Social media connects SF Hillel students to Shabbat



March 9, 2018

Honoring age-old traditions while using trendy social media platforms has become an effective engagement tool at San Francisco Hillel.

The growing number of secular students attending colleges and universities in Northern California encouraged SF Hillel professionals to brainstorm a new approach to Jewish life on campus.

Sasha Joseph, director of student life at SF Hillel, focused on implementing programs that would make Judaism more relevant to students, many of whom celebrate their first Shabbat at SF Hillel.

“We realized that our students were becoming consumers,” Joseph said. “They came to Hillel, said amen following the brachot, ate and left. When we asked them to lead their own Shabbat experience, they couldn’t. We needed students to become producers and take ownership of their Shabbat experience.”

Snapchat Shabbat hosted by Gabe Smallson of SF Hillel.

In fall 2015, Joseph created Snapchat Shabbat, transforming the customary Shabbat experience by using Snapchat as well as Instagram. The program is usually held on the last Friday of each month and is hosted in a student’s apartment or other nearby space.

“Students don’t have to physically be at Hillel to have a Jewish experience,” said Maya Keces, 22, who previously hosted Snapchat Shabbat. “Hillel is helping us create that experience in our own space and we’re adapting it to best fit our own practices and traditions.” 

The host is responsible for taking photos or capturing videos during the Shabbat experience and posting them on SF Hillel’s Snapchat or Instagram. 

Students must participate in a training session before they are permitted to host Snapchat Shabbat, an initiative supported by a grant from Mosaic United. SF Hillel provides each host with a Shabbat-in-a-box kit, including wine and challah, and reimburses them for the meal they prepare and eat with their peers.

The program has increased engagement by 25 percent, reaching students that SF Hillel wouldn’t have connected with otherwise, Joseph said. Thus far, 20 students have hosted Snapchat Shabbat and most of them have hosted more than once, she added. 

Gabe Smallson, a freshman at San Francisco State University, said the program allows students “to do Shabbat in their own way.” Unengaged students are able to connect with Hillel and their peers in a welcoming and comfortable setting, he added.

“You celebrate Shabbat at your own pace,” Smallson, 18, said. “And that’s what makes it enjoyable.

Snapchat Shabbat hosted by Maya Keces of SF Hillel.