“Shabbat Shalom!” exclaimed Dan Yagudin, director of engagement at Hillel, to kick off Friday’s third annual Shabbat 1000.
Though originally intended to host 1,000 people, more than 1,500 members of the Cornell community poured into Barton Hall for the free dinner which celebrated the weekly Jewish Sabbath. The event was unique due to both its massive scale and its ability to attract both Jews and non-Jews alike.
A day after his inauguration, President David J. Skorton attended the event, where he gave a short speech about his own experience with Judaism.
“57 years of Jewish life and I have never seen anything like this. … How wonderful,” Skorton said, remarking on the significant showing.
Although born Jewish, Skorton said that he only began to understand the different forms of Judaism when he attended UCLA for two years before transferring to Northwestern University.
“[Judaism] is a multiplicity of opinions and a multiplicity of world views. … Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this tonight,” Skorton concluded.
Steve Murray ’07, one attendee of Shabbat 1000, called Skorton “a good character … a mensch.” Murray said he liked the way Skorton engaged the student body by recalling his own collegial experiences with religion.
After his speech, Skorton was seated at the VIP table with other distinguished faculty and members of the Hillel Board of Trustees.
But rather than sitting at a special table, other members of the faculty and religious leaders chose instead to sit and eat with students. Harry Katz, dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and his wife, Jan H. Katz, senior lecturer at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, did just that.
Jan Katz, who sat with ILR students, said, “We are really excited that students were willing to sit with us. … [Faculty] should be invited by the students.”
The freshmen who sat with the Katz’s agreed.
“It was interesting to see [the Dean] on a more personal level,” said Heather Levy ’10 “He was funny, he made jokes about fake ID’s.”
Levy explained that the event is great for freshmen because of its inclusiveness.
“Even if you don’t feel comfortable with Hillel events [you can come to Shabbat 1000],” Levy said. This sentiment was echoed by other students at the dinner even though they normally do not attend Jewish events.
“ I’ve really been looking forward to a Shabbat dinner that’s informal,” said Jessica Rosman JGSM ’08.
“There are hidden Jews who will come out if there is not a lot of pressure [to be religious],” said Rosman, who was joined by two of her business school friends, Jeff Chudy JGSM ’08 and Jason Paul JGSM ’08.
Chudy, who is not Jewish, explained his reasoning for coming to the event.
“I came with a Jewish friend to explore and learn more about Jewish culture,” he said.
“The Jewish community is much bigger here … more organized and more impressive,” Paul said, describing the differences between the Jewish community at Cornell and his undergraduate school, the University of Illinois.
The original inspiration for Shabbat 1000, which has taken place for the past three years and has increased in size since then, was to take weekly Friday night dinners a step further and open up Shabbat to not only the Jewish community, but to the greater Cornell population.
“Shabbat 1000 is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Jewish community at Cornell and display the many events that are available to both Jewish and non-Jewish students,” said Jarett Goldman ’08, who wore a button with the phrase: “I went on birthright, ask me about it.”
Yagudin called Shabbat 1000, “the biggest window into the Jewish community for the non- Jewish community.”
According to Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director for Hillel, around 20 percent of the attendees were not Jewish.
Rosenthal explained that the mission of Hillel is to “be distinctly Jewish and universally human,” which he considers to also be the point of Shabbat 1000.
As for the success of the event, many students who have attended in years passed said that this Shabbat 1000 was more organized and energetic. This shift may have been due to a move from a buffet style meal to a family style meal.
“I think it’s nice to see that there is a good representation here. It is not just freshmen, but all Cornell students,” said Amanda Solarsh ’07, who has attended the event for three years.
Yagudin said that he would love to include more diverse aspects of Judaism at the dinner in the future.
“We should make everyone do Latin-Israeli dancing. That’s what’s missing,” said Yagudin with a sly grin.
Rosenthal concluded, “I think [the event was] better than it’s ever been. The success is because of the students. We might have to call it Shabbat 1,500 next year.”