When more than 400 college students from across the state of Florida came together this past weekend, singing, celebrating and unity ensued.

Coming smack dab in the middle of similar regional gatherings of Jewish students, the sixth-annual Florida Shabbaton brought together representatives of the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Miami, Florida State University, the University of South Florida, and in an interesting twist, Texas A&M University, which just weeks before hosted its own such event at the local Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center.

Held in Gainesville, the weekend Shabbaton offered stimulating classes, lively meals, games and a Saturday-evening barbeque. Like other such gatherings around the country, it was co-sponsored by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

“It was a very fun time,” said UF undergraduate Gil Benezra. “The whole thing was really a highlight; we all had an excellent time. It was great to see Jewish students from all over the place connecting and having a fun time together.”

The hundreds in attendance didn’t seem to mind that their Sabbath meals and prayer services took place in trailers while construction continued at the Tabacinic Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center. They just packed tightly into the temporary housing, bunked with friends or at a local hotel, and enjoyed the festivities.

“The packed room was really lit-up,” said Eliott Rimon, a sophomore finance major from UF. “It was amazing seeing everyone singing and being together, it was out of this world. We’re not used to seeing this type of thing, and it was amazing.”

Students celebrate at the Tabacinic Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center, host of the Gainesville, Fla., weekend.
Students celebrate at the Tabacinic Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center, host of the Gainesville, Fla., weekend.

For Rimon, the Saturday evening program was particularly inspiring, because it gave him the opportunity to spend time with students who had traveled up to six hours to attend.

“We all hung out together late into the night,” he said. “Everyone got Shabbaton t-shirts and wore them the whole time. It felt like there were a thousand people there!”

For Chanie Goldman, co-director of Chabad at UF, the Shabbaton serves as an important way to bond students from various schools and overcome differences, even heated football rivalries.

“The [unity] of everyone and seeing them get to know each other is really special,” said Goldman, who also appreciated that her children could spend time with the children of other campus Chabad House directors. “I hope that all of the students got to reconnect with each other and make more inter-college programs in the future. I think that this will strengthen their personal Chabad groups and connection between the schools.”