“It’s going to be a small crowd tonight, a lot of people are high holiday-ed out,” announces Rabbi Mendel to no one in particular as around 40 students shuffle in to Chabad House.
Each week, the rabbi holds his breath as students enter the house, located on Gilman Street, hoping he has set enough seats.
Chabad is one of the Jewish options on campus for students who want a dose of religion while away from home. The rabbi and his wife offer free meals every Friday for the Sabbath, along with different options for the various Jewish holidays.
The Sabbath dinner draws a different crowd each week. The regulars. The one timers. And of course, students who could use a free home cooked meal, especially towards the end of the month when wallets are thin.
Many students express their desire that the meal fulfills a family feeling they are missing while they are far from home.
“I don’t necessarily go to Chabad because I am extremely religious, I go for the sense of community it offers,” says Miriam Steinberg, a junior at UW-Madison. “My family ate Friday night dinner and celebrated Shabbat every week at home growing up. Chabad provides a constant similar to the one I have at home.”
Although students who attend Chabad leave their college lifestyle and enter an oasis in time for a few short hours, Jewish students’ Friday nights do not differ from most. Chabad dinner is dismissed promptly at 8:45 pm — just in time for students to participate in perhaps less wholesome activities.
– Erica Sperber