On Campus: 600 Students Observe Shabbos, Some Say For Keeps

On Campus: 600 Students Observe Shabbos, Some Say For Keeps

At the havdallah after Shabbos, students strum and sing.

by Dvora Lakein - S. Barbara, CA

February 21, 2008

Preparing Shabbos takes work. With 600 guests coming for two dinners and then some--that's months of hard work for Chabad Shluchim, lots of fundraising and logistical planning. Why do they do it?


 “What a credit to Chabad that 500 Jewish students from around California devoted a weekend to learning about Judaism and Jewish commitment. Would that other Jewish groups have such success working with what is probably the most Jewishly alienated generation in American history.”

That was radio talk show host Dennis Prager’s take on the recent West Coast Chabad on Campus Shabbaton, (Feb. 10), to date, the largest intercollegiate Jewish event in the region, say its hosts.

Twenty West Coast colleges and universities participated with a show of 600 students who made Shabbos at the University of California at Santa Barbara  with Rabbi Mendel and Rochel Loschak, Chabad reps to UCSB.

The event, said Rabbi Tzvi Bronchtain, who came with nine students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, proved “that Judaism is alive and strong, and relevant at their age.” His contingency reveled in the realization that “they’re not alone in their struggles to maintain and develop their Jewish identities.”

The charged momentum of last year’s event is what inspired Elana Rams, a California State University freshman, and 40 others from her school, to come. “I found a group of life-long friends from Berkeley, San Diego, and San Francisco.” She marvels, “Where else could I meet such a cool group of Jews?”

Lindsey Walker, who helped coordinate the event at UCSB, had a similar response: “I never saw so many Jews in one place before in my life. The spiritual charge was overwhelming.”

Before the event, Walker helped with various details, including finding housing for the 450 out of town students. The coordinators scrolled through their cell phone address books, searched their Facebook friends, and called people they didn’t know, in order to pull together enough housing. Rams, and six other girls, camped out in someone’s living room, in what she describes as an “awesome, huge slumber party.”

That party started Friday evening with something most of the students could relate to: a traditional Shabbat dinner. On her campus in Northridge, Rams says that Chabad is famous for the best Purim parties and the warm Friday night gatherings. Though she attends those regularly, she was not prepared for the “hugeness” in Santa Barbara.

The dinner, on the Loschak’s front lawn in a 4,000 square foot tent—possibly the largest ever in Santa Barbara history—was set with tables to seat more than 500 students who Rams says, “she never knew existed before, but who had one thing in common: all wanted to experience Judaism together.”

Brooke Alyeshmerni, a sophomore, made the eight-hour trip along with 12 other students from Arizona State University. Aside from meeting new people, she was pleased to make closer friendships with students from her own school. She enjoyed the change of pace Shabbat offered her. “The food,” she says, “was surprisingly good.” Comfort food, in general, is usually a large draw for students across campuses. This Shabbaton was no exception, only the volume was different.

Big numbers require big money: 100 quarts of chicken soup, 300 pounds of chicken, 1.000 hotdogs, washed down with 600 bottles of soda . . . In this case, the estimated bill was 30,000 dollars.

Student coordinator Matt Shayefar, a computer science major at UCSB, raised a large bulk of the money. He wrote letters and spoke to different campus and student government officials, eventually pooling together 16,000 dollars.

Like Rams, and many of the other attendees, Shayefar had never attended a Shabbaton before this one. His personal highlight, he told Lubavitch.com, was Havdallah on the beach when a few hundred students sang together at Shabbat’s close. For Walker the most “awesome part was the dancing while the band performed Saturday night.” Others talked about sailing on a boat with 25 Jews in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on Sunday. . .

Rabbi Loschak is awed by what he terms: “Shabbat at its fullest,” an experience he hoped would open students to the beauty of Shabbat observance, and inspire them to take it on.

No sooner was Shabbat over, that one University of Arizona told his Chabad representative, Rabbi Yosef Winner, “Get ready for me Rabbi. I am taking the Shabbat challenge. I’ll be at your home every Friday night and Shabbat morning for the next ten weeks.”

An undergraduate at UCSB signed up to learn the laws of Shabbat with Mrs. Loschak.

And yet another told Rabbi Loschak, “Rabbi, I love Shabbos—I’ll remember this forever.”

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