The ads and flyers posted all over campus read, “Do Something Special, Celebrate Shabbat With 1,000 of Your Closest Friends.”
For hundreds of Binghamton University’s 1,000 Jewish students who will make their way this Friday night to the largest hall on campus—the gym—the experience will be a first in many ways.
There’ll be traditional Shabbos fare with Kiddush, inspirational melodies led by a cappella, and an ambience that promises to give students a glimpse of something transcendent. Sponsored by Chabad in conjunction with Hillel, the Jewish Heritage Program, and a grant from the Elaine Heumann Foundation, the event offers students an opportunity to meet and connect with others, and share an experience that they may henceforth want to incorporate in their own weekly routines.
Liza Zviaguin, a senior who participated at Shabbat 1,000 last year, says the event was a benchmark for her. It started her on a personal discovery of what it means to be Jewish. Liza recalls looking around the gym and seeing hundreds and hundreds of students that first Friday night. “There were so many people there who did not know exactly why there were celebrating Shabbat, but that precisely is the value of the grandiose event of Shabbat 1000. It gives a chance for every Jew on campus to be part of something that is already a large part of them, whether they know it or not.”
Rivka Slonim, co-director of Chabad of Binghamton, who came up with the idea for the program which has caught on at campuses nationwide, says that Shabbat 1,000, now in its ninth year, is compelling for the spirit generated by so many students celebrating Shabbat under one roof.
“This is all about empowering students who take a very active role in making this event happen.” She explains that the entire Jewish student body rallies together to coordinate the daunting logistics of the program. Cooking a three course Shabbat dinner for 1,000 students is only one part of it—and the cooking is largely done in-house. There is as well the welcoming committee, the seating committee, the calling committee, the floor plan, the publicity—ads and flyers. Each table of ten is assigned to one student who assumes responsibility for inviting nine of his or her friends and hosting them at the dinner.
“This event is just one of the many ways that Chabad works to prepare our students for leadership roles in community,” she says.