Shabbat 1000 unites Jews and non-Jews at traditional dinner

On Friday, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial ballroom was adorned with blue and white balloons and lined with tables filled to capacity as Jews and non-Jews alike gathered to celebrate Pittsburgh’s first Shabbat 1000.

Shabbat 1000 is an event that has been successfully held across the country and is generally catered to college students. The premise is to bring together practicing Jews and non-Jews alike for a traditional Shabbat dinner.

The Jewish Shabbat, or Sabbath, is an observance that stems from the Bible; it commemorates the day of rest taken by God on the seventh day of Creation and lasts from sundown Friday through Saturday evening. Many traditional Jewish families gather each Friday evening for a festive dinner.

“For Jews, this event will help them become more connected with their Jewish heritage,” stated electrical and computer engineering and math senior David Levitt via e-mail. Levitt, a member of the student board of the Chabad House on campus and Tartans for Israel, noted that the event is a “unique experience” for non-Jews to learn about Jewish culture.

“Shabbat 1000 gives people from all walks of life the chance to sit down together for a meal,” he said. “What could be a better step towards building unity between many different organizations than a nice dinner?”

Eric West, a senior in mechanical engineering and robotics, acknowledged this solidarity.

“The organizers have done an excellent job of making the event accessible to all sects of Judaism and non-Jews alike,” he said.

There were optional opportunities for prayer and washing of hands, catering to each individual’s level of observance.

“This event has really exposed me to the diversity present within Judaism,” said electrical and computer engineering senior Alana Frome. “I am glad I had the opportunity to share this experience with my Jewish friends.”

West estimated 30 percent of the crowd to be non-Jewish.

The first speaker welcomed all comers to the event with the aid of children flashing signs reading “cheer,” “sing,” and “quiet.” A responsive crowd actively listened and participated in the opening address.

Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein of Chabad House also spoke. He likened Shabbat 1000 to the community that gathered at the base of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments over 3000 years ago — people gathered in fellowship as one body.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor then roused the crowd. He praised the event as a testament to the strength of the Pittsburgh Jewish community and the Pittsburgh community as a whole.

The energy he built in the room reached its zenith as he shed his blazer, revealing a yellow T-shirt adorned with “Shabbat 1000: March 24, 2006” on the front and “Be a part of it” on the back.

With the aid of the “cheer” and “sing” signs, the evening then transitioned to song with the singing of “Shalom Aleichem,” a song meant to request blessings of peace and happiness.

A rabbi then took the stage and, after quieting the crowd, blessed the food. A crowd ready to eat chanted “eat, eat,” and began the meal, which included the traditional foods of challah (yeast-leavened bread), gefilte fish, chicken, and noodle kugel.

The evening concluded with the Birkat haMazon, or blessings after the meal.

According to Levitt, the caterer estimated that 750 people were served at the event. While the event didn’t reach the goal of 1000, West saw it as a success in terms of numbers and overall message. “In Shabbat tradition, this event has truly embraced community.”