Jewish students across the Lone Star State excitedly pronounced the second-annual Grand Texas Intercollegiate Shabbaton to be even bigger and better than last year’s event. Hosted once again by collegians at Texas A&M University in College Station, the collection of networking events, workshops and spiritually inspiring talks was attended by hundreds of students from more than half a dozen colleges.

“It’s going to be really big!” Naomi Heller, a junior and student board president of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center serving A&M, reported just days before the Feb. 19 opening sessions.

She was looking forward to “seeing so many kids my age who care about their heritage,” said the Dallas area native. “Plus, I love meeting new people!”

Amanda Stein, a sophomore over at the rival University of Texas in the state capital of Austin, agreed with Heller.

“Of course I hope to learn more at the Shabbaton,” said Stein, an education major. “But more than anything, I hope to meet new people, make new friends, and create new wonderful experiences.”

Among other items on its agenda, the Shabbaton included a Friday night talk by guest scholar Sara Esther Crispe, editor of JewishWoman.org, the noted companion site of Chabad.org. She spoke about the Jewish mystical understanding of relationships, and led a Saturday afternoon discussion on the power of thought, speech and action.

“The goal is to show how insights from Jewish mysticism can enhance their relationships with others and with themselves as well,” explained Crispe. “The connections we discuss will help them develop and better understand their inner strength, potential and power, and how to translate that in their day-to-day lives.”

Other workshops explored the moral obligation to be happy, a look into the Torah’s perspective on body art, and textual-based study of the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, director of the regional Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Houston, led a Chasidic gathering for students on Friday night, and a Saturday night drum circle will follow a Havdallah ceremony marking the close of Shabbat.

As with other regional collegiate Shabbatons across North America, including gatherings in California and Canada last month and at Bighamton University in New York in last fall, the Texas weekend was sponsored by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus, attended last year’s Texas bash. He said that such weekends help encourage students’ expressions of Jewish pride.

“We’ve seen from past Shabbatons that the experiences stay with students long after the weekend closes,” he said.

Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center serving Texas A&M University, leads a Havdalah service marking the close of Shabbat at the annual Chabad-Lubavitch Southeastern Campus Leadership Conference.
Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center serving Texas A&M University, leads a Havdalah service marking the close of Shabbat at the annual Chabad-Lubavitch Southeastern Campus Leadership Conference.

Jewish Unity

Like Heller, Stein recruited other students for the weekend.

“There are so many Jewish students here and I really wanted them to participate and represent U.T.,” she stated.

Sam Caplan, a sophomore psychology major at A&M, which has an estimated 1,000 Jewish student to U.T.’s 5,000, echoed Heller’s view.

“It’s nice for our community to meet a bigger community,” she explained. “Even though [our group] is not very large, we’re very close.”

Manya Lazaroff, co-director of the A&M Chabad House, says that one of the goals of the Shabbaton was to unify Jewish students from across the region. Even the University of Oklahoma sent a delegation, joining the University of North Texas, Rice University, the University of Houston, Blinn College and Texas State University at S. Marcos.

“We always want to do more,” said Lazaroff, who opened the Chabad House with her husband, Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, in 2007. “You would never know that we’ve only been here three years, there’s so many people coming and going.”

“I feel it’s important to bring together Jewish students, no matter where they are from,” said Stein. “Yes, we may go to rival schools, and hope that our sports teams crush the others, but at the end of the day, we’re all Jewish.”