisy Gulko, Adam Gorenstein, Eytan Mendelow, Daniel Kapilovich, Jordan Shanskhalil, Juliet Matthew, Sara Schochet, Esther Esquenazi, Dan Siegel (President of AEPi Fraternity) Ksenia Tihomirova, Aaron Chaiklin, Aaron Bivas (AEPi Liaison), Jon Dubin, Nina Landa, Micah Lebowitz, Cara Greenspan, Elijah Lippe, Meir Brodsky, Josh Krantz, Jaclyn Rosler, Yosef Serkez, Jacob Levine, Sarah Gutwein, Evan Mahgerefteh, Josh Hezrony, Dov Kassai, Leor Dayan, Dafna Shochat, Aliza Kaplan, Rachel Krieger, Yaakov Holdowsky, Alana Engel, Mira Chanowitz, Elan Samoohi, Lauren Hayman (Delta Gamma Sorority Liaison), Ayelet Golubtchik, Tamar Dubin, Samantha Kolb, Carly Parker, Alec Naroditsky, Chaya Willick, Chavi Cohen, Raphaela Nissenzone, Ashleigh David (SDT Sorority Liaison), and the Brothers and Pledges of AEPi Fraternity.
All of the food for the event was cooked and prepared at the Chabad House by Chef Shmuli Schwinger and his staff, along with his student volunteers Maayan Krispin, Jaclyn Rosner and Chaya Willick. Despite how really hectic it was getting everything together, the chef commented “the event was exhausting, but inspiring” seeing everyone seated, enjoying all the food, and later interacting with one another at the “oneg Shabbat” around the Viennese tables.
Though feeding this many people is a huge job, recruiting 1,000 students to attend the Shabbat dinner was also an elaborate task taken on by the entire leadership team of Chabad, headed up by the Shabbat 1000 Student Director, Nicole Collins. First thanking all the volunteers and students who helped promote the event, Nicole spoke of the value of Jewish unity, saying “It’s funny that we are all one people, but when you think about it, we all come from very different backgrounds. In fact, Jews today do not all speak the same language. Yeah, there’s Hebrew, but most Jews in the world don’t even know how to speak in Hebrew. Also, we don’t come from the same land. Today, we come from all over the globe! We also don’t eat the same foods – there’s Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Israeli, Russian, Persian, Moroccan and Syrian foods! And same goes for styles of clothing. We’re all so different. With all these differences, how are we one people??!
“The answer was given by a very cool Rabbi, Rabbi Saadia Goan many years ago. He said that the Jewish people are a people by virtue of the Torah! We have one Torah which unites all of us. And in that Torah, G-d commands us many beautiful things – one of which is to honor and observe the Shabbat – that awesome day of the week where we come together as a family and celebrate our heritage and Jewish identity!” Nicole then asked for a moment of silence to really appreciate what we have – how great it is that we are all together and that we are blessed to express our Judaism in this great country of ours, in freedom and happiness. “Please join me a moment of silence to thank the One Above and to celebrate our unity!”
“While recruitment may be challenging, once you get a lot of your friends to start talking about the event, it encourages a lot of students to sign up,” said Jess Yenk. “This year we did tabling in the student centers and dining halls, sent out invites on facebook and Instagram, and covered the campus with red and white Shabbat for 1000 balloons in the days leading up to the event.”
For most attendees, the family, group atmosphere, and non-judgmental feel of Chabad’s typical events on campus are what they enjoyed the most of Shabbat for 1000.
Rabbi Shaya Shagalow, Chabad’s Educational Director, led a spirited “toast contest” which encouraged 10 random attendees to volunteer to come up to the stage and say a “l’chaim” to Jewish unity, in their own words. The winner was judged by the loudness of the cheers for each contestant. The winners of the contest were Joyce Dayan and Juliet Matthew. Other speakers included Effy Gittler, Toni Tuvia Newmark, Chabad RA Micah Lebowitz, and AEPi President Dan Siegel. “The idea of the Sabbath is it should bring peace and unity in the world,” they said. “For all the negativity you hear these days about anti-Semitic acts and other things happening, it’s good to see so many young people standing together for a mitzvah.” “Chabad provides us all a welcoming place where we can be ourselves, and come together as really one family. L’chaim to Chabad!”
Jews mark the Sabbath from sundown Fridays to sundown Saturdays by refraining from work and focusing on family, friends, Torah study and prayer – thanking G-d for life, family, and freedom and praying for peace in Israel and the entire world, blessing, and the future redemption with Moshiach’s imminent arrival, all while enjoying delicious foods and drink, and celebrating with one another.
One of Chabad’s leaders, Carly Parker, who was presented with birthday cake and a “Shabbat friendly cardstock birthday candle” at the Shabbat for 1000 event, commented with a big smile, “it was the biggest birthday party I ever had!”
Chabad Student Leader Adam Gorenstein commented about Shabbat saying, “there might not be any WIFI or cell phones being used at Shabbat for 1000, but you won’t find a better connection.”