Chabad House at Georgia Tech hosts Shabbat360

Event attendees gather to celebrate food and community together at the end of the week. A collaborative event between Tech and Georgia State, Shabbat 360 is the Rohr Chabad House’s largest event of the year. // Photo courtesy of Chabad Georgia Tech

On March 29, the doors of the Rohr Chabad House at Georgia Tech and Georgia State opened to hundreds of Jewish students in the local Atlanta area, along with their friends and family for the annual Shabbat360 event. 

Shabbat is a day of rest in Judaism, observed from sunset on Friday to the following Saturday evening. While there are many spiritual traditions, a common ritual is the Shabbat dinner, which is what Shabbat360 is centered around. 

Market style stalls lined the closed-off street with merchandise, baked goods and other foods and drinks. Tables with students, friends and family were full at the accompanying Shabbat dinner that took place after sundown.  

Shifra Sharfstein and her husband, Rabbi Shlomo Sharfstein, are the leaders for Tech and Georgia State’s Chabad group. Chabad is an international organization centered on Jewish community and education, with over 300 college campus locations. They, along with their children, host weekly Shabbat dinners and other events throughout the school year including Shabbat 360 that all focus on community values.

“We’re here for the Jewish students to make Judaism accessible … We like to consider ourselves like a home for Jewish students, especially those away from home to feel at home, to feel like they’re part of a community. We put on a lot of social events, a lot of cultural events, a lot of learning opportunities, and all those have food involved! A hug and home cooked food is really what it’s all about and our goal really is to be a family and a place where everyone is welcome,” Shifra Sharfstein said. 

Six years ago, Shabbat 360 was initiated with that very intent. The goal was to have a larger Shabbat event so that students who may not be familiar with Chabad or other Jewish students on campus could have the opportunity to be welcomed with a large community. Initially, the event was titled Shabbat 250, but as the Jewish community has grown, so has the event. 

“We were thinking there are Jewish students that don’t even know that there’s a Jewish community on campus or don’t feel that they’re part of it and need a welcome … It came together, and everyone walked around at that first event with their mouths open like, ‘I did not know that there were this many Jews on campus, this is crazy.’ People just realized that there actually was a Jewish community here and ‘I can be part of it and have a place to go that I feel welcome,’” Shifra Sharfstein said.

The event not only brought in new students who were celebrating their first Shabbat at Tech, but also allowed returning students who had enjoyed the event in past years to have a space to reconnect with old friends and celebrate their shared heritage. 

“Everybody’s here, so it’s a great way to see the people you see often but also reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while. It’s also a great way to share your traditions with everybody and the environment is always uplifting and rejuvenating … It’s very important for everybody that identifies with their culture or heritage to find some way to connect with that”, said Ethan Klein, third-year CS. 

These events are made possible with the help of student leaders on campus. This event was headed by Kya Stutxman, third-year NEURO, the Shabbat Chair at Chabad, Benedicte Knudson, MS-HCI and Maya Kahn, fourth-year BCHM and Chabad student president. Kahn spoke about the importance of taking the time to celebrate cultural and religious identity.

“It’s so important. I mean it’s part of who you are really, it colors every part of your life and it’s really good to connect to it and to connect to other people that share that with you,” Kahn said. 

Religious and cultural identity can be defining factors in a person’s life. Having pride in those aspects of life can be especially fulfilling when there are similar people to celebrate that with.

“I think especially this year it’s just so nice to have a space for our entire community to get together … College is a particularly important time for people to explore their identities, [and] have opportunities to connect with people who have similar beliefs and values,” said Talia Segal, fourth-year BMED.

Shifra Sharfstein explained that Tech’s campus does not have a particularly large Jewish demographic, making it all the more important to have this community present and active. 

“After October 7, a lot of Jewish students have felt isolated — have been hurt by some of the talking on campus that was directed towards Jewish students. And our goal is for Jewish students to feel ‘no, you’re not alone, there’s people who love you, we’re here for you, we care for you,’ and that big family picture,”Shifra Sharfstein said. 

Such a community is significant to students’ social and emotional wellbeing. While college is a time to meet new people and go through new experiences, having a safe space surrounded by familiarity and shared values can be just as important to some. 

“When a student walks in the door on a Friday night at Chabad, there’s always going to be somebody who warmly welcomes them … Being able to have a community that lets you know, not just feel, but makes you know that you are important and that you are part of something [is] so important for a student’s mental health, emotional health and spiritual health,”Shifra  Sharfstein said. 

Friday evening Shabbat dinners take place every week at 7:30 p.m. Learn about other events hosted by Chabad @chabadgeorgiatech