What Does Shabbat Mean to Me?
If someone were to ask me a year and a half ago what Shabbat meant to me, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer. Just 15 or so months ago I had absolutely no emotions or attachments to Shabbat; but, then began my freshman year at Rutgers University. I was an out of state student and completely overwhelmed by the size of the University. Being in a small dorm helped, but there was still something missing, something yet to be discovered. The same day I moved in I had attended the “Welcome First Years” Shabbat dinner in the Hillel building. I remember going in and feeling immediately overwhelmed and kind of confused. Dinner had been called for 7:30 and at that time I walked in to see the Orthodox community still engaged in services. I stood towards the side and waited for them to finish and dinner to begin. When I finally sat down at the table, something happened that I honestly will never forget. This upperclassman sat down across from me and immediately wanted to get to know me, wanted to know why I was there, wanted to know…me. Leah Felner, now a Senior, was the first person at Hillel to truly pull me in. She began to show me the ropes, asked me to help her and Shaina Stiefel out with Shabbat dinners, and showed me that I was truly welcome at Hillel.
Finding Shabbat through Leah and Shaina’s guidance ended up being one of the best parts of my freshman year. Shabbat became a safe haven. Twenty-four hours in which I felt connected to Judaism and to the Jewish community. The two hours spent at dinner, though hectic on the outside, became the most calming two hours of the week. I met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known here at Hillel, most of which I met while eating or serving Shabbat dinner.
So, when it came time for student board elections last spring, I immediately knew that I wanted to run for Shabbat chair. I ran, though unopposed, with a campaign based upon passion and love for what I was running for. I wanted to be able to help others have the same experience during Shabbat that I did. I wanted to show the Hillel community my appreciation for the comfort they gave me in my freshman year. Most of all, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.
Now, 15 months after my first day at Rutgers, I am on Hillel board as Shabbat Chair. Every single week, I run a dinner for 250 Rutgers students. Every week, I help provide a free meal for students; but most of all, every week I provide two hours of comfort, community, and love for 250 students. Shabbat now means more to me than just a day of the week. While I may not observe Shabbat, a choice I have made throughout my life, I still find the same comfort and relaxation in Shabbat dinner and Shabbat as a whole as my friends who do observe Shabbat. I know that for those 24 hours, I can always find someone’s house to go to for lunch, somewhere to go sit and just schmooze, somewhere to play cards with friends, or someone to just sit and talk with. I feel so connected to the Jewish community during the two hours in which I am serving dinner that I am constantly reminded of why I do what I do. I don’t do it for the recognition. I don’t do it for the free food. Rather, I am Shabbat chair because I want others to feel the same comfort, relaxations, and sense of community that I do on Shabbat.
(By Kelsey Maxwell)