With thousands of rabbis from all over the world attending the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in Brooklyn, N.Y., more and more of their home communities are utilizing the special opportunity this weekend presents for unique events geared to women.

Bracha Plotkin, who has been hosting “Women’s Shabbats” for the past four years at the Chabad Jewish Student Center serving the State University of New York in New Paltz, looks at her husband’s absence as an excuse to concentrate on her female students.

As in years past, “this Friday night will be completely different than a regular Shabbat,” said Plotkin. “Instead of coming by just for the meal,” students will gather for a special program including games, discussions, singing and an inspiring prayer service. After the meal, they’ll enjoy a gourmet dessert buffet while sprawled on the floor on pillows and blankets.

“We’ll talk until very late in to the night,” added Plotkin. “It is a very different atmosphere.”

Students who’ve taken part in the once-a-year activity in the past agree.

“I thought the idea was strange at first actually,” said New Paltz junior Anastasia Yakhkind. “But when I heard more about it from students who had been there the previous year, I thought it would be great.”

Yakhkind, who is now the president of the Chabad House’s student board, said that last year’s program was “really beautiful.”

It was “a good experience to just be in a group of women and be very open and able to talk about anything,” she added.

At the University of Chicago, the first all-women’s Shabbat at the Chabad Jewish Student Center was actually suggested by students five years ago. When co-director Baila Brackman mentioned that her husband would be away for that year’s conference, the students thought that it would be the perfect time to place a special focus on the females.

“This is really something unique for our campus,” said Brackman. “It really draws a lot of people, from undergrads to Ph.D. candidates. Women who don’t come to anything else will come to this and talk about it long afterwards."

One feature that all of the women’s Shabbats have in common is their long discussions, which cover the range of questions and thoughts about being a Jewish woman, from love, dating and marriage to living a fulfilled life.

On many campuses, student committees help facilitate the program. The students pray together, share inspirational stories and quotes, give over lessons from the Torah, and often prepare elaborate meals together.

Sometimes, they even celebrate a birthday party.

The women’s Shabbat is “so looked forward to,” said Brackman, “that one of our students, who is having a birthday on Friday, decided that instead of having a big party, she wants to celebrate her birthday at our Friday night women’s program!”

So that male students won’t feel left out, some Chabad Houses make arrangements for a male student living nearby to host his own Shabbat meal. Others offer ready-to-go dinners, complete with grape juice and challah.

Malkie Korik, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Roseville, Calif., addresses a monthly meeting of her women’s group.
Malkie Korik, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Roseville, Calif., addresses a monthly meeting of her women’s group.

Weekend of Unity

Off-campus, other Jewish communities are also starting to embrace the women’s-only weekend to bring together local residents.

Malkie Korik, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Roseville, Calif., invited Rivka Wilschanski, a well-regarded singer and musician, to spend this Shabbat at the Chabad House and provide entertainment for a slate of Women’s Weekend events.

According to Korik, many of the those who have reserved spaces will be attending the Roseville center for the first time.

“We have a Jewish women’s circle, and this was planned as an extension to that,” related Korik. “Each month, we have an event which combines discussion, food, and usually a chance to do some kind of creative project.

“I thought, why not expand it into a weekend event that will include those elements as well?”

Wilschanski, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Kenosha, Wis., will perform at a special concert on Saturday night. Following the concert, the women will also enjoy an international-themed gourmet appetizer and dessert buffet prepared by local caterers.

“I'm excited that such a wide range of women from the community are coming, and I think this will be a good way for everyone to connect,” said Korik. “There will be women of every age group from 20-somethings to 70-year-olds.”

For her part, Brackman asserted that such events serve not only women, but their communities as a whole.

“When women are empowered,” she said, “it’s good for everyone.”