Shabbat Shalom! Bringing Jewish traditions from home

Ky Watnick

HEAD COPY EDITOR 

A. J. Villalobos Hall was bright and full of happy, comfortable energy when the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and Religious Studies department’s Shabbat dinner began at 6 p.m. last Friday, March 8. There was a Bon Appètit-provided buffet of salad, rice pilaf, mushroom-stuffed chicken, and matso ball soup, all done in kosher style, that lined the back wall. White-clothed tables were spotted around the room, and an astonishing 53 students, faculty, and visitors surrounded them in contented jubilee. 

It has become tradition for the JSU to put on a Shabbat dinner for the Campus. However, according to third-year Co-President of the JSU Jenna Gilb, last week’s event was different because the “event was a collaboration between the Religious Studies department and the [JSU].” Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Anjeanette LeBoeuf organized the event in order to introduce the students in her Judaism class to real, current Jewish traditions. 

“This is in accordance [with] my class that I [am] teaching on Judaism,” said LeBoeuf. “I am offering it up to my students to actually participate in this crucial ritual that takes place every Friday for Jewish people … I said, ‘Hey, let’s do something together.’ I wanted to do something to start building a community across cultures and religions on campus, ... but it is largely student-led.”

The turnout for the event was larger than anyone expected. “I literally just advertised it on Monday (March 3). We gave people two days to RSVP, and it was on a Friday night,” said LeBoeuf. “I am just baffled. We at the Religious Studies department think that it shows a need [for these events].”

More than just LeBoeuf’s Judaism students and the JSU were at the dinner, though. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Jason Carbine opened the event to his classes as well. In fact, the event was opened to all Religious Studies classes as a learning and/or extra credit opportunity.

“One of the best ways of [teaching] compassion and empathy is for them to actually experience it. It’s one thing to read it in a book. It’s another to see it live and in color and smell and taste and all of that,” said Dr. LeBoeuf. “I’m a firm believer in visibility, so for this to just be taking place on campus is a big thing.” 

There was a general consensus from those that put the event together that the focus should be appreciation, education, and engagement. “As Religious Studies Department Chair, I hoped the Shabbat Dinner would provide a gathering that any interested students could be part of. I also hoped that students and/or their guests who might not know anything about the practice of Shabbat would be able to learn about it and its significance through personal participation,” said Dr. Jason Carbine. “From my perspective, [the event] exceeded my expectations. Much thought and preparation went into the event, and it was a superb evening in my view.”

Everyone delved into the experience full force. The dinner began with the reading of the prayer for Shabbat by two members of the JSU, with the rest of the room joining in at times. They had given each table packets with the traditional Hebrew, Romanized Hebrew, and English translations of each prayer so that all attendees could participate. Traditional challah was shared by all, but wine was replaced with a more WC-friendly substitute: grape juice. Students shared a meal and their lives over the small, round tables as the night progressed.

“In my undergrad[uate] school, we had a large Jewish community… I have always been around it,” said LeBoeuf. This was a positive experience that Dr. LeBoeuf believed should be shared by all students. “I felt like this was something that I could contribute to make sure that we can start seeing [that community] again here at Whittier.”

After some time eating and rejoicing together, Dr. LeBoeuf stood to share the history of Shabbat and its importance to the Jewish people as a whole. She followed with her feelings about the night and opened the floor to the JSU to join in with stories of their own Shabbat experiences and what the event signified. It was a very surreal, touching moment for everyone in attendance. “All of it was important, [but] for me, the sharing of the significance of Shabbat by students and others stood out,” said Dr. Carbine.

“It gave students the opportunity to take a break from our hectic lives in order to enjoy being in the moment together,” said Gilb. It seemed that every person in the room had forgotten clocks and responsibilities for just a little while. Conversations were open and flowing, and there was a distinct feeling of safety and togetherness throughout the room. 

“Shabbat dinners are one of my favorite holidays to celebrate and share with my community, because they are a time-honored Jewish tradition that people from all cultural and religious backgrounds can appreciate,” said fourth-year JSU Co-President Maya Eylon. “Shabbat dinners give us the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds over delicious Jewish foods and interesting discussion.”

When the JSU had shared and returned to their seats, Dr. LeBoeuf looked to the rest of the attendees for their stories. One student stood to share his beliefs on the night, focusing in on the smiles on everyone’s faces and the purity of the ritual. He called for all of us to stand and protect what is ours, to face anti-semitism so that Shabbat could live on, and to take on the bigots of the world to keep wholesome traditions alive. “I felt that the Shabbat dinner went beautifully and definitely achieved the goals we were hoping it would. I hope to see such a great turnout at future Shabbat dinners as well,” said Eylon. The success was certainly felt by everyone in attendance that night.

“I want [my students] to have a tactile feel of Judaism. It’s one of my personal dedications to teaching, to make sure they get a lived experience as well,” said Dr. LeBoeuf. “The universe kind of reinforces why this matters. This is coming off of the thing in [Newport Beach] with the students making a swastika out of red Solo cups, so I think this is highly necessary. We need to make sure nothing like that happens again … in all forms, not just for the Jewish people.”