Stu­dents gather to observe Shabbat each week. Facebook

In the wooded space between Delp Hall and Mossey Library, the sound of a ukulele pen­e­trated the quiet evening.

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, sov­ereign of the uni­verse, who has sanc­tified us with his com­mand­ments,” stu­dents sang, “and com­manded us to light the lights of Shabbat.”

Those on campus can hear this every Friday at 6:13 p.m. in the amphitheater, when a few Jewish stu­dents host a Shabbat service com­mem­o­rating the Sabbath, or day of rest, and the end of the week. Sopho­mores Sarah Garfinkel and Alan Kotlyar, and senior David Schwartzman, as a part of the Hillsdale Chavarah club, lead a dinner and prayer service attended weekly by about a dozen stu­dents, not all of whom practice the Jewish faith.

The cen­turies-old service includes about 20 minutes of reli­gious music and prayer, fol­lowed by the breaking of challah bread, a white braided loaf, which rep­re­sents ancient sac­ri­fices made by the Hebrews.
“Having this event every week keeps me anchored to home, my tra­di­tions, and faith,” Garfinkel said after the service, smiling as she talked about her her­itage. “Some­times it’s easy to get drowned in a lot of other tra­di­tions here at Hillsdale.”

The peculiar start time also grounds attendees in tra­dition.

“There are 613 com­mand­ments in the Torah, and we needed a time around sunset that worked for all of us. We chose 6:13 because it’s holy and starts a con­ver­sation,” Garfinkel said.

After lighting candles in the growing dusk, the stu­dents sang in Hebrew songs like “Oseh Shalom” (“He Who Makes Peace”), and Garfinkel, Kotlyar, and Schwartzman ded­i­cated prayer to the victims of Hur­ricane Irma.

The young group sang, “Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah [a full recovery], the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit, and let us say, Amen.”

After pouring grape juice out of a Biggby coffee cup into dixie cups, the friends stood in a circle, hands held in prayer. Praying over and tearing off gen­erous pieces from the soft bread, they talked about what their faith means to them.

Vis­iting Assistant Pro­fessor of Classics Joshua Fincher attended the Shabbat dinner.

“Southern Michigan doesn’t have a very strong Jewish network,” Fincher said. “It was important for me to find out what sort of faith net­works existed here.”

He said he appre­ciates the Jewish culture and history, and while no one knows the true origin of Shabbat, the tra­dition has lasted over a thousand years.

“The reg­u­la­tions and the structure of this Sabbath meal were probably finalized by the 3rd century BCE,” Fincher said.

Garfinkle said hosting the service every week reminds her what’s important to her.

“I realized that if I wanted to be a Jew, I would have to make it a pri­ority. At home, it’s easy, there are candles and kiddush cups and menorahs every­where. But coming to Hillsdale, I have to make Judaism a pri­ority, because it’s not easy.”

She paused and looked around the group, saying, “I’m lucky to have you guys.”

Kotlyar agreed.

“I think this is the one event that we do, our tiny little com­munity,” Kotlyar said. “It kinda just brings us all together, and it reminds me of my roots and her­itage. I’m thankful for it.”