Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens and the University of Georgia will host what is believed to be the largest gathering of Jews in the school’s 225 year history.

The Shabbat 500 dinner tonight will bring together hundreds of Jewish students, professors and others from across the university community in a massive show of unity, says Rabbi Michoel Refson.

That goal is resonating with locals.

“The philosophy of Chabad is an excellent one,” said Jerome S. Legge, associate dean of the School of Public and International Affairs, who plans to attend. “The movement thrives on uniting Jews, whatever their affiliation or level of observance, into one group where all are tolerated. Shabbat is probably the most important commandment of the Jewish faith and Shabbat 500 allows us to celebrate it in unison.”

All across North America, Chabad Houses have been organizing similar gatherings for years, beginning in 1994 with Binghamton University, where the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life is again hosting its Shabbat 1,500 dinner tonight. Every year, roughly 20 campuses host such events.

“It’s a great way to get Jewish students together and help them realize there are more than just your friends out there,” said Jordan Edelstein, a junior and member of the UGA Chabad student board. “We want to strengthen Jewish unity on campus and raise awareness. Even though we’re in the South, there are still plenty of us out there.”

Like many people, Edelstein originally got involved with the Chabad House “because it’s a great place for Jews to go to celebrate,” he explained. It’s just a nice, welcoming place to go for Shabbat dinners and events.

UGA senior Jordan Moskowtiz notes that the dinner comes, interestingly enough, after a week of events around North America as part of the so-called Israel Apartheid Week. At some campuses, such programs have historically included some anti-Semitic voices.

“For a Jewish community, it’s very important for us to be unified, positive and proactive,” said UGA senior Jordan Moskowitz. “It’s important to have a strong Jewish identity, to respond as a Jewish community to say we stand united.”

Jewish students at the University of Georgia participate in a Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens event.
Jewish students at the University of Georgia participate in a Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens event.

She and other students took up Shabbat 500’s fundraising responsibilities. They managed to bring in more than $10,000, logging the support of alumni and locals.

“We were really fortunate to have a lot of generous donations in the Athens and Atlanta communities,” she said.

Caryn Klein, a sophomore, was one of 50 team captains who encouraged nine of their Jewish friends to attend, reaching out through fraternities, sororities and other groups on campus.

“I didn’t realize all the planning that went into it,” said Klein, who is also lending a hand in the cooking department. “There’s a lot of Jews on campus but we don’t know each other.”

The event will take place outside of the Chabad House.

“We are trying to give as many students as possible a chance to come together for a Shabbat experience, to bring Jewish unity to the student body,” said Refson. “The stronger the Jewish community stands together the better we are as a whole.”