Interfaith Shabbat

post by Jessica

So, I mentioned Interfaith Shabbat in my previous Random Thoughts post. A commenter here (hi Yid 🙂 ) asked if I could talk more about that. It really was a great event.

Well, one of the big parts of my job is to work with student leadership. One of our more amazing leaders came up with the idea of interfaith/multicultural shabbat after an event at the student union with a bunch of cultural and ethnic organizations. Since it was November, we decided to try it for second semester, and she sent out an email asking about dates to the listserve of the people who participated in the first event.

We had a consensus of February 4, and we started advertising when school got back in session. All the advertising framed it as “Come learn about Judaism,” so we’d get people who were interested in learning about us, rather than say, people who were just interested in a free meal, or interested in proselytizing.  In addition to asking the specific groups (i.e. the ones from the listserve), we also encouraged people to invite their non-Jewish friends to come and see what Hillel is about.

Our program for the evening was pretty similar to what we usually do on a Friday night, but with a few twists to hopefully make it more meaningful for those visiting.  First, non-Jews who didn’t come with someone (those from the other Student Associations) were directed into the Reform service, which had prepared a special explanatory service, both to explain what they did and a little about some of the things they didn’t do (i.e. compared to other denominations). The Conservative & Orthodox were open to visitors, but there were fewer special explanations. After services, we all gathered in the MultiPurpose Room for dinner – at which point we realized that although we had set for 150, we actually had closer to 165 people there. A quick setup of another table followed. We introduced Shalom Aleichem, the concept of kiddish and hand washing. Then, dinner was served. We served a traditional dinner – Matzoh Ball soup, chicken, kugel, veggies and chocolate cake. And we had enough for everyone – barely.

The best part about the whole thing was that people sat together and were talking at their tables about Judaism. Since we’d framed it as a learning about Judaism, everyone seemed to have good questions and be engaged in the topic. At the end of dinner, we had scheduled an informal discussion about Judaism and other faiths in the little cafe area off the main lounge, and it actually took a little while for that to come together since people were having such a great time talking at their tables. It got started though, and people talked for about two hours about a lot of different things related to religion, including religious reasons for covering and food restrictions. While the main discussion was going on, several other groups in the building were having smaller discussions as well.

In the end, it was a great success, and we made a lot of great connections with other groups – Asian American Student Association, African Student Association, Pakistani Student Association and more, not to mention several members of the Muslim Student Association, who were very interested in the similarities and differences. Given what those interactions can sometimes be like, it was incredibly positive.

The funny thing was, after having this great interaction with so many students (including several Jewish students that we don’t see a lot of who brought non-Jewish friends), we had a guy email our rabbi on staff asking how dare we have an Interfaith Shabbat and shouldn’t we just “stick with the Jews.” Given what the event was like, this seemed to totally miss the point. All of these students spent the entire evening talking to other people about Judaism. Not just Judaism, but THEIR Judaism. All evening. From 5:30 – 10:30 – and even with some stragglers afterward. It couldn’t have been more in line with our mission – and giving some other college students an insight into the Jewish community that they might not get otherwise! Since these people are going to be our future leaders, it’s definitely important.

Thoughts?

[btw – Happy Valentine’s Day!]

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2 thoughts on “Interfaith Shabbat

  1. Thanks for the post!

    Sounds like quite an evening.

    I’m especially pleased to hear about a connection made with the Muslim Student Association. Some Muslims may come to hostile conclusions of the Jewish people and religion based on actions by some Jews in the name of Zionism, so I always appreciate the rare chance to present a different picture to our fellow monotheists in Islam.

    It can be a gratifying surprise for a Muslim to learn a Jew is fully allowed to pray in a mosque but forbidden to even step foot in a church. Political mideast strife aside, we share important theological things in common with Islam that makes for good solidarity.

  2. Wow, I am so impressed. I think this is a very important forum for students (I was heavily involved in a plualistic student organization not long ago, in charge of multi cultural events, actulaly). I think it’s great for students, but I personally wouldn’t do it if I was running a shul (thus I can understand the concern of the aforementioned rabbi).
    That said, student life is different. First, students are interacting with non-Jews, and to pretend they aren’t is pure ignorance (then again, I’ve heard it’s bliss…). I am so pleased with the turn out! My school organization was _much_ smaller so there is no way we could have had 3 services, let alone any Orthodox (it was not a Shabbos friendly campus, unfortunately). Fantastic idea! Most of all, like you said, Jewish people were discussing their Judasim, and that was the focus of the evening, as Shabbat should be. So happy for you and for the lucky students with whom you work!

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