Around 500 students attended "Mega Shabbat" on march 22 at the Comfort Suites on Bethlehem's Southside. Chabad at Lehigh hosted the event for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. (Courtesy of Dit Greenberg)

Mega Shabbat brings together 500 students of all backgrounds

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Sounds of screaming and laughter emerge from Dit Greenberg’s kitchen as female students play tag with her children. Her husband, Rabbi Zalman Greenberg, can be seen coming in and out of Lehigh’s Chabad house carrying tables and chairs, accompanied by male students. The smell of freshly baked challah fills the entire house.

On March 22, Chabad at Lehigh hosted “Mega Shabbat” at the University Comfort Inn Suites in Bethlehem. 

There were over 300 responses to the RSVP form sent to the Lehigh community prior to the event, but about 500 students attended in total. Students of all backgrounds were welcome.

Shabbat dinner is a traditional Friday night meal in Jewish households that marks the beginning of the day of rest and rejuvenation. Chabad at Lehigh hosts weekly dinners for students and an annual, much larger Shabbat gathering to encourage student involvement in Lehigh’s Jewish community — this year’s being Mega Shabbat. 

Students involved in Chabad at Lehigh had the opportunity to be a host for a table at the event, which meant they brought 30 friends to sit and dine at their table. There were about 30 hosts in total, and those who were invited to a host table were able to sit at open tables and meet new people.

Sophia Smith, ‘26, is a non-Jewish student who attended the event.

“I have a lot of Jewish people in my life and a few friends that were hosts at tables,” Smith said. “I have gone to regular Shabbat, and I knew I would have a great time at Mega Shabbat.”

Preparation and cooking for the event took over a week, and Lehigh students involved in Lehigh’s Jewish community volunteered to help. Dit Greenberg sent out a sign-up sheet, through which students could volunteer to help set up or cook food for Mega Shabbat.

Members of Lehigh Chabad gather to braid fresh challah dough for the Mega Shabbat celebration. Challah, a ceremonial jewish bread, is a staple menu item at Shabbat dinner. (Jackie Belkin/B&W Staff)

“As we speak, a bunch of guys are over at the hotel helping the Rabbi set up tables,” Hannah Gordon, ‘26, and vice president of Chabad’s executive board said the day before the event. “People have been here for hours all week, helping cook and bake.”

A staple menu item at Shabbat dinner is Challah, a ceremonial Jewish bread. While baking, Dit Greenberg explained that the word Challah actually stands for a piece of dough. Jews take off a piece of dough before baking because in biblical times, they would give a loaf to the Kohanim (High Priests) as a “thank you” for their service in the Holy Temple.

“The reason Jews separate a piece of dough, say a blessing over it and burn it is because it reminds them that everything they have comes from God,” Dit Greenberg said.

The way Challah is braided is also significant to Jewish religion and tradition. Dit Greenberg explained that there are many things in Judaism that are symbolic, and the three strands of the braid represent the three different lineages of the Jewish people: Kohen, Levi and Yisroel. She said, when braided together, it represents the unity of the Jewish people.

There was a large spread of food in the center of the venue, all which was cooked by Dit Greenberg, Rabbi Zalman Greenberg and student volunteers. Before dinner began, each table was equipped with small electric candles for attendees to light. Greenberg addressed the attendees, reading aloud different ways to show Jewish pride on campus while students stood up and lit candles to any statements that described them.

Mega Shabbat also included the unveiling of the first-ever Torah for Chabad at Lehigh, written and dedicated in honor of Lehigh students and faculty. Michael and Dara Tisch, ‘16, are responsible for donating the Torah. Attendees had the opportunity to hold the tip of the quill as the Torah was completed. 

Advert Barak, ’27, and Rabbi Mendel Greenberg pose for a picture with the new Torah written for the Lehigh University Jewish Community on March 22 at the Mega Shabbat celebration. Students had the opportunity to say a quick pray with the Rabbi and new Torah. (Courtesy of Dit Greenberg)

“Given everything going on in the world, I think it’s very important to celebrate and experience Jewish culture,” Smith said.

Gordon said her favorite part about Shabbat dinners is the sense of community it brings her and the new friendships she gets to create.

“It’s such a Mitzvah (good deed) for Jews to get together in a joyous way, especially when it’s Shabbat,” Gordon said. “Mega Shabbat is so amazing because to see a community that is such a minority in the world come together in such a large way is amazing, as right now the world can be a very scary and dark place for (Jews).”

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