As students, we are constantly rushing from place to place. And for some, that makes it difficult to stop and think about honoring the age-old tradition of Shabbat each week.
At Florida Atlantic University, it took a table of do-it yourself activities in the middle of campus to remind students to rest, even if it was only for a few minutes.
On Thursday, March 15, I helped Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach set up a table in the campus courtyard. Dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish students stopped by our table to learn about the day of rest and how to incorporate it into their lives.
In mid-October, I attended a seminar in New York called workshopSHABBAT. It was an opportunity for students and Hillel professionals to come together and brainstorm new ways to transform the traditional Shabbat experience.
I couldn’t imagine our Hillel doing anything differently. Like many students, I came from a campus where Shabbat services followed by dinner is the norm.
One of the ideas we came up with was called Public Square Shabbat. It required a large group of people to celebrate Shabbat in a public place, where others could easily join. We thought that onlookers would take an interest and want to participate as well.
However, in the interest of taking baby steps toward change, I decided to take a step backward. I thought, “Why don’t we prepare for Shabbat in public?”
So, for three hours on March 15, that’s what we did.
With the help of Hillel professionals and several volunteers, we set up Shabbat stations — grape juice, candles, challah — in a heavily populated area on campus.
Each station included information sheets for students who were unfamiliar with Shabbat traditions and practices.
Hillel student Shelby Klein was the table leader at the “wine” station, where we provided water bottles and grape juice packets for students to drink immediately or save for Kiddush the next day.
Shelby said, “I came to realize that I need to de-stress and have time for myself on Shabbat. Volunteering at the tabling event helped me to do that because I made the things needed to celebrate Shabbat.”
At the challah station, we had premade dough for students to braid. They could either take the challah home or leave it with us to bake for our own Shabbat dinner at Hillel.
Rachel Synalovski ’19, who is studying Judaic studies, said she thought “it was a very cool concept that allowed people with and without knowledge of Shabbat to enjoy and learn. I think it was a great way to reach all different types of Jews as well as non-Jews who wanted to learn.”
And finally, at the Shabbat candle station, we had sheets of beeswax and wicks for students to roll into candles. Students were also given the option to keep these or leave them to serve as our Shabbat candles at dinner the following night.
A non-Jewish passerby named Jessica Marti ’19 said, “I learned how to braid challah and make a candle. I had no idea how to do any of it, but the volunteers showed me where to start.”
This opportunity helped us engage our peers in a unique way, bringing a moment of rest to students from all backgrounds. For some, this was the first time they heard of the Jewish Sabbath. For others, it reminded them of their connection to their Jewish heritage.
And most of all, it helped us realize that we don’t always need a traditional Shabbat experience to engage our peers. We just need to think outside of the box.
Dalilah Bernier is a student at Florida Atlantic University. She serves as Jewish education and Shabbat intern at Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach.