Seeking to bring more light into the world one year after the Mumbai, India, terror attacks, thousands of Jewish students around the world will be inviting one friend each to the Shabbat table. According to organizers of the initiative, dubbed the “Bring a Friend to Shabbat” campaign, enlistments suggest that the Nov. 20 event has the potential to be the largest campus-based global Shabbat celebration in history.

“This is a wonderful idea, because it’s a chance to raise awareness about Shabbat with people who, in some cases, have never experienced a Friday night meal like this before,” said Estaban Hubner, a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University and treasurer of the Chabad-affiliated L’Chaim Society.

Timed to take place on the first Shabbat after the anniversary of the murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, directors of the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Mumbai, and their four Jewish guests, the campaign grew out of a desire to emulate the Holtzbergs’ dedication to helping Jews of all backgrounds. Last year, several Chabad Houses in England and North America hosted a similar initiative a week-and-a-half after the attack, and student leaders attending this month’s Chabad on Campus International Student Shabbaton in Brooklyn, N.Y., enthusiastically endorsed the effort to make it global in scope.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Dubrowski, director of operations for the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, reported that hundreds of campuses, from the University of Sydney in Australia to Cambridge University in England to the University of California, Los Angeles, have signed up, with students inviting friends through an interactive Web site.

“The idea behind this Shabbat program is very much connected to Gabi and Rivky,” said Rabbi Dovid Teichtel, director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life serving the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a classmate since elementary school of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg. “Hospitality was a part of their personality. Their whole existence was about caring for other people; they were always bringing in new people and making them feel at home.”

Students light Shabbat candles during an annual conference in New York. (Photo: B. Lifshitz)
Students light Shabbat candles during an annual conference in New York. (Photo: B. Lifshitz)

Extra Chairs

Student leaders emphasized that on the one hand, Chabad Houses have been hosting Shabbat meals for students for decades; still, the high-profile nature of the campaign highlights the unity engendered among people around the world celebrating the holy day with a common purpose.

“In our case, it will also bring a lot of new faces to the L’Chaim Society,” said Hubner, before adding with a chuckle, “I just hope we will be able to expand soon to accommodate all the extra people.”

Organizers intend for the Bring a Friend Shabbat to become an annual affair.

“The Jewish community lost six precious souls, leaving six empty seats at the global Shabbat table,” states a message on the program’s Web site. “This week, let’s fill those seats – a thousand times over! Let’s help every Jewish student celebrate Shabbat!”

Chabad on Campus executive vice president Rabbi Yossy Gordon added that several years ago, a movement asked people to add an empty chair to their Passover Seder tables to commemorate Soviet Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. However, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, stressed that it would be better to not only bring extra chairs to the table, but to fill them as well.

“It is important that when Jews have been hunted down so viciously in hate, we must gather them together in love,” explained Gordon. “That’s what this Shabbat is about.”