If you think your Thanksgiving hosts had their plates full preparing to have over dozens of guests, you must have never dined at Chabad or Hillel. Week after week, each organization hosts hundreds of students and members of the community for Friday night dinner, celebrating the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, known as Shabbat.
Jan. 31 is no different in the Jewish world. Jews around the world will still celebrate the end of the week together. But at USC, it will be an extra special day: Shabbat 1,000. Over 1,000 people — students, family, community members and guests — will swarm the Sigma Chi parking lot for the largest Shabbat dinner anywhere on the West Coast, according to Chabad Rabbi Dov Wagner.
Shabbat 1,000 is an annual event spearheaded by Chabad @ USC and co-hosted by over 10 other student groups, including USC Hillel, the Office of Religious Life, Undergraduate Student Government, and several Greek organizations. Despite its record numbers, the event never gets enough attention or coverage because, in traditional Judaism, Jews refrain from using electronics during the Shabbat. That makes it difficult to take a 1,000-person photo to show off the attendance, it makes it impossible to Instagram live stream the huge crowd and it prevents the hosts from showcasing the piles and piles of gourmet food served.
The mega-Shabbat event began in 2007, back when it was called “Shabbat 300.” The number of attendees grew and grew, to the point where it was renamed “Shabbat 500,” and over the last two years, closer to 700 people attended. The most amazing thing about Chabad is that they never seem to be satisfied. After racing past its goal by nearly 50%, the organization upped its target to 1,000 attendees in 2018, and they haven’t looked back since.
Shabbat 1,000 is not exclusively for Jewish Trojans. According to Rabbi Wagner, this is an opportunity for Jewish students at USC to invite their fellow Trojans of all backgrounds and faiths to their Shabbat table, to showcase with pride all of the facets of Jewish life at USC. Every year, hundreds of non-Jews share the event with their Jewish friends and learn about Jewish practices and culture, all while enjoying a five-course meal.
USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni has long been speaking about the mental health crisis millennials and Gen Zers have been facing.
“Historically, it’s been the oldest generation in the United States that has been the loneliest,” Soni said in an interview with Harvard Divinity School. “But studies now show that the loneliest generation in the United States right now are post-millennials, our youngest. There is a crisis, a spiritual crisis of loneliness, in higher education among students.”
And it’s true. Despite technology providing countless opportunities for connection — virtual connection — people feel more disconnected than ever. Flip through the pages of the Daily Trojan papers from the past several years, read through the platforms of USG candidates from election after election, and you’ll see how class after class college students consistently say they want to better their mental health. Without taking away from the calls for better University healthcare, perhaps there is a preventative secret in the Shabbat concept of face-to-face connection and putting the phone down over dinner.
While the origins of Shabbat — God resting on the seventh day — appear purely religious, it’s actually more mundane than one would think and far more applicable to today than ever before. Simply put, Shabbat is a time for time. It allows us to step back after a busy week and focus on the present, to spend time with those around us — whether it be friends or family or new guests at the dinner table.
Common logic would hold that the most efficient laborers work nonstop. But it turns out that adding a day of rest actually increases efficiency and prevents burnout — we’re human, after all. It was a novel concept developed back in Genesis and it seems to have done us pretty well ever since. But an event like Shabbat 1,000 does more than just remind us of the importance of rest. It emphasizes how vibrant the Trojan Family is and showcases that there is a community for everyone at USC.
Shauli Bar-On is a junior writing about sociopolitical issues. His column, “The Bar-On Brief,” runs every other Tuesday.