Chabad Student Center at UT Connects with Students Over Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish Outlook

Nov 5, 2020

Adina Traub and Vanessa Kibbel were just two students Chabad at the University of Texas connected with through Rosh Hashanah programs. Photo courtesy of Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Texas.

Written by Esti Hecht

As students returned to University of Texas at Austin’s campus at the end of August, they had a lot on their minds. Like their peers across the country, they worried about the new format hybrid learning would take, how they would make new friends and connect with old ones, and whether and how these changes would impact their grades, their health and their finances in this unusual new normal. For Jewish students, the concerns went one step further. 

“One of my biggest worries was how I was going to celebrate Rosh Hashana,” said Alex Behar, a senior at UT. “I don’t really connect to Zoom services, and I didn’t think I’d have any alternative.”

At a time when anti-Semitism, specifically on campuses, is on the rise, many felt it was even more important to connect.

Behar was thrilled to find out that the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Texas would be offering a plethora of High Holiday options, balancing the fine line between safety and community.

Rabbi Zev Johnson, co-director of the Chabad Student Center at UT, said, “We looked at the reality on the ground and approached Rosh Hashana by saying ‘What can we offer?’ After speaking to students, we laid out the options – and they responded enthusiastically to all of them.”

As they had done for the first few Shabbat dinners of the semester, the Chabad Student Center at UT offered Rosh Hashana-to-Go featuring meals and how-to guides for students to conduct small celebrations and services in their own homes or with predesignated pods. More than 150 students picked up these packages in the days leading up to Rosh Hashana. 

Their similar program, Shabbat-to-Go, launched at the start of the semester, has seen more than 100 students weekly bringing the warmth of Chabad’s famous Shabbat dinners into their homes and apartments through specially prepared packages of food and inspiration.

“The shofar blowing reminded me of the videos I saw in April of communities in Italy and Israel who would come onto their porches and sing together,” said Zach Denn, a junior and member of Chabad’s student e-board. “As we recited the blessings from our porch, and others answered amen from theirs, Rabbi Zev blew the shofar from a safe distance. It really gave me renewed strength and made me feel like we will get through this.” 

This scene repeated itself dozens of times across campus, as Johnson and his children paid visits to students and friends.

Those looking for a more traditional service were able to participate in an outdoor minyan, with participants wearing masks, and standing at an appropriate distance. Still, it was a meaningful opportunity to connect.

“Right now, what these students are missing – and seeking – most is connection” Ariela Johnson, co-director of the Chabad Student Center at UT explained. “As long as we can provide that in a safe and meaningful way, we’ll continue to find ways to do so.” ■

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