Beginning this year, Hillel has hosted several Shabbat dinners that showcase the experiences of Jews in different countries.
To achieve its ongoing goal of providing both current and new members with a worldly consciousness of Jewish heritage and tradition, Hillel, the Jewish Student Union at UC Irvine, has hosted several themed on-campus Shabbat dinners, each celebrating the respective experiences and cultures of Jewish individuals living in different countries. Thus far, “Shabbat Around the World” has included theme dinners devoted to the particular experiences of Jews living in France, Italy and most recently, China.
Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is observed by practicing Jews every Friday evening at sundown with a festive Kosher meal and a following day of rest, in which Jews refrain from driving cars, answering telephones and using all electronic devices. In the past, Hillel at UCI has frequently hosted on-campus Shabbat dinners (usually held in the Student Center) to large turnouts of Hillel members.
This year in particular, Brad Erbesfield, UCI Campus Director of Hillel, and the members of Hillel’s Student Executive Board, agreed that a series of Shabbats centered on the experience of Jews in countries around the world would provide all who attend with a greater understanding of Jewish diversity and cultural awareness.
“The idea was to have a little bit more diversity in the programming that we’re doing,” said Erbesfield, who before the current school year served as the Program Director of Hillel at the University of Georgia and relocated to Irvine in September 2012. “‘Shabbat Around the World,’ meaning that we are picking a country every time we are hosting a dinner and not just doing ‘Hey, come have Kosher Chinese food.’ We’re going to actually have some things on the table where you can learn what it means to be Jewish in a different country; certain facts and figures, how the cuisine is different.”
At Hillel’s last Shabbat dinner, held week 10 of winter quarter, menus decorated with both Orange County Hillel’s logo and Chinese flags were placed on each table. The menus also provided a “Did You Know” section, with facts such as “Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century C.E.,” a guide to basic Mandarin phrases, and a meal consisting of Chinese dishes, such as Beef Lo Mein, and traditional Jewish foods, such as fresh baked challah bread.
“I think sometimes we get caught up in our lives; caught up in doing the same schedule every week — we go to classes every week, we have Shabbos dinner every Friday, and it was just time to experience something a little bit differently, to experience different cultures, to experience different ways of doing things because that’s why you’re in college,” Erbesfield said. “That’s why you’re here.”
Erbesfield has also set several goals for future Shabbat Around the World events. Hillel will soon host a Shabbat dinner devoted to the Jews of Brazil and is considering Iran, Germany and South Africa as other cultures off which to theme future dinners. They also plan to include many other cultural campus organizations that might also have interest in celebrating diversity.
“This is something different that has never been done here before,” Erbesfield explained. “So we thought it would be a way not just to inspire Jewish students to come out and try something different, but for other students who aren’t Jewish to come out and to experience something different.”
“For me, I love learning about cultures and being a part of culture,” second-year Alyssa Wolk, Hillel’s Vice President of Membership, said.
“We’re gathering members of the Jewish community here at UCI, but also inviting any other students who want to learn about Judaism,” Wolk said.