Shabbat, considered one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, is the weekly day of rest symbolizing the Jewish people’s relationship with God. We take a break from our weekday activities to remember that the world was created in six days, and on the seventh day God rested. Shabbat lasts from just before sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Shabbat begins by lighting candles and reciting a blessing. The Friday night prayer service, Kabbalat Shabbat, welcomes Shabbat’s arrival. We also recite blessings over wine, over the washing of hands, and over challah bread, before a festive meal. Each Saturday morning, the weekly Torah portion is read aloud.
When Shabbat ends on Saturday evening at sundown, a Havdalah (separation) ceremony distinguishes between Shabbat and the six days of work with blessings over wine, spices and candles. After the blessing and other prayers, we wish each other “Shavua Tov,” a good week.
Shabbatot at Hillel take many forms: from meditation to Moroccan, interfaith to Indian, community-wide to cancer awareness, in a Hillel center, or in a dorm room, or even at Greek houses with “Shabbat Kits” provided by the local Hillel – complete with candles, grape juice, challah and more. Shabbat events are held on rooftops in the center of St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the home of the Hillel Director at Towson University in Baltimore, MD.
Below, check out just a few of the innovative ways Hillels around the world celebrate Shabbat.
At University of Southern California Hillel, more than 120 students took part in a special Martin Luther King Celebration Shabbat, in collaboration with the Black Student Assembly. The evening featured a performance by the campus Gospel choir (with both Jewish and black students), and remarks by a Jewish faculty member who had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights era.
“At Ryerson University in Toronto, we held a multi-faith Shabbat dinner hosted by the president of the university. Attendees included senior administrators, Jewish and non-Jewish faculty, members of the Board of Governors, members of different faith-based student groups and, of course, Hillel students. We joined together for an enjoyable Shabbat dinner where Shabbat rituals were explained and each table was filled with interesting conversation about school, life, religion and values.” – Elise Loterman, Program Associate at Ryerson University Hillel
“We celebrated a Puerto Rican Shabbat at Wellesley College. Students from Mezcla, the Latina student group, and Hillel students found foods they could cook for Shabbat that would be both Puerto Rican-style and kosher. Together they cooked Shabbat dinner, shared Shabbat with prayers in Spanish, Hebrew and English and shared stories of their cultural backgrounds while enjoying the delicious meal. The program was sparked by a community service Alternative Break trip to Puerto Rico, with both Jewish and Latina student participants. The connection between the groups has enabled students to learn more about each other, their ethnic identity and cultural similarities.” - Patti Sheinman, Director of Wellesley College Hillel
Connecting Shabbat and Social Justice
“Brown RISD Hillel holds an annual Sacred Foods and Social Justice Shabbat Weekend to honor nature and celebrate her bounties. It's a weekend of events planned around locally sourced, sacred food. We use Shabbat to focus on sustainability and the environment." -Marshall Einhorn, Executive Director of Brown RISD Hillel
“For the last seven years, Trinity College Hillel has hosted Pink Shabbat for Breast Cancer Awareness, co-sponsored by many student groups. The celebration includes a special service and D’var Torah that connects the Torah portion with the issue of women's health, as well as pink-themed foods, like pink challah made by members of a Trinity sorority.” -Lisa Kassow, Director of Trinity College Hillel
“Once a month, students at New College of Florida in Sarasota prepare food on Friday afternoon to share with total strangers, and celebrate Shabbat with the homeless. They recite all of the blessings and have Shabbat dinner in the park.” - Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Executive Director/Campus Rabbi of Hillels of the Florida Suncoast