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At McGill University, Jewish Students Host Inaugural Shabbat Dinner

( On a recent Friday night, Rabbi Shmuly Weiss and his wife Rashi were guests in their own Montreal home. Roles were reversed as university students at Chabad of McGill became the masters of ceremony during the Inaugural Host Shabbat Dinner. 

It was up to the students to create a menu, choose the night’s theme, and make Kiddush to “try to inspire the crowd,” Weiss says. “I’m on the backburner; I’m one of the guests.” 

The idea was conceived to bring newcomers to Chabad for Shabbat. It seems to be working. The inaugural dinner, hosted by fourth-year psychology student Noah Leszcz, attracted 30 students who had never yet been to the Weiss’s home.

“The Shabbat host is in charge of all of this planning, but most importantly the promotion,” says Leszcz, a 21-year-old from Toronto. “The goal is to get them to bring their group of friends out to Chabad, friends that may not necessarily come. Once you get their foot in the door, they get hooked – it happened to me.”

Weiss says getting Jewish students away from their studies and into Chabad of McGill – the university is one of the top post-secondary schools in Canada – is a challenge. Making sure they leave with a strengthened Jewish identity is equally as important to the rabbi.

“Hopefully it touches their lives in a way that makes Shabbos become real to them,” he says, explaining that he gets four years with most of the students, and in that time, he wants “to make sure they leave with something, that wherever they go, they carry their positive Jewish experience along with them.”

It was more than two years into Leszcz’s studies in Montreal, a city with more than 90,000 Jews, before he took part in a Chabad event. He attended a Shabbat dinner in January and is now a regular. 

“It’s a totally vibrant Chabad crowd, it’s always a bumpin’ party, and it’s always a great time,” he says. As the center’s public relations executive, he was given the task of hosting the first student-run Shabbat, which was originally scheduled weeks earlier. Plans changed when Leszcz’s grandfather, Shulom Rappaport, a retired orthodox rabbi, passed away.

When he returned from the funeral, Weiss suggested that Leszcz dedicate the Inaugural Host Shabbat Dinner to his grandfather. “I thought it was a really good idea especially because my grandfather was an orthodox rabbi and here I am at McGill leading a pretty secular life,” Leszcz says.

Leszcz brought his grandfather’s “famous” cucumber salad recipe and twenty of his friends to the event, including first-time Chabad visitor Jacob Gallinger. Gallinger, also a fourth-year psychology student, attended a Jewish high school in Toronto and observed Shabbat with his family, but says, “Judaism kind of slips through the cracks when you go way to university.” 

For some students like Gallinger, it’s never too late to reconnect with their Jewish identity. He wants to play a bigger role at the Chabad house with the hope of becoming a “Jewish role model” as a head counselor at Camp Ramah this summer.

Gallinger is also contemplating hosting his own Shabbat dinner dedicated to the memory of his own grandfathers. And the special ingredient he’ll bring: “They do have horseradish for the fish,” but it didn’t deliver quite the punch he remembers. So Gallinger is going to bring the sharper variety, the kind he says, that “both my grandfathers distinctly liked.” 


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