Organizing Shabbat Across Campus
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
By Sloan Salinas, Georgia Tech '25
Every Friday night, as the sun sets on another week, Jewish people everywhere welcome in Shabbat surrounded by family and friends. This weekly custom is something that was constant in my household. No matter what else we had planned for the night or the weekend, my mother, my sister, and I would always take the time to light the Shabbat candles and say the blessings. It was something that helped me feel constantly connected to my religion and my identity as a Jewish teenager.
Moving to college, I wasn’t expecting to meet many Jewish people. However, I was pleasantly surprised to meet not one, but two Jewish students on my first night at Georgia Tech, one being an aerospace engineering major named Ethan Traub. I was excited to have people that I could attend Jewish events with on-campus and pretty soon, Friday night Shabbat dinners with Hillel became a tradition.
One week, Ethan approached me to say that he was planning on hosting a Shabbat dinner for our group of friends, part of a program Hillel was doing called Shabbat Across Campus. As only a few of members of the group are Jewish, this dinner was going to be the first time a lot of them were experiencing Shabbat. Ethan and I wanted to make sure that we made the experience a fun way for our friends, some of whom had never even met a Jewish person before coming to Georgia Tech, to experience an important religious and cultural custom.
Ethan and I recruited another one of our Jewish friends, Zoe Roberson, and together the three of us got to work planning. Ethan sent an RSVP to our group chat in order to get a headcount for food and I picked up some Shabbat supplies provided by Hillel at Georgia Tech. They gave us the Shabbat essentials: grape juice, candles, prayer cards with Shabbat blessings, Challah, and flowers. However, we still needed a dinner menu, one that consisted of foods traditionally found at Jewish holidays and celebrations, in order to provide an authentic Shabbat experience for our friends. After careful consideration, we ended up with matzo ball soup, noodle kugel, chicken, green beans, cookies, and a dish that had quickly become a favorite from our weekly Shabbat dinners at Georgia Tech: sesame noodles.
The week of the event rolled around and we had to concoct a plan to use our dorm’s kitchen to cook dinner for 20 people. Cooking started on Thursday and continued all the way into Friday evening. The lounge smelled great! Surprisingly, none of us felt too stressed about the ordeal. It just felt like we were throwing a big party, and we were all excited to share a part of ourselves with our friends.
Sesame noodles were made, soup simmered on the stove, homemade vegan challah came out of the oven, chicken and vegetables went into the oven and chatter filled the room as people began arriving. Before we began serving food, Ethan stood up to give a small speech (which might have been slightly paraphrased from a recent speech we'd heard by a campus Rabbi, much to Zoe and I's amusement), and briefly described the tradition of Shabbat and what it means to the Jewish people. He said Kiddush and I followed by lighting the Shabbat candles, explaining the symbolism of welcoming Shabbat, and saying the prayers and Zoe led the Hamotzi. Finally, we began serving the food. We encouraged everyone to try a bit of everything, even if they weren’t familiar with it. Ethan’s Matzo ball soup was a huge hit and everyone loved the sesame noodles. We sat together and ate, laughing, talking about our weeks, and occasionally answering some questions about Shabbat for our non-Jewish friends.
Overall, the experience of hosting a Shabbat for our friends was fantastic. I relished in the familiarity of the organized chaos of preparing for Shabbat dinners and I am so excited that we got to share a tradition that has been such an important part of my life with all of these new friends, people who are now a part of the next chapter in my life.
Even being a mixed group of Jews and non-Jews, the dinner held the warm feeling of community that I love so much about Shabbat. The air held the smell of fresh challah and soup and buzzed with the sound of conversation and laughter. I’m so grateful to Hillel for the opportunity to share my religion and culture on the campus that I now think of as home and to Ethan and Zoe for helping bring a memorable event to life with the people I now think of as a second family.