At its height, Shabbat 1000, the Chabad-supported program to host a Shabbat dinner for 1,000 Pittsburgh university students, did what it was built to do.
The annual dinner reached its goal of serving 1,000 or more students in 2007, its second year. As the recent financial crisis hit the Pittsburgh area, though, the project became too big to sustain. So Chabad is now focused on a smaller dinner — one geared to the city’s graduate student population, called Grad Shabbat 200. It’ll be held Friday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m., at Rangos Hall, Carnegie Mellon University Center.
Shoshana Hoexter, program director at the Chabad House Jewish Student Organization, said the Shabbat 1000 model simply became too expensive to maintain in tough economic times.
“It’s a totally different ballgame,” she said. “It needed about $25,000 to $30,000 [to put on]. That was when the recession hit and everyone was backing up instead of giving more; that’s too much to sustain.”
A similar dinner for graduate students only is smaller, cheaper and more sustainable from one year to the next, she continued.
“This program’s budget is approximately $4,000; that’s much easier to come up with and sustain yearly,” Hoexter said.
And with Chabad developing better conduits in the city’s medical, law and other graduate programs, Hoexter said, “we felt the time was ripe” to attract graduate students to this dinner.
“Five years ago we couldn’t do this program,” she said, but now we have medical students that can do this recruitment; we have law students that can do this recruitment.”
“There are a lot of Jewish students within the graduate community,” said Rebecca Slavin, a second-year graduate student in religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. “And we’re reaching all the graduate schools in the area through networking, Jewish organizations, word of mouth — we’re finding them.”
One difference between this dinner and Shabbat 1000, she said, is that Grad Shabbat 200 is more about building a sense of community among the graduate students.
“When you’re in graduate school,” said Slavin, who also worked on Shabbat 1000 as a Hillel Jewish University Center member, “it’s very hard to meet people outside your field of study.”
Like Shabbat 1000, Grad Shabbat 200 is not expected to hit its goal in the first year, but “I think we’ll come close [to 200],” Hoexter said.
This year the dinner is being put on with financial support from Carnegie Mellon University. Chabad will seek funding from Pitt next year, Hoexter said, “but the deadlines were very early this year.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)