About 300 Lehigh students spent their Friday night helping a toddler practice the Hebrew alphabet.
The students, Rabbi Zalman Greenberg, his wife, Yehudit “Dit” Greenburg, and their young children congregated at the Comfort Suite Bethlehem hotel on Feb. 3 for Chabad at Lehigh’s Shabbat 500 dinner.
When Zalman Greenberg asked the group if his son Dovi should show off his new knowledge, attendees were eager to join in. The room quickly filled with laughter and smiles as those who knew the alphabet excitedly yelled out each letter.
The Greenbergs said they aim to provide a home away from home for all students on Friday evenings with Shabbat.
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, beginning Friday night and ending Saturday night each week.
“Shabbat, in general, is super special because it is that pause we take during the week to be able to focus on that which is in our life that is important and meaningful,” Zalman Greenberg said.
Nessia Crispe, ‘24, vice president of Chabad at Lehigh, said the organization typically hosts weekly Shabbat dinners and a yearly large event — last year’s was Shabbat 360. This year, Chabad decided on the number 500, which represented their attendance goal.
Crispe said they hoped to have a diverse turnout at the event so that they could share Jewish culture with the broader Lehigh community.
The night began with the female attendees lighting a candle.
“It’s just a very beautiful idea that adding more light in this dark world by doing one act can dispel a lot of darkness,” Dit Greenberg said.
Zalman Greenberg led the group through a brief service of hymns and prayers, emphasizing to students the importance of taking a break during busy periods of time.
“You’re here for four years and before you blink, it could be done,” Zalman Greenberg said to the group. “For six days you’re working, you’re studying, you’re doing whatever you need to do, and the idea of Shabbat is that we take a pause and try to spend time with our family and friends.”
Following the service, participants enjoyed a feast that included fresh-baked challah, sushi rolls, chicken matzo ball soup, herb crusted chicken and braised brisket.
Dit Greenberg said preparing the meal is a community effort. They start prepping and cooking the week leading up to Shabbat at their home with help from student volunteers.
Throughout the meal, Zalman Greenberg and several students stood to speak and say “L’chaim,” a toast that means “To life.”
“The reason we say L’chaim, in plural, is because real life and real fulfillment is with other people, with a community, with each other,” Dit Greenberg said. “We can create real life and real purpose by helping others, by being involved.”
Megan Schulte, ‘25, who attended Shabbat for the first time, said she found joy and love in seeing people experience community through religion, as she does not follow a religion herself.
Schulte said her favorite part of the dinner was when Zalman Greenberg led the group in song as students put their arms around each other and swayed.
“I felt like that really showed the sense of community and family,” Schulte said. “We didn’t know each other, but we all put our arms around each other to sing.”
Kevin Simons, ‘24, said he has attended Shabbat dinners every other week since he’s been at Lehigh, including Shabbat 360 last year. He said he was happy this event had a large turnout and a lot of engagement.
“My favorite part is the community,” Simons said. “Everyone just comes together, breaks bread, and is happy to be with each other.”
Crispe said she worked with a team of about 10 students and started preparing the event last semester to give them time to organize a date that didn’t conflict with other organizations and reserve the room at Comfort Suites.
Crispe said Chabad at Lehigh plans events for all of the Jewish holidays, and they will soon begin planning for Passover.
Many of the Chabad at Lehigh executive board members said they hope this event will bring more people to future Shabbat dinners and other events.
“The enthusiasm that the Rabbi and his wife have is really inspirational and incredible to see,” Schulte said. “It’s such a huge time commitment, especially with all the food, and that’s only part of what they do for the community. I can only imagine how much effort they put into everything else.”