By Stephanie Burton
Candle lights, spirited singing and homemade food brighten a recent Shabbat evening at Binghamton University. More than 300 Jewish students celebrated "Light Up the Night Shabbat," a new program in which students hosted intimate, free Shabbat dinners at various locations around the Binghamton campus.
Participants could choose from four dinners that were held in university dorms and nine dinners that took place at students' apartments. Hillel at Binghamton provided each group with $125 to buy and cook food for their meal, and it also hosted a traditional Shabbat meal at its usual Shabbat location, the Binghamton University food court.
"This event allowed people living off campus to conveniently get involved in a Hillel event. The students invited their friends – a great engagement method – and therefore, the turnout was much larger than the usual crowd of around 200 students," said Jackie Farber, the Steinhardt JCSC fellow at Hillel at Binghamton.
Students worked together to create packets containing all the Friday night blessings, from candle lighting to birkat hamazon (the blessing after meals), a dozen songs and reflections related to the different ways that Jews observe Shabbat. The packets were distributed to each of the apartments and dorms where dinners took place. The hosts were also supplied with discussion topics related to Passover, Yom Ha'Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day), Yom Haatzma'ut (Israel's Independence Day), Darfur and freedom.
"The idea of this event alone was a fabulous one; I think it really speaks to Hillel's mission of going where students are, rather than just trying to bring them in to Hillel. It also allowed students – and for people who live off campus, especially – to take ownership of their Shabbat experience in a way they might not have if they were just coming to the meal Hillel provides every week," said Rachel Petroff, a senior at Binghamton.
Binghamton Hillel hopes to make Light Up the Night Shabbat a bi-annual event, due to this year's success, enthusiasm and positive feedback.
Stephanie Burton is a senior at The George Washington University and an intern in Hillel's communications department.