Nearly 200 students joined the Hillel Jewish University Center and the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement for its CommUNITY Shabbat event on Nov. 6. Students and staff picked up Shabbat2Go bags from Hillel and joined a Zoom discussion about breaking barriers and building bridges within the community.
Pitt Hillel has offered weekly Shabbat2Go bags and special Shabbat events, but this is the first time it has engaged the larger Pitt community in Shabbat2Go. The event was in lieu of its usual semesterly interfaith Shabbat dinner.
“Working together with other faith groups at the University of Pittsburgh is a critical part of our work,” said Dan Marcus, executive director and CEO of Hillel JUC of Pittsburgh. “Sharing Shabbat together with other faith groups is always special.”
Kari Semel, the Janet L. Swanson director of Jewish Student Life at Pitt, and Emiola Jay Oriola, the program manager for Pitt’s Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement, knew it had been a difficult week for students because of the commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the election. The program was intended to offer students a moment of rest and peace.
“We really wanted to focus on the aspects of peace that our different religions and cultures bring and how we can just use Shabbat as a time to connect and take care of ourselves,” said Semel.
The message of Shabbat resonated with students of different faiths. In breakout rooms, students and staff introduced themselves and checked in with each other. Semel told a story about finding the spirit of Shabbat in everyday life, leading to a conversation about what being at peace feels like.
The conversation veered to how different religions appreciate little wins while working toward change.
After the event, students texted Semel, writing that it was a calming way to start Shabbat. “People really liked having a space where they felt comfortable to talk about their shared experiences,” said Semel. “Hopefully this is the first of many more events.” PJC
– Kayla Steinberg