Chabad at Lehigh planned to host Shabbat 360 with the goal of bringing together at least 360 students for dinner. On Jan. 31, over 650 students and faculty attended the event at Comfort Suites in South Bethlehem.
This was the largest Shabbat dinner in Chabad’s history.
Rabbi Zalman Greenberg and his wife Dit established Lehigh Chabad in 2008 with an average of 30-35 students attending the weekly Friday night Shabbat dinners.
The first big Shabbat took place in 2012 and was called Shabbat 150, with the hopes of attracting students from the Lehigh community and promoting weekly Shabbat dinners. According to Chabad’s webpage, the event attracted over 120 students.
Every year since, Chabad has been raising that number.
“We probably should have called it Shabbat 500,” Greenberg said. “We brought over 100 extra chairs from the Chabad house in addition to the 350 chairs at the Comfort Suites, and there wasn’t even enough room to seat everyone. In all, over 650 students attended — it was extraordinary.”
Greenberg said he attributes the success of Shabbat 360 to the efforts and enthusiasm of Chabad’s student executive board, as well as their host committee. All the parents, alumni and donors who participate makes Chabad possible, he said.
Shabbat is a Jewish Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. The 24-hour period of rest is a time to take a step back from daily activities, and connect with friends and family.
The weekly Shabbat dinner is an opportunity for students to take a pause, meet new people, enjoy a home cooked meal, and get inspired for the week ahead with good song and good spirit, Greenberg said.
Austin Margulies, ’20, said Shabbat has been an integral part of Lehigh’s Jewish community, as well as his own college career.
“One of the main reasons I go to Shabbat every week is to take a break, decompress from my studies at Lehigh and spend time with friends,” said Jake Zebaida, ’20, the current executive president of Chabad.
Zebaida said everyone is welcome and people are encouraged to bring friends to Shabbat, even if they aren’t Jewish.
Greenberg echoed this sentiment and said the success of Shabbat is seen through people sharing their enjoyment at the dinners with their friends.
“It’s amazing to see everyone’s hands around each other and see that even people who aren’t Jewish are still interested in learning about Jewish culture,” said Rachel Oppenheimer, ‘22, a member of the student executive board.
Shabbat 360 is a great way to introduce people to Chabad, Margulies said.
He said some students may not feel comfortable coming to a more intimate Shabbat at the Chabad house, but at Shabbat 360, they can come with a bigger group of friends and feel more encouraged to come back.
“The most satisfying and gratifying thing for me to see is students who come back to Shabbat and bring friends that have never been before,” Greenberg said.
The current Chabad house, which was recently renovated, has enough room to hold 120-140 students in the main dining area. However, Friday night Shabbat has only continued to grow, and now an average of 150 students attend weekly, Dit said.
She said in the past year, they’ve had to move their Friday dinners outside because they’ve outgrown the house.
In an effort to accommodate the rapid growth, Chabad is launching a capital campaign to build a new multipurpose room that will enable them to host hundreds of students, Zalman said.
He said the plans for the near future include building a large commercial kitchen and an event space that can be used for the weekly Shabbat dinners as well as larger events.
Excited for future plans, Oppenheimer said people should look out for Shabbat 360 because it’s only going to grow.
“My biggest hope for Chabad and the organization is that it continues to thrive on this campus,” Zebaida said. “I’ve personally seen a steady growth in the number of people who are involved, and how strong and tight-knit the community has gotten.”