At the end of a long, stressful week of classes, Emily Englander’s smartphone buzzes. “On Shabbat we try to make time for what is important by putting what is urgent on hold,” it tells her. “For a day, an hour, a minute.”
Every Friday afternoon, subscribers to George Washington University Hillel’s Friday Text Project receive a three-text Shabbat message. Just as a sermon would, the texts open with current events on campus or the wider world, and bring Jewish content to the conversation. Limited to using 160 characters per text, GW Hillel staff members take turns each week writing on topics including everything from Deflate-gate, Valentine’s day, finals and graduation.
"College students often face busy schedules and do not find the time to slow down and think about the past week and the week to come,” said Englander, GWU ’16. “Receiving the weekly Shabbat text message always provides me with a message to think about and a reminder to slow down, step away from the school work and truly enjoy Shabbat."
When GW Hillel launched this project two years ago, it was in the midst of a conversation on scaling. How could the power of a coffee date conversation be harnessed and shared on a wider scale? Inspired by a project at her parents’ local synagogue, GW Hillel staff member Adena Kirstein started doing research on mass texting and created a pilot with a few students. Now, two years later, hundreds of students, alumni, parents and community members continue to sign up for a dose of weekly inspiration as their weeks ends and Shabbat begins. “By continuing to text during school breaks and with many graduates still on our list, the texts are also a way of staying connected to our community members, even when we don’t see them on a daily basis,” Kirstein said.
With the success of this endeavor, GW Hillel continues to look for ways to grow it. “We are proud of the project but questions resonate,” said Kirstein. “How can we leverage participation into a deepened learning experience? How can we measure the effectiveness of the project? We look forward to continuing to engage our staff and students on these questions.”
Kirstein added that she hopes to serve as a resource to other Hillels interested in starting the project on their campus.
Students, alumni and community members can sign up for GW Hillel’s Friday Text Project here.
Melissa Sanchez (GWU ’16) prepares for Shabbat with the weekly texts from GW Hillel.