More than 1,000 students and alumni gathered Friday at 50 different locations across campus for a Shabbat dinner, which marks the Jewish Sabbath, or day of rest.
The event, called Shabbat at UM or ShabUM, was sponsored by University of Michigan Hillel and organized by a special committee.
LSA senior Ali Meisel, a member of the ShabUM committee, said Hillel hosted the event to celebrate all the different ways people observe Shabbat.
“When a Jewish person thinks of Shabbat, they think of the Friday night dinner and it’s a time where people can come together at the end of a week and really enjoy each other’s company and with their family and friends, and just really be grateful for the week that has just passed,” Meisel said.
Though Hillel hosts its own Shabbat dinner every Friday night, Meisel said, the point of ShabUM was to foster a comfortable space for those who may not feel comfortable going to a Hillel dinner.
“We know that’s not for everybody and not everybody wants to come to Hillel,” she said. “This event is an opportunity, as the slogan says, to ‘bring Shabbat home,’ which means that different people with particular interests are able to have their own personal Shabbat dinners.”
The ShabUM committee supplied each Shabbat host with a goodie bag that included the weekly Torah portion, matches with "Michigan" written in Hebrew on the box and a cloth cover for challah, a type of Jewish egg bread, also inscribed with Michigan in Hebrew. Hosts were welcome to use any or all of the items, which are included in traditional Shabbat dinners.
Meisel said the event meant a lot to her because of the significance Shabbat has for her personally.
“Judaism is a really big part of my identity and I’ve always loved Shabbat dinners,” she said. “Even though the general, basic aspects of Shabbat dinners can be the same, if that means eating challah, one of the ritual breads, or if it’s lighting candles, the experience is different no matter where you are. I’m really excited that I get to facilitate other people having their unique individual Shabbat experiences, especially for people who don’t usually celebrate it at all.”
LSA senior Gabi Kirsch, co-president of Ahava, an LGBTQ student organization that is part of Hillel, hosted a Shabbat dinner that aimed to be inclusive of queer individuals.
“The actual name of the event, actually, is One Fish, Two Fish, Queer Fish, Jew Fish,” she said.
Kirsch said she thought it was important to give Jews a queer space on campus that isn’t necessarily in a straight or heteronormative perspective, such as for traditional events like Shabbat.
“It’s important to have a queer space in general, just because I think a lot time queer Jews have to sort of self-censor,” she said. “Either they’re in a queer space and they have to censor being Jewish, because it’s not so typical, or they’re in a Jewish space and they have to censor being queer. It gets really tiring and exhausting having to censor like that and always being aware of how you’re coming off.”
Noting the integral role Shabbat plays for many Jews growing up, Kirsch said she felt that significance made it especially important to host a specifically LGBTQ dinner.
“It’s not that everyone is having a conversation about being queer out there,” she said. “The goal is that they can have it and not feel like they’re the only one in the room who’s feeling that way or have had those experiences.”
LSA sophomore Sara Bender-Bier spent the most of her Friday cooking to get ready for her dinner, which mostly included freshmen. People in her apartment, she said, had always been eager to host Hillel events, which is why they decided to host Shabbat dinner.
“We like cooking and we really like the idea of having a bunch of people over for Shabbat and making it more of a homey feel,” she said. “At Hillel, you have so many people there, sometimes it can be really overwhelming even though it’s a really great community, but when you’re here in a home, it feels more comfortable.”
Bender-Bier said her dinner didn’t include any religious services before it started because she wanted to make her guests feel as comfortable as possible.
“There are some people that don’t feel comfortable going to Hillel because they don’t feel that observant, that religious,” she said. “We didn’t have any rituals beforehand, we just have the prayers and if you want to go to the services at Hillel before you can, but there’s no pressure to do anything super religious.”
Overall, she said she hoped that by coming to ShabUM, her guests could form new friendships and explore Judaism more.
“There are so many ways to be Jewish and not a lot of people realize that there’s more than one way,” she said. “Hopefully this makes them feel more comfortable.”