If anyone doubts the giving spirit of "Generation Me" students, they should consider those who frequent Chabad-Lubavitch at the University of California at S. Barbara.

Struck with the task of having to house roughly 350 people out of more than 600 attendees at this month's West Coast Intercollegiate Shabbaton, they frantically called whomever they knew – and didn't know – to arrange accommodations.

When it got down to the wire and there were still guests without a definite place to sleep, UCSB students opened up their own homes and took them in, sometimes by the double digits.

"I had 26 girls at my house," laughed Valerie Oiknine, the student board vice president at the Chabad House. "There were people on the floor, on the couch, in the kitchen, everywhere. But the students were really happy to get to know each other and it was a wonderful time!

"When there's the heart, there's the room."

Such was the spirit at the school's largest Shabbaton in history, a weekend-long festival for West Coast students at more than 20 schools who came together to celebrate being Jewish. It was also the first time for UCSB to play host to the bash, which featured traditional meals, workshops, services, sailing trips and beach barbeques.

Rabbi Mendel Loschak, who together with wife Rochel Loschak co-directs the Chabad House, pronounced the weekend a huge success.

"It was so incredible to bring so many people from so many different places together to celebrate Shabbat," said Loschak. "And to have so many people that we've gotten close to over the years give 110 percent to make sure the event was a success was wonderful."

The event was sponsored by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Coast, with the participation of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity's national headquarters. It was funded in part by the Student Senate at UCSB.

Student leaders said preparing for the Shabbaton tested their logistical acumen.

"The last week leading up the event was insane," said Matthew Shayefar, president of the Chabad student board. "It kept building up until a few days beforehand. It was intense. I didn't do much else but wake up, work on planning the event, make phone calls, and go back to sleep."

A Week of All-Nighters

A student lights Shabbat candles at this month’s West Coast Intercollegiate Shabbaton, which was hosted by Chabad-Lubavitch at the University of California at S. Barbara.
A student lights Shabbat candles at this month’s West Coast Intercollegiate Shabbaton, which was hosted by Chabad-Lubavitch at the University of California at S. Barbara.
All the planning, down to even the most minute, and yet important, detail – like how guests would get from their rooms to each of the weekend's events – was well worth it, said organizers. More than 600 people from places like Arizona and Washington, and all over California, attended the traditional Friday night meal, which UCSB students prepared along with the Loschaks.

"The week before we stayed up until 1 and 2 a.m. making phone calls and cooking tons and tons of food for the guests," said Oiknine.

Once the event started, the locals were finally able to wind down a bit and enjoy the festivities.

According to UCSB student Sheperd Aziz, there was a lot to absorb. He said that one of the highlights of the gathering was keynote speech by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, who spoke about Jewish pride in a not-so-tolerant world.

"It was probably the most inspiring lecture that I've gone to in my life," said Aziz, a graphic design student who chipped in by making fliers and T-shirts for the Shabbaton. "It was amazing. Most of the time, when someone has a question-and-answer session after a lecture, most people get up and leave.

"When [Prager] finished, maybe only 10 people left. Everyone else stayed."

"The speech blew my mind," offered Oiknine. "He spoke about being a Jew on both secular college campuses and in the world, and told us that if you remain proud of who you are and what you do, the rest of the world will respect you for it. He told us to be strong and not forget where we came from."

It was a message that embodied the Shabbaton, said Rochel Loschak.

"The most important function of the Shabbaton is to engender within our students the sense of being part of something larger, something that reaches beyond the limited number of students they eat with on any given Friday night," she explained. "Realizing that countless friends and acquaintances are also being engaged and empowered is the single most powerful assistance we can provide for the Jewish student on campus today."

Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, concurred.

"The mass display of Jewish pride, the meaningful conversations about Jewish life, the friendships formed, and of course the plentiful and delicious kosher food, will remain with the participants long after the Shabbaton weekend," he said.

After Shabbat, hundreds took part in a traditional Havdalah service at a nearby cliff overlooking the sea. Students, some with guitars in hand, joined in song in celebration of their shared heritage. Even though the next day offered participants a full range of outdoor activities, Aziz said that the Havdalah service topped them all.

"Having so many people together just singing and dancing," said the student, "was definitely the climax of a wonderful weekend."