Law school alum Daniel Hadar said he had no idea at first that his small Shabbat dinners would accumulate over 1500 people over three years. He said he merely went around inviting people – anyone really to his house for Shabbat – and it took off from there.
“We’re Jewish. The Friday night Shabbat meal is to mark the Sabbath to reflect on the week. A lot of people have small family dinners. We felt strongly about opening our home and having a community-based affair. Anyone I’d meet at the law school – anywhere, I would invite people,” Hadar said.
Shabbat, a Jewish traditional dinner that takes place at sunset on Friday night, is a time for a Jewish family to meet together and give prayers and songs of thanks for the week.
But Jason Toranto, a Medical Student at the University who has attended the dinners twice, said students who are further away from home have no one to spend Shabbat with.
“It’s one thing if you’re from West Bloomfield and another thing if you’re like me from Texas – so far away you can’t spend Shabbat at home. To spend that with someone is wonderful it is a mitzvah,” said Toranto.
Hadar said they would welcome Shabbat by singing songs. Towards the beginning of the dinners, which started three years ago, roughly 10-12 people would come a week. Towards the end he said that number grew to roughly 20 people a dinner.
“During the course of the week I’d meet and invite people. I’ld get e-mail addresses and shoot out maybe 20 or so e-mails. I’ld continuously invite people up to Friday night when I’ld go to Hillel and invite everyone there. I’ld march home with about 20 people following me and head out to our apartment building on Oakland,” Hadar added.
After everyone had come Hadar said they would have Kiddush where he would welcome everyone and tell jokes. Then the actual meal would start and his wife would bring out dishes of which she would explain the significance.
He said his wife Dena cooked everything; she baked 6 or 7 Challah loaves. She is Safaric – a term used for Jews of Spainish origin – so she made native Safaric Middle Eastern and Spanish dishes.
” I’ld share with everyone. While they were bringing out the dishes I would explain what different foods mean,” Hadar said.
He added that if anybody had something interesting to share about the week that would be the focal point in the middle of the meal. Everyone got to share and learn about each other and reflect on the week.
“I would describe it as very familial, structured but relaxed, comfortable and welcoming. It was a good opportunity for me to see an orthodox Shabbat dinner like that and learn some stuff about Jewish culture because Dan would talk about that,” said Eric Bailey, a Law student who attended two Shabbat dinners.
These large Shabbat dinners not only served as a form of community for Jewish people around the University, Hadar said but also determined his plans to move to Washington.
They said they threw a Shabbaton – a very large Shabbat dinner – in Washington, D.C. where they rented out the former Italian Embassy and had about 600 people there. Although the couple didn’t do the cooking they ran it. The large degree of interest and participation in the area was one reason they decided to move to D.C. to practice law.
“We threw it out there to see if people were interested. It was a trial run. We were shocked how many people came in February. When we saw how much interest there was we decided to move there.”