An estimated 200 students from 12 campuses across Texas and neighboring states will be descending on Texas A&M University next month for the third-annual Grand Texas Intercollegiate Shabbaton. Hosted by the Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center, the Feb. 18 to 20 weekend gathering is already generating a groundswell of excitement.

“I just love seeing all these Jewish students coming together,” remarked Naomi Heller, a senior animal science student at A&M who helped plan both last year’s and the first Shabbaton.

“If they celebrate their Judaism when they’re in their 20s, they’ll celebrate it when they’re older to,” continued the Dallas native and past president of the Chabad House’s student board. “Candle lighting on Friday evening with all of the girls is such a special sight to see.”

According to Jewish Student Center director Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, some participants will be travelling more than seven hours to attend the event, which allows the region’s emerging Jewish leaders to derive inspiration and programming ideas from their peers. Highlights of the agenda include lively services, workshops on contemporary Jewish topics, dancing and a Saturday night Texas barbeque.

As with other regional collegiate Shabbatons across North America, including next week’s West Coast Intercollegiate Shabbaton in California, the Texas weekend is co-sponsored by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and regional Chabad Houses, including those serving the University of Texas, Tulane University, Rice University, and the University of Houston.

Current Chabad House student board president Cody Weaver said that this year’s event will be his first.

“We’re trying to focus on having discussions and events that will be geared towards the students’ interests,” reported the sophomore political science major, who hails from S. Antonio. “We want to address the identity problems that they face as Jews in college. Just the fact that they’re coming from all over and are taking the time to come here to have a Jewish experience is really amazing.”

Samantha Caplan, a board member who attended both of the previous Shabbatons, said that she’s inspired by the gathering’s diverse group of students.

Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff directs the Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center serving Texas A&M University.
Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff directs the Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center serving Texas A&M University.

“It’s really a lot of fun; it’s great to have Jewish students from all over come together,” said Caplan, a junior psychology major from Houston. “You really get a lot of different perspectives on things.”

Caplan and her brother, Michael Caplan, are planning an ice-breaker activity for the event’s first night.

“It will help all of the students get to know each other fast,” she promised.

For his part, Lazaroff said that the weekend will provide a Jewish experience to many students who do not always have access to Jewish programming on campus.

“Not all of these schools have Chabad Houses,” said the rabbi. “This is an opportunity for them to connect with other Jews in the state and to connect with their Jewish heritage.”