Nearly 200 University of Chicago students packed into Ida Noyes Hall for a banquet style Shabbat dinner on January 28th. The dinner was the third in a series of six “Mega Shabbat” dinners hosted by the University of Chicago’s Newberger Hillel Center.
The evening’s remarkable turnout—25% of all Jewish college students at the University—was fueled by eight student interns trained and managed by Hillel’s Director of Engagement, Leah Kahn. This student leadership team studies and practices community organizing techniques in addition to other skills essential for recruitment such as empathetic listening and marketing. Their effort to build relationships with uninvolved Jewish students on campus over the course of the full school year pays off at events like Mega-Shabbat, where students can meet and mingle with other Jewish students.
The interns made sure their friends and new contacts felt welcome by seating them at tables of smaller groups and student communities of like-minded peers. So often students feel lost and overwhelmed in big crowds, but each student leaves Mega-Shabbat with a new Jewish friend similarly trying to navigate Jewish identity in college.
One popular dinner table topic was the opening of registration for the University of Chicago Hillel’s Birthright Israel trip on February 15th. Alumni of past Hillel Birthright trips sat among students to share stories from their Israel experience and encourage them to apply for this year’s trip. 85 students applied by the end of the registration deadline (about 10% of Jewish college students on campus!).
Each Mega-Shabbat addresses issues of Jewish identity and meaning by introducing a “Thinker-in-Residence” who is also hosted by University of Chicago Hillel that weekend. The thinker has opportunities over a Mega-Shabbat weekend to introduce students to new or novel approaches to living a Jewish life.
The January Mega-Shabbat featured a presentation and performance by Rachel Havrelock, UIC professor and Bible scholar, and her husband Yuri Lane, a vocal musician whose “human beatbox” style resonated with many students. The duo shared ideas about the creative process and how it relates to understanding Israel’s cultural nuances. Many students stayed to ask questions and discuss new ideas inspired by the talk.
Havrelock and Lane also led numerous workshops on campus over the weekend with the egalitarian student minyan, a Jewish acapella group, and a team of student interns planning campus events for Passover.
At the end of the evening, the team of interns thanked dinner attendees for coming and handed out invitations to the next Mega-Shabbat in March. “See you next Mega-Shabbat!”
The Mega-Shabbat dinners and Thinker-in-Residence series, a project of the University of Chicago Hillel, is generously sponsored by the Horwitz Charitable Fund.