All-campus Shabbat draws diverse crowd

Steven Harbaugh

Michelle Friedman sets up for the seventh annual Hillel Shabbat. The dinner includes challah, which is egg bread, and other traditional foods.

Credit: Beth Rankin

The ceremonial lighting of the candles began as soon as the sun went down. Shortly thereafter, Hebrew songs and prayers filled the typically silent corridors of the Student Center’s third floor.

The seventh annual all-campus Shabbat was held at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in Room 310 of the Student Center for a crowd of approximately 70 students.

The Sabbath, or Shabbat in Hebrew, is one of the best-known Jewish observances. Every Friday, Jews set aside the happenings of the week and concentrate on devoting themselves to their higher power, G-d.

Mindi Greenberg, junior leisure studies major and member of Hillel, said she enjoys the service because it makes her feel like she’s at home.

“Hillel really is my home away from home,” she said. “I’m from Cincinnati and I don’t get to go home that much, so Friday nights I can come here and get free Jewish food and be around people I’m comfortable with.”

Shabbat begins at sundown Friday and ends after sundown on Saturday, after seeing the first three stars in the night sky.

Usually, Shabbat is held at the Hillel Jewish Student Center at 202 N. Lincoln St. in Kent. But once a year, the Jewish observance is held in the Student Center instead of at Hillel’s building.

Matt Cohen, who led the evening’s service, played his acoustic guitar during the songs. He stopped and clarified he is from the “reform movement” since he uses a guitar and sings traditional Hebrew songs in a more modern fashion.

During “Welcome the Sabbath ‘Bride,’” he gestured toward the door and said, “It’s customary to turn towards the door to welcome the Sabbath Bride.”

As he said that, someone walked in late to the service.

“There she is,” he announced.

Everyone laughed.

The service, though relaxed and student-friendly, is steeped in tradition — these customs have evolved and become more contemporary for the evening’s college crowd.

Most students recited the Hebrew verses line-by-line by memorization. Some swayed back and forth during the songs and others smiled. Some remained silent and chose not to sing.

Some men wore kippas. Others did not.

Some stood during certain Hebrew verses. Others did not.

The differences within Judaism are because the religion has branched into variations with Orthodox, reformed Judaism and Hasidic being among them.

Hillel services are more of a reformed style, said Catherine Cunningham, senior sociology and art history major and the community service intern for Hillel.

Cunningham invited two friends to show them her religion. One of her friends is black and another is Japanese; both are from different religious backgrounds.

The crowd was very diverse. Some non-Jewish students came to attend the service just out of curiosity.

Sophomore pre-med majors Cherrie Print and Neil Sreshta both accompanied their friend Elisabeth Goodwin, also a sophomore pre-med major, to learn more about her religion.

Neither of them had any familiarity with Judaism until the service.

Jennifer Chestnut, director of Hillel, said introducing students to diversity is part of what the college experience is about.

“We absolutely encourage non-Jewish students to attend our events to learn about a different culture,” Chestnut said.

After the service, everyone headed to a separate room for a buffet-style Jewish meal with food brought from kosher markets in Cleveland.

On the buffet is Matzah ball soup, noodle kugel, traditional Jewish bread, salad and chicken.

Students who had returned from the recent Birthright Israel trip spoke and ceremonial prayers were said for the wine, bread and during the washing of the hands.

Cunningham summed up Shabbat with two words: relaxation and reflection.

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].