Ben Jacobson came to Clark University for his first semester prepared to lead his own Shabbat service from his dorm room to follow COVID-19 regulations. He expected this would make it harder to meet people.

He had been keeping Shabbat for about two years and had been wearing a kippah for four or five. Jacobson brought the prayer books, candles and other necessities to his room.

“I’m very self-sufficient,” Jacobson said. “I’m able to get done everything I want to get done.”

And then he got an email from Clark Hillel, which made things easier.
“Though we cannot all gather, sing and laugh together in person for our Shabbat dinners, we are pleased to provide meals and virtual programming for everyone in our community,” the email stated.

On Friday, Aug. 28, students picked up their Shabbat meals from the University Center. Each meal included roasted chicken or tofu, potatoes, green beans, grape juice and a small challah.

“I’m really glad we’re still able to provide meals to students through Hillel,” Clark Hillel president Alex Sklarz ’22 said. “It’s very special that even when we cannot all sit together for dinner, we can still ring in Shabbat together as a community.”

“We are continuing the tradition but with modifications to keep everyone healthy and safe during these COVID-19 days,” said Jeff Narod, Clark Hillel executive director. “We are so grateful to be able to provide individually packaged and freshly made Shabbat dinners in a box. Hillel is about building Jewish community on campus and helping students to connect with their Judaism.”

Each student was provided a “Shabbag,” as he called it, containing all the ritual items needed to fulfill Shabbat, such as a kiddush cup, challah cover and blessing cards. Narod also included Bamba, Bissli and Israeli chocolates.
After picking up the meal, students were encouraged to either Zoom in to a Shabbat service or meet together for a distanced, mask-wearing traditional service in the park. Afterward, everyone joined together on Zoom for candle-lighting, blessings and dinner.
“We wanted to have a semblance of normalcy,” Sklarz said.
Normally, Shabbat dinners at Clark come to about 100 students celebrating together. They attend a prayer service, followed by the rituals of kiddush, motzi and lighting the candles. Students typically enjoy a meal cooked in-house at Clark by the Kosher Kitchen. All is organized and led by Hillel students.
“We don’t want to lose the sense of welcoming and diverse community we have during normal times,” Narod said. “We especially want to be there for students during these days when it’s easy to feel alone, whether in a dorm room or studying from their family homes.”
“We are just grateful that even with all the uncertainty right now, we can still have this,” Sklarz said.