April 23, 2019 | 71° F

350 students attend Hillel's first Shabbat dinner

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

Rutgers Hillel held the first of its weekly Shabbat dinners on Friday night, bringing together hundreds of students in its newly finished building on College Avenue. Guests were treated to a meal comprised of kugel, chicken, soup and more.

Rutgers Hillel celebrated their inaugural Shabbat dinner Friday night with a community gathering.

The first in a series of weekly dinners hosted by members of the Hillel community welcomed nearly 350 students to indulge in delicious challah bread, among other prepared items, and get involved with the religious day of rest.

Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director of Rutgers Hillel, said that Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath, is the most important day of the week for the Jewish community. The holiday starts prior to sunset Friday night and goes until sundown on Saturday every week.

For most Jewish people, Friday night dinner is the quintessential time to get together with family and friends for this holiday meal, she said. 

Students tend to dress nicely as Shabbat is a very important time of the week for them, Reed said. Having a more elegant meal experience is in keeping with the special nature of Shabbat for the Jewish community. 

Once allowed in, attendants made way toward their tables, making sure to greet each other with “Shabbat Shalom!” — a traditional hello and sign of good faith in the Jewish community. 

When all were seated, Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, led the room in brief prayer to officially begin the evening's event.

Samantha Brandspiegel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of the Hillel Student Board, said the event was organized with student involvement and help from staff members. Through student resourcing, they managed to survey what students would like to see and incorporated those ideas into the dinner.

“Shabbat dinner was organized because it's what we do — we host a free Shabbat dinner for RU and Middlesex County Community College students every week ...  We just want to allow Jewish students the ability to have Shabbat dinner with their friends and the bigger community,” she said.

Items featured on the menu included soup, a first-time addition and recurring item that members of the community are very excited to see incorporated, Brandspiegel said. Additionally, the dinner featured chicken, varying side dishes and a crowd favorite — kugel. 

Vegetarian and gluten-free options were also offered.

“Shabbat is something really unique. It's the one day of the week that Jewish people come together as a community and really just be together. Shabbat dinner has always been our biggest event, and to finally have the opportunity to fill the dining hall for what it was built for is so inspiring,” she said.

Hillel frequently hosts events throughout the week, Brandspiegel said. This coming week of Passover, Hillel will be catering kosher meals for students on Thursday and Friday during Chol HaMoed.

Additionally, the organization has two of its largest events quickly approaching to finish off the year, she said. The end of year student leadership banquet to honor our students, staff and the class of 2017 will be held on Thursday, April 27, and the Ezra Schwartz FIT 5K is scheduled for April 30, Brandspiegel said.

Rabbi Reed said that the event has come a long way from dinners held in the Brower Commons Faculty Dining Room to its own personal space. The organization is now able to utilize the proper tools in preparing meals for the event to further elevate the atmosphere.

While the Hillel building has been open to students since March 20, Friday was the first time the building was ready to host Shabbat dinner in its new location. This event marked a transition for the organization that is now fully operational and ready to welcome Rutgers students to Hillel, Reed said.

“People should know this event is free for Rutgers students and that our mission is to serve the Jewish students at Rutgers," she said. "We were delighted to have so many non-Jewish students attend our opening Shabbat dinner in particular. We look forward to other special events in the future that the wider campus community can attend as well.” 

Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. 

Christian Zapata

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