The ballroom pulsated with the energy of 1200 college students meeting, dancing, playing games and snacking at the penultimate event of the 2019 Chabad on Campus International Shabbaton this Saturday night.
From as far away as Sheffield, England and Paris, France and as locally as New York University, they came for the annual Shabbaton weekend. Known as ‘Pegisha’ (Hebrew for meetup), the three day event was packed with lectures, workshops, speed dating, and networking.
Yoel Yakobi from Guelph University in Ontario, Canada, speaking in a live interview with lubavitch.com, said, “The highlight for me was the ‘Why Marry Jewish?’ lecture. It wasn’t anything that we didn’t know previously, but the presenter gave it over in such a succinct manner that it crystalized for me and I’m now looking to only date Jewish.”
Eitan Daniel, a fellow Guelph student concurred. This sentiment was echoed numerous times during our interviews with students at the Saturday Night Extravaganza.
As DJ Shatz spun a mix of traditional and contemporary Jewish music, students talked with us about what brought them to Pegisha. Hannah Briskin was a CTeen participant and leader throughout her highschool years, so when she arrived at The University of Maryland, she immediately looked up Chabad on her campus. “I held back a little at first, but I knew Chabad was going to become a major part of my college experience,” she said. It did. “Chabad is a home away from home, it’s our family on campus.”
And this is Rabbi Yossy Gordon’s hope. We caught up with the CEO of Chabad on Campus International during the climactic event. “The Jewish People are a family, and every family needs a home. The Chabad House, whether on campus, or in a community is a home for every Jew. A place to feel comfortable being a Jew.”
“Rabbi Raphi and Mussie Steiner are like my University Mom and Dad,” Ally Harendorf of Guelph said. Chabad at Guelph brought a group of nineteen students, so we asked Rabbi Raphi what made him travel all the way from Ontario. “Pegisha is a chance for our students to hear from a plethora of great speakers who we don’t have access to back on campus. They also get to celebrate their Jewish pride among thousands of other students, something that they don’t get in our small Jewish community.”
The music died down, the Israeli style buffet and dessert tables were cleared away, but unable to tear themselves away just yet, hundreds of students gathered in a smaller ballroom for a midnight farbrengen. “I’m not religious,” a lingering student shared with us, “But Chabad is just about Judaism and we’re all equally Jewish.”