A gathering of almost 500 students is still a somewhat surreal site even two years after the pandemic began. This past Friday night, hundreds of students trekked to the Chabad House on Turner Street to participate in Mega Shabbat, an event that started back in 2019. 

Each week, the Chabad House hosts around 150 students for Shabbat dinner with the goal to “pause, reflect, and connect,” the Chabad couple at Brandeis, Rabbi Peretz and Chanie Chein said. “Mega Shabbat is intended to create this experience on a much larger scale, which invites an extraordinary diversity of participants,” they continued. 

Mega Shabbat was planned and executed in under two weeks. Once the club got the event approved through the University, they started promoting it by posting flyers, tabling, and through word of mouth. “I remember Chanie saying ‘Okay, we want 400 people here’ and thinking…How are we possibly going to make that happen?’” Sara Shapiro ’24, treasurer of the club, said in a Sept. 18 email interview with the Justice. By the end of the first week, there were already over 250 people signed up: “that’s when I realized the magnitude of this event,” Shapiro said. The board quickly got to work planning all of the logistics, ordering tents, planning menus, and more. 

With such a big crowd, it is not unrealistic to think that the event might have turned out to be chaotic. However, that could not have been further from the truth, according to the board. “The feelings described by our guests were those of comfort accompanied by shared laughs and meaningful connections with the students across from them,” Davina Goodman  ’23 and Spencer Clark ’23, co-presidents of the club, said in a Sept. 18 email to the Justice. 

The number of people was a marker of success for Chabad. “By hosting such a big event, you are helping more people take a break from their week to relax and celebrate Shabbat,” Goodman and Clark wrote. The energy levels among participants were high at points as well, with mosh pits and singing throughout the night. However, the downside of the large turnout was the inability to get to know everyone who attended individually, which the co-presidents drew attention to: “We wish we could have the ability to sit down with each and every one of our guests and get to know them as individuals.”

The Cheins noted that after greeting all their guests, “hearing 500 students respond with a resounding ‘Shabbat Shalom’ was exhilarating.” The Cheins and the Chabad Board also hoped to share the traditions of Shabbat that they experience every week on a much larger scale than usual and that students took away “the values of Shabbat to heart, and will infuse their weeks with moments to meaningfully rest and reflect,” Goodman and Clark said. Mega Shabbat also served as a way to spread the meaning of Shabbat to many students who do not celebrate Shabbat or go to Chabad regularly.

Seeing all of the hard work come together on Friday was an incredible feeling for the Chabad Board and the Cheins. Shapiro described walking around clearing people’s plates and feeling pride on behalf of the board and all of their hard work to make the night possible. “I took a step back from the people and took a deep breath in. I opened my eyes and saw all the people talking and laughing and having a great time and as cliche as it may sound, I almost started crying … finally just seeing it come together was really emotional,” she said. 

The Cheins reflected that “we knew it would be special, though we were concerned whether we would succeed in bringing everyone together in a unified and spirited way. Remarkably, we did.” 

The mass of students enjoyed the evening full of spirit, dancing — often on chairs — singing, and food, and the Chabad House and Board plan on continuing this event in future years. “It was clear that students desire experiences which offer connection, depth and joy. The Chabad Board, with the support of the Chabad House, was able to create this for so many, and it was a very special and sacred experience to be nurturing this,” the Cheins concluded.