Written by Rob Nagus, Director at Hillel UofT
Hillel at U of T has been hosting Shabbat dinners for years. Recently however, we decided it was time to really break down what we were offering on Friday nights for students to see if it truly was meeting their needs and determine what could we do to make our Shabbat experience more meaningful.
Lead by one of our Jewish Social Entrepreneurs, Naomi Mattuck, and with the support of our Senior Jewish Educator, Rabbi Julia, a working group was formed to talk about what students at U of T are really looking for on Shabbat and how Hillel can help provide it. The first meeting (there will be many more as this is an ongoing working group) brought out a dozen students who all had great ideas on how to make our Shabbat dinner more beautiful and special. From that meeting, we created a sign-up sheet where students can volunteer to lead blessings. We talked about having student greeters welcoming students as they enter. We talked about what kind of food we are offering. We talked about changing our decor to make it nicer. We discussed what students do on those “off weeks” when Hillel does not offer a dinner and what we can do to still help facilitate meaningful opportunities for students to celebrate Shabbat together. So many great ideas were created and/or discussed and now we get to implement them as a community!
At our first Shabbat dinner after the brainstorm, we surpassed all of our previous attendance records and had our biggest Shabbat dinner ever, by far! In addition, the room looked better because we made aesthetic changes based on our Shabbat groups’ feedback. Students felt even more welcomed because of our student greeters and the positive feedback we received was overwhelming. The Shabbat culture at U of T, which was once overlooked as we were mistakenly considered an exclusively commuter campus that didn’t “need” Shabbat dinner, is starting to catch fire and we can’t wait to continue to watch it grow and flourish next semester and beyond.