Lyle S. Rothman
Reform-trained rabbi and Pluralistic Educator

Shabbat 2.0: The Jewish College Experience

Shabbat is perhaps one of the most talked about events in the Jewish world. As the sun sets on Friday night, ancient prayers are uttered, communities come together, meals are eaten, and connections that link us to eternity are made. While Jewish tradition asks us to keep and remember Shabbat, we are left wondering exactly what that looks like today.

Picture for a moment a Shabbos meal served on a crisp white tablecloth decorated with freshly cut flowers. Smelling the aroma of the roasted chicken in the oven, tasting the homemade gefilte fish, hearing the cholent just start to boil, spreading chopped liver and crunching on gribenes that will fill our stomachs and arteries. This less than vegan friendly Ashkenormative somewhat nostalgic dinner, while tasty, doesn’t represent the Shabbat experience of many of my University of Miami Hillel students today.

Shabbat is one of those “legacy” programs that, for better and/or worse,  almost every Hillel does each week. Like clockwork, hungry students descend upon the Hillel, some yearning for a prayerful experience and others for a festive meal. Chicken, potatoes, and vegetables served out of aluminum foil trays are a weekly standard at Hillels across the world. But our students, like most students of this moment in time, are smart, trendy, and they want more.

So enter workshopSHABBAT: The Campus Impact Program that inspired Hillel professionals and students to experiment, innovate, and prototype creative new approaches to the campus Shabbat experience. For two years, University of Miami Hillel along with eight other Hillels, has received funding and mentorship to transform Shabbat based on seven elements: Preparation, Welcoming, Food, Just Being, Community, Spirituality, and Celebration.

At University of Miami Hillel we wanted to break out of the mold of Shabbat beginning and ending with services and dinner.  We wanted to see a rich and diverse Shabbat experience that could happen on campus, at home, or anywhere in Miami (or the world). Most of all, we are working to engage all 2000 of our Jewish undergraduate students on campus.

Part of this revisioning meant we had to rethink how we were doing student engagement on a whole. So we launched the Student Leadership ForUM (SLF) which is a cohort based creative community that provides resources and opportunities to self-motivated and entrepreneurial students looking to make an impact, launch an idea, and develop meaningful personal and professional relationships. The SLF is an outgrowth of our work with the Tulane Hillel based Organizational Design Lab. Now as a result of workshopShabbat and the SLF, we are finally starting to see a much more rich and diverse Shabbat experience.

We have student pitmasters who run the BBQ for our ongoing ShaBBQ initiative. For the 21+ crowd, we have a student initiated Shabbat Happy hour at the Wharf, which is a trendy open-air event space on the historic Miami river. We have a student who started a tech free table at our more traditional Shabbat dinner so that students can unplug and actually focus on the people around them. And our fresh take on a DIY Shabbat initiative, the ShabbaTotes Marketplace, has been an inspiring (and replicable) success.

ShabbaTotes is not a revolutionary idea, but the concept brings Shabbat to the public square (one of the models we’ve been workshopping in workshopSHABBAT). Recognizing  the marketplace culture of  the University of Miami, we are bringing all the elements of Shabbat dinner to the students. Setup like a market, students can pick up a professionally branded tote bag, a gift card to Whole Foods, candle making kits, challah baked by our Challah for Hunger chapter, and user friendly blessing sheets. This initiative truly invites our students to co-create their own Shabbat in their own image.

“Rabbi Shimon said…If three have eaten at one table and have spoken words of Torah over it, it is as though they had eaten from the table of God” (Pirke Avot 3:3). While there are many ways to become a community, sharing Shabbat in new and creative ways is the easiest way to create community each and every week. Thanks to our wonderful University of Miami Hillel team and our creative student body, I am convinced that we are helping a new generation of Jews connect deeply with Shabbat and their Judaism.

About the Author
Rabbi Lyle Rothman is a proud Long Islander from East Meadow, New York. He came to University of Miami in 2016 as the campus rabbi and Jewish chaplain for University of Miami Hillel. In 2017, he was elected to be the Chair of the University Chaplains Association, a group of clergy trained to provide spiritual guidance and support to the greater UM community. Rabbi Lyle is passionately dedicated to multifaith work and is part of a group of clergy who traveled to Abu Dhabi, UAE and Rabat, Morocco as part of the American Peace Caravan and My Neighbor’s Keeper initiative.
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