On January 31, 2014, over 400 students gathered in Allison Dining Hall for Northwestern’s 3rd Annual Abel and Judy Friedman Mega Shabbat Dinner. This year’s Mega Shabbat had special significance, as it marked the beginning of the 80th year of Jewish Life at Northwestern.
Friday night Shabbat dinners are a Jewish tradition where friends and family gather under one roof to enjoy good food and welcome the day of rest. Across college campuses, student groups organize large Shabbat dinners to bring together students of all faiths to experience a traditional Jewish meal. While the evening includes Jewish prayers over grape juice and bread at the beginning of the meal, the aim of Mega Shabbat here at Northwestern is to welcome people to Jewish traditions and to encourage attendees to engage in discussions about religion and Jewish life on campus. The Mega Shabbat board likes to emphasize that the food is meant as a way for people to come together, relax and be thankful. Here at Spoon, we definitely agree.
Students were divided into color-coded sections where they could mingle while enjoying a family style meal, a great improvement from last year’s buffet-style chaos. The meal featured a light salad with almonds and raspberry vinaigrette, roast chicken, roast potatoes, steamed green beans, a couscous-chickpea salad and was finished with a flaky apple turnover. At the center of each table, in addition to tasteful flower arrangements, were multiple challahs, a traditional Jewish bread, all baked by Northwestern’s Challah for Hunger. Over a shared challah or two, strangers were able to open up to one another. For some of us food is always meaningful, but during Shabbat, it becomes even more powerful as a vehicle to bring people together.
The sense of community during the event was palpable – the dining hall was bustling and it was often hard to get the whole room quiet as everyone was too engaged in conversation. Many students were involved in the preparation for the event, including the Mega Shabbat Board as well as Table Captains who advertised and encouraged representation from their various student groups on campus, such as Delta Gamma Fraternity, Shabbat for 10 Strangers, Transfers, Sigma Chi Fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, A&O and Mayfest and many other groups and dormitories.
This year, the advertising push on Facebook and through word of mouth was extremely successful: registration for the (free) event filled up in less than 7 hours. Director of Hillel, Michael Simon, beamed at the success of the event in just its 3rd year, suggesting that in the near future the event may need to expand beyond the confines of Allison Dining Hall.
Shabbat Shalom, everyone!