On Friday night, Nov. 19, over 250 people simultaneously sat down to 24 different Shabbat dinners across campus, participating in an event called "Shabbat Across Brandeis."

"Shabbat Across Brandeis" is an initiative run by the Chabad Club, which was started by students in 2016. The event consists of students signing up to either host a Shabbat dinner or be hosted, with the end result being dozens of intimate Shabbat dinners run completely by students for other students. Anyone can sign up, no matter what their personal experience with Judaism is, resulting in participants ranging from “students who observe Shabbat every week to students who have never heard of a Shabbat dinner,” as Chabad Club board member and "Shabbat Across Brandeis" coordinator Kyra Fischer '22 stated in an interview with the Justice.

What is unique about this initiative is that hosts don’t need to do anything but host –– everything is planned and prepared by Chabad and the Chabad Club. Each host receives a personalized box of paper goods, candles, challah covers, silverware, tablecloths, flowers and of course, enough food for an elaborate three-course dinner. 

In an interview with the Justice, Chanie Chein and Rabbi Peretz Chein, the Chabad couple at Brandeis, said that the event was initiated by students who “re-imagined the Shabbat dinner experience at Chabad –– that would reach a few hundred students in new ways –– and reflect a value of Chabad, Ufaratzta, which means to disrupt the familiar routine. In this case,” Chanie said, “the familiar rhythm of Shabbat dinner at Chabad.” This year, the seventh Shabbat Across Brandeis event (it runs biyearly), 54 people signed up to host meals and 196 people signed up to be hosted. 

The goal of Shabbat Across Brandeis, according to Fischer and the rest of the Chabad Club board, “is to empower you to engage with Shabbat in a meaningful and delicious way, by encouraging you to thoughtfully create your own Shabbat experience amongst friends and with those whom you meet at Shabbat dinner.” The Cheins told the Justice that the event grants the opportunity to anyone who wants to experience Shabbat “in a smaller setting that nurtures intimacy and deeper interpersonal connections” and provides a chance to meet new people and foster new friendships.

The Chein family outlined their goals for the hosts as giving them the opportunity to “design and lead a multi-faceted Shabbat dinner experience for their peers,” and allow them to practice hosting Shabbat dinners on their own in preparation for life outside of college. This, according to the Cheins, “reflects a core value of Chabad at Brandeis –– where we foster independence and a maturing relationship with Judaism.”

Fischer said her hope, after the event, is that “people left this event wanting to experience Shabbat again and wanting to perhaps host their own Shabbat dinners in the future.

Rabbi Chein walked around campus, visiting many of the dinners as they were occurring and said he was able to truly witness the impact the dinners had on the students. After all the dinners concluded, each group met at the Chabad House to come together for a dessert buffet. Fischer loved being able to see “the many people who participated in this experience and how happy they were… people were laughing and exchanging stories from their dinner meals.” Rabbi and Mrs. Chein and the Chabad Club Board continued to hear anecdotes and feedback from students throughout the week, from guests and hosts alike, expressing gratitude for the experience and sharing stories about new friendships and meaningful connections.