Shabbat Across Campus Brings Shabbat to UT Students
Avital Gurman picks up her Shabbat kit. Credit Rabbi Zev Johnson.
By Jordana Hoffman
More than 300 students came together in houses, apartments and dorm rooms across Austin to celebrate Shabbat Oct. 26.
This event, Shabbat Across Campus, started four years ago when J-Tribe and Chabad at UT teamed up to spread a little light in the darkness after the Har Nof shooting in Jerusalem. The organizations’ response to the horrible event was to create a DIY interactive Shabbat event for students to bring into their own homes, allowing it to be as small or as large as the student wants. There, students had the opportunity to take this tragedy and use it to build a Jewish community around themselves.
The event has continued to grow since its first year. Four years ago, Shabbat Across Campus engaged 50 students. The next year, the event more than doubled in size, with 120 students participating. The third year, a record 235 students participated. In fall 2018, another record was set, with 315 students participating in Shabbat Across Campus.
A large part of the continued success and growth of this program is due to Chabad at UT’s Rabbi Zev Johnson’s belief in and support of Shabbat Across Campus. He was at the inception of the program and designed a quick and easy prayer service for students to use for the event and take home to use at future Shabbats.
While Shabbat Across Campus started as a response to terrorism, in the past few years it has grown and developed as a guide to building a personal Jewish community outside of the synagogue. Students were able to bridge the gap between Shabbats in and after college and could create personal Shabbat traditions that would last a lifetime.
Chabad helps guide Jewish students during college. After graduation, some find it difficult to figure out traditions, so the DIY Shabbat Across Campus program gives participants a starter kit.
“While having [students] at Chabad is important and meaningful, Judaism starts in the home,” said Johnson.
A student-led program, Shabbat Across Campus is an ever growing undertaking but the Shabbat chair on the J-Tribe board, UT sophomore Alex Herschmann, said this is exactly what he had signed up for.
J-Tribe, a subsidiary of Jewish Heritage Program, is a Jewish student-led grassroots organization with a mission to unite Austin’s college-aged Jewish community. Herschmann is actively involved with J-Tribe and Chabad at UT and strongly supports their combined efforts to bring Shabbat Across Campus to as many students as possible.
He feels that this event is a great way to help others feel more comfortable and find meaning in their religion. He was in charge of getting people signed up, organizing Shabbat kits and scheduling pick-ups. Chabad worked with Herschmann to assemble the kits, which included kosher Shabbat meals for groups of all sizes, grape juice, mini challahs and Johnson’s prayer service.
Besides organizing the largest Shabbat Across Campus at UT yet, Herschmann set another record—he hosted his own humble Shabbat Across Campus dinner with 40 students, the largest individual Shabbat dinner.
“Shabbat Across Campus was one of the most remarkably fun and experimental nights of my year. I, along with my close friend, hosted a Shabbat dinner and had 40 people in attendance. It was beautiful to see such an amazing turnout from members of the UT Jewish community. It is amazing to see how many students are willing to put their weekend plans on hold to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Herschmann said.
All students who participated, whether at that incredibly large table or at smaller tables of their own, agree that this was a significant program with lasting effects.
Morgan Chapman, a UT senior, said of her Shabbat, “It was so much fun having my friends over for a meal in our own home. It foreshadowed our traditions after college for Shabbat meals.”
While this is the only program of its kind at UT, J-Tribe and Chabad at UT are proud to sponsor this and other similar programs throughout the entire school year.
Those interested in supporting Chabad at UT are encouraged to provide contributions throughout the year through Chabad Shares, which allows for monthly donations that help Jewish students of all denominations to learn, thrive and connect with one another. This is a chance to become an active part of this community while helping to ensure its future. ■
To find out more about these organizations, visit jewishlonghorns.com.