As soon as I boarded the bus back to Medford with the other Tufts marathon volunteers on Monday, I started to think about Shabbat. I needed a separation from this week of my life, that seemed to be the most frightening and violating I had ever experienced.
When I woke on Friday morning to the news of a full city lockdown, and a Hollywood-style search for the alleged bombers, my first thought was about that evening. I stayed glued to Twitter and CNN all day long, hoping a resolution just might come about before the sun would set. At 2PM, I started to receive the calls and the texts and the emails: “What about Shabbat?”
Our Shabbat services and dinners at Tufts Hillel had been increasing in attendance this year, several weeks nearing 200 students at dinner. Shabbat had become ingrained in the Tufts ethos. When things were unsettling, Shabbat would happen. In the middle of a snowstorm that set back the entire northeast, we had Shabbat. After a student at our university had been critically injured, we had Shabbat. How could this night, a night where we needed Shabbat more than ever, be any different?
Throughout the day, I had been checking in with Rabbi Summit, our Executive Director, about the contingency plans for that night. Could we do services, but not serve dinner? Would the university allow us to open the building? What if the lockdown were lifted at 5:30 or 6? Together, we crafted a plan. We would arrange for services to be held in the common rooms of a dorm in the uphill and downhill regions of campus. We gathered a few service leaders and suggested to do the best they could to make the services feel welcoming and comforting without siddurim and with a potentially diverse group of students.
Just minutes before services were to begin, the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, announced from the television screens in the common rooms that the shelter in place mandate had been lifted. We combined services and joined together in one common room. Someone turned off the television; we pulled over couches, chairs and end tables to form a circle for our minyan. At this point, there were fifty students gathered for Shabbat.
We do not normally daven (pray) together. We have a set Reform service and a set egalitarian Conservative service. On this Friday, we were all in one public place. Our service leaders began with an invitation for students to join in and help make the service feel “right” for them. As we prayed Kabbalat Shabbat, different melodies were introduced. Before Ma’ariv, one student offered a brief drash (explanation) on the week’s portion. We counted the omer and then we sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach. We concluded with Yigdal, a part of the liturgy that often is not included in a Reform service, but that lifted the community with its quick tempo as the sun completely set.
In the Hillel context, we often discuss pluralism. Whom should we be accommodating? Who can feel comfortable where? We worry about being inclusive while honoring tradition. I have spent hours and hours talking and thinking about how, at Tufts Hillel, we can be a place where the diverse Jewish community at Tufts can live, learn, and pray together.
On Friday night, there did not need to be a discussion about ideology or how to please everyone involved. Our pluralism worked because it had to.
As we finished services, news of the capture of the second bomber began to circulate and we were able to breathe a bit more easily. This past week, there was an eerie silence in Boston; there was an eerie silence at Tufts. But just as it does each week, Shabbat came and this week, we found that we could all pray together.