Organizations Join Forces to Build Community Through Shabbat
UT alumna and Moishe House member Hannah Lerner and grad student Jason Epstein have fun at the pre-Shabbat photo booth. Credit: Photo booth image courtesy of Chabad at UT.
By Jordana Hoffman
The summer in Austin is very hot, and the city quiets down just a little as the large student population goes home until the fall semester begins. Summer is the perfect time for Chabad at UT to reflect on the past school year: what went well, what didn’t, and what leaders should be proud of.
There were many incredible events where students were able to connect to their Jewish roots on a deeper level while connecting with each other throughout the year, but one of the most exciting triumphs of the year was the Mega Grad Shabbat in March.
Every Shabbat, all Jewish students are welcome, whether they are undergraduates or graduate students. While everyone is welcome, the focus does tend to go towards undergrads since they are more likely to be living on campus and therefore in need of a good home cooked Shabbat meal. However, every year, Chabad hosts a special Shabbat that is just focused on graduate students. 2019 was intended to be like any other year in this way, but it quickly became so much more.
Chabad at UT is not the only game in town for post bachelor degree adults. There is Moishe house, YAD, Chabad Young Jewish Professionals, and more. With this many organizations in Austin for the post-college crowd, there are going to be calendar conflicts, but it has also allowed for an organic growth of teamwork within the broader Austin community.
YAD got the ball rolling by reaching out to Rabbi Zev Johnson, the rabbi in charge of Chabad at UT, asking to partner up for a Shabbat event. Moishe House had already scheduled an event for that Shabbat, but once Hannah Lerner—a Moishe House member, UT alumna and a former Chabad at UT regular—got wind of what was happening, they decided to reach out and inquire about combining events.
In general, the line between young professionals and graduate students is a bit blurry, so it made sense to include Chabad Young Jewish Professionals, and Johnson extended the invitation to the other Jewish graduate student groups on campus. Everyone involved was excited to celebrate Shabbat and Judaism in Austin together. This Shabbat had somehow morphed into an expression of Jewish unity.
No one was more excited than Johnson, who said, “This was a unique time to show a true display of unity. We have so many wonderful grad students and alumni involved, and this was an opportunity to take them to the next level and get more involved in the broader Jewish community.”
Austin's Jewish young adult community was able to come together and organize an incredible event that will shine in attendees’ memories for years. More than 100 people attended, including the CEO of Shalom Austin, Rabbi Daniel Septimus, and his family.
The event took place at Chabad at UT, so Johnson and his wife Ariela led the charge. Under their leadership, Austin's Jewish young adult community organized an incredible event with speakers from the different groups, who all spoke lovingly about their relationships with Chabad and their openness to work and engage with the other organizations within the community.
Johnson led a lively Shabbat service and many people were able to enjoy reconnecting with the religious and spiritual side of Shabbat. A Shabbat dinner at Chabad at UT always includes incredible food, and this Shabbat, Ariela outdid herself with a sushi bar for pre-dinner snacks, then a gourmet four course meal after dinner.
Eric Schulman—a devoted Chabad at UT attendee and member of the JGrads board—said, “I liked bringing together so many Jewish young adults at different stages in their careers. Also, Ariela always makes a mean brisket that reminds me of home.”
As a member of the student board that organizes events for Jewish graduate students at Chabad at UT, Schulman was in attendance that night, and said the event was especially meaningful because it brought everyone together and even amidst this big event teaming up with so many different organizations, the Chabad message of providing a home away from home still shined true.
The show of community was so well received that organizers immediately seemed interested in making this an annual event.
Funding for events like this comes from the Jewish Federations of Austin, Dallas, and Houston as well as individual contributions. 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. ■