As the work week ends and Friday evening approaches, many of our professional partners and students prepare for the welcoming of the Sabbath. In the Jewish tradition, Shabbat is a truly unique weekly experience; it's a time where we set aside our problems from the work week and invest our time and thoughts in those around us.
One opportunity that comes to many of our campuses is the Avi Schaefer Shabbat sponsored by the Avi Schaefer Fund. This program encourages Hillels to utilize Shabbat dinners as an opportunity to promote mutual respect and understanding through informed dialogue. Through our work of relational advocacy, many of our students have seen this opportunity as a way to strengthen relationships across religious and cultural communities.
At the University of Southern California, Hillel in coordination with the Caruso Catholic Center, Greek-Life Crossing, the InteFaith Council, and David Project interns recently held their own version of the Avi Schaefer Shabbat by bringing together the Jewish and Christian communities on campus for a night of genuine dialogue and understanding. "The goal of the event is to support each other as religious groups on campus" says Jessica Moe, David Project intern at the University of Southern California. As a non-Jewish intern, Jessica first learned about Shabbat through her friendships in the Jewish community and saw it as a great way to bring groups of different faiths together. "One of my good friends and sorority sister is Avia Cohen, the President of Chabad on campus” Jessica said. “I've attended Shabbat at both Hillel and Chabad and I absolutely fell in love with it." Through her outreach to this Christian community this year, Jessica found that both communities share similar values but also challenges. "At a secular school like USC we consider ourselves minority groups. When you're seen as a minority on campus, it's important that we go out of our way to build these relationships."
For Jewish students like Chase Nathan, there's a strong connection to the mission behind the Avi Schaefer Shabbat. Chase currently serves in multiple roles within Greek life and Hillel, including the Vice President of Religious and Spiritual Life. As one of the main organizers, Chase saw this as an opportunity to learn about the legacy of Avi Schaefer, which he hopes many of those in attendance could connect with. "Avi Schaefer’s parents created the “Avi Shabbat” in his memory because he was such a strong proponent of interfaith connections and having a set time to bring different faiths together" Chase said. "Last year, I think the event’s meaning was overlooked. But this year, Jeff and I really worked tirelessly to make sure representatives from varying organizations showed up and that the conversation was actually being held."
Through this event, both Jessica and Chase see a tremendous opportunity to grow the relationship with the Christian community going forward. "My hope for this event is that it will help establish mutual acknowledgement and respect for each other's communities" Jessica said. "We are really trying to make it known that it’s not just you or us, but that we can stand together." As these students continue their efforts in relationship building, there's the understanding that the foundation has been set, with continued efforts towards sustained friendship and cooperation. "I hope this is a springboard for future inclusion programs." Chase said. "I hope members of Hillel will attend interfaith council meetings and I hope next year’s Avi Schaefer Shabbat will draw an even bigger crowd."