On Friday evening, Chabad at Brandeis and Hillel at Brandeis — two Jewish organizations on campus that usually conduct separate Shabbat dinners — held a joint Shabbat dinner. The combined Shabbat dinner had over 400 guests, according to Hillel Social Justice and Community Service Coordinator Cynthia Crispino ’21. 

Shabbat, the seventh day of the Jewish week, begins at sundown on Friday and ends at nightfall on Saturday. It commemorates the seventh day of creation, on which God rested. Members of the Brandeis Jewish community gather every week to dine together and recite prayers. 

In an interview with the Justice, Ilana Bauman ’19, the president of Hillel at Brandeis, told the Justice that Chabad is a “broader organization” than Hillel. Hillel is specifically “geared toward college campuses,” Chabad at Brandeis President Maya Pretsfelder ’19 said in the same interview. Hillel Shabbat dinners take place in the Sherman Function Hall and are “programmed events that bring the community together,” Bauman said, while Chabad dinners, which take place in the Chabad House on Turner Street where Rabbi Peretz and Chanie Chein live, give students a more “homey” feel. In an interview with the Justice, Jillian Fisch ’21, a board member of Chabad, said the two groups “essentially serve the same purpose,” which is to host Jewish cultural activities open to the Brandeis community. 

Fisch said that Chabad reached out to Hillel to put on a Shabbat event that would “bring the entire community together.” Chabad and Hillel created a planning committee of 7 to 8 students drawn from each group’s board. The main topic of discussion was determining the “target audience,” Pretsfelder said. They decided they wanted students who regularly attend the organizations’ weekly dinners, as well as students who have “never really experience[d] Shabbat,” to come to their united event, Bauman said. She explained that she feels this goal was met because both “old and new faces” were at Friday’s event. 

At the beginning of the event, Assistant Director of Hillel Stephanie Sanger-Miller gave a short speech about the biblical story of Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, and Tamar, his daughter-in-law. In the story, Judah sleeps with Tamar but doesn’t recognize her because she is wearing a veil, and only later finds out she is the mother of his child. This story teaches us that we don’t always “recognize each other for who we are,” Sanger-Miller explained. 

After her speech, students rose to recite the Kiddush over cups of grape juice, washed their hands, and then sat back down to eat Challah bread. Then, Rabbi Chein, co-founder of the Chabad House at Brandeis, spoke. 

He discussed the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph had told his brothers about two dreams in which he had symbolically come to rule over them. Joseph’s brothers assumed that he wanted to be king, which made them jealous of him. Chein explained, “Jealousy is one of the most severe sins,” because it stems from false assumptions. 

The message that Chein drew upon at this event is that we make assumptions when we are “in a state of darkness.” For him, “the solution lies in Hanukkah” because the holiday celebrates light. Both Hanukkah and Shabbat are celebrated by lighting candles. By dispelling darkness and “bringing clarity,” the lit candles of Hanukkah and Shabbat prevent us from making false assumptions and dangerous conclusions, he explained. 

“United on this Shabbat suggests that other Shabbats are divided,” said Chein. But Chein added that “we can be united every week. Even when we’re sitting in two different rooms.”

—Editor’s note: Avraham Penso ’20 is a member of the Chabad Club.