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CHABAD vs. HILLEL: The Friday night dinner showdown

Published: November 17, 2006
Section: Opinions


Once upon a time, Hillel owned Friday nights. If you wanted to get in touch with your Judaism, you would go to Hillel. It was the place to be for campus Jewish life.

Times have changed. The new kid on the block, Chabad, has recently been attracting part of Hillel's membership. The Jewish population is officially split between upper Sherman and Turner Street.

Attendance at the off-campus Chabad dinner has recently soared, the Chabad Club has been chartered, and the Chabad presence has been seen all over campus, from Hookah in the Sukkah to the Mitzvah Marathon.

How did Chabad garner this type of power in the Brandeis community? The answer lies inside 54 Turner Street.

The Chabad Dinner Experience

The Chabad House in Waltham was established in 2001 by Rabbi Peretz and his wife, Chani Chein. Located across from the railroad tracks, it looks like a regular house from the outside, but inside is a whole different story.

Every Friday night, Rabbi Peretz and Chani welcome everyone into their home for a beautiful Shabbat dinner. No meal swipe is requiredall are welcome at Chabad, free of charge. On Thursday nights, some Brandeis students help cook, so all the food served there is homemade in the kitchen.

Sharon Cohen 09 said, I personally feel like Chabad is part of my family because I cook there every Thursday night with Chani and eat dinner there every Friday night. I really feel like Chani and Peretz watch over me. They really go out of their way to get to know every student that comes there, and to make them feel comfortable.

Hillel vs. Chabad?

According to Perry Bell 09, Hillel is not personal, the food is terrible, we dont sing songs, and I just dont feel like it's Shabbos. He continued, Chabad feels like a home environment, and the singing and food are great. It really feels like Shabbos, but Chani and Peretz dont impose anything on you.

Ariel Marks 10 said, Chabad has its plusses and minuses. It has a very homey feeling and has really good food, but it can feel overwhelming and crowded. I like to balance my Friday nights between the two.

There seems to be a misconception that Chabad is in competition with Hillel. Many believe that this is definitely not true. Although many students have a strong preference regarding where they go for dinner, Hillel and Chabad can certainly co-exist on campus.

Danny Glass '07, President of BOO, stated, Although their objectives are different, there is room for both. Logistically speaking, however, no person can be in two places at once, so people split up for Friday night dinner.

Hillel First Year Rep Marti Dembowitz 10 said, I think its important to have both of the different atmospheres, but I think its unfortunate that Jews arent together on Shabbos.

Chabad dinner generally lasts longer than Hillel (about 3 hours), and there is a lot of singing and explaining the various Jewish rituals done throughout the meal. Chabads food is great, said Eli Katzen 10.

Rabbi Peretz and Chani often come to BOO (Brandeis Orthodox Organization) services on Shabbat and holidays and they are familiar faces on campus. Although the ideology of the Chabad movement may differ from Hillel, on Friday night both groups try to provide an atmosphere where all Jews can feel comfortable.

What is Chabad?

The goals of the Chabad movement are to engage unaffiliated Jews and to increase opportunities for affiliated Jews at each person's individual comfort level through a variety of programs.

Although it serves mainly Brandeis students, Chabad is not actually affiliated with Brandeis University and there are often people from the Waltham area at Shabbat dinner. Aside from Friday night dinner, Chabad runs a variety of other programs. There is a semester long course called Judaism in a Semester, monthly Girls' Night Out programs with Chani, and various other
lectures about Judaism and life in general. They also run some programs on the Brandeis campus.

There are Chabad houses all over the world, each run by an emissary family appointed by Chabad leaders. Many are located near college campuses, but others are in remote locations with small Jewish populationsin countries such as New Zealand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Congo to name a few. Today 4,000 full-time emissary families direct more than 3,300 institutions dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide.

If you want to sign up for Chabad Friday night dinner, you can at www.chabadbrandeis.org. For Hillel dinner, you can use an advance meal swipe at Sherman.