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The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Community break-fast a nice idea but poorly executed

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Opinions


One day last week, as I left the Shapiro Campus Center late in the evening, I saw the oddest thing: A group of students were running about the Great Lawn with balloons tied to their legs. What were they doing? I don’t know; I didn’t ask. But President Frederick Lawrence did.

As I made my way past, watching them out of the corner of my eye, no longer shocked by anything I observe students doing at Brandeis, I saw President Lawrence approach them and question them. Now this shocked me.

In my first three years here at Brandeis I saw President Jehuda Reinharz a total of two times: during orientation and when he passed the baton to Lawrence. Reinharz never would have stopped to ask a group of students about their shenanigans—he would have hurried to his next destination, too busy and too superior to care.

In the past two and a half semesters, I have seen Lawrence dozens of times and, in nearly all of those instances, he was conversing with students. It seems as if he honestly cares about us, our opinions and our well-being. It is refreshing.

My opinion of him was only heightened when he led Kol Nidre, the nighttime services for Yom Kippur, which fell last Friday night. Not only did he lead services for the second year in a row but he interacted with those assembled, discussing the holy day and its significance to him, us and Jews in general.

My opinion plummeted the following night, however, at the Fred ’n’ Kathy-hosted break-fast. Don’t get me wrong—it was a very nice gesture. One of the reasons I love Brandeis is its inclusive and welcoming community. It was nice for everyone to come together and the string quartet didn’t hurt either.

This event, however, was planned shoddily and left me and others resenting community rather than embracing it.

When I first entered the Shapiro Campus Center, I was overwhelmed by the crowd and by the noise. I was too overwhelmed. I, like many of my fellow Jews, had just fasted for the past 25 hours. I was hungry and shaky. I admit that I do not fast well; by the end of Yom Kippur, I am usually near fainting (I did faint once and will never hear the end of it) and am looking for a plate of food and a place to sit.

For too long I did not get either of those things. The food lines were too long and I did not have the strength to fight through the crowd. Additionally, there were very few places to sit—those places having already been claimed by those who arrived early (a.k.a. people who were not at services).

I know it sounds like I’m just complaining about all the non-fasting non-Jews eating my food. That’s not it … entirely. I have experienced Brandeis community in the past at its best and I feel that, had those non-fasters been reminded that this event, while containing free food, was the first food that many people had eaten in 25 hours, they would have stepped aside and let the fasters raise their blood sugar a bit.

But no announcement was made. No reminder was given. A simple sign would have done the trick. It has been my experience that most Brandeis students are decent people and, had they been reminded that, while they had eaten a few hours previously, we had not, they would have moved aside.

Another solution would be two lines: one for fasters and one for non-fasters. Again, I do not believe that the other students would have switched lines and knowingly deprived fasters of food.

This was simply poor execution. The counter-argument would be that there was enough food for everyone and it was, at most, only a 15-minute wait. But, when you have already been fasting for 25 hours, 15 minutes is a big deal and can make the difference between health and collapse.

Another sign that this event was poorly planned was the confusion in regards to the expected Sherman break-fast. Every year Sherman breaks the fast with much of the same food that we had in the Shapiro Campus Center—the pizza bagels are expected and there would be riots if ever they were not provided.

In the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Lawrence break-fast was marketed as an alternative break-fast that one could attend in the SCC as opposed to Sherman. Those of us who wished to partake in the Sherman break-fast were urged to sign up ahead of time, giving up one of our meal-plan meals.

I did not find out that Sherman was not holding the break-fast until I, along with two other confused and hungry girls, arrived at Sherman Saturday night to see it empty and closed. We dazedly stumbled to the SCC. At the time, my blood sugar was just a little too low for me to realize that I had wasted my meal. While it was marketed to non-fasters as a free meal to build community, it was marketed to the fasters as a meal that would cost us.

For people who are on limited meal plans, this is really frustrating. A friend of mine has five meals per week and basically just lost a meal. That forced her to use points for lunch the next day, rather than that meal. The free break-fast cost some of us money.

Again, I think that it was a really nice idea but I am saddened that the idea was so poorly planned and executed. Rather than feeling the embrace of community, I felt like I was taken advantage of and shunted to the side—that is not how I wanted to end my Yom Kippur.

If this communal break-fast does become a university tradition, as the invitation implied, I hope the planners will have read this column and will fix the flaws in the system. This was my last Yom Kippur here at Brandeis University, so I will not see how it is orchestrated next year; I can only hope that next year’s break-fast will meet the thoughtful and sensitive standards I have come to expect from this university.