The ballroom of the Texas Union filled with commotion and excitement Friday as students prepared to host the largest Shabbat dinner in Texas.
Students, faculty and Jewish people within the Austin community were invited to the annual event. Although it is a predominately Jewish event, Shabbat 500 is open to everyone. The event hosts at least 500 attendees across different sects and practices for a traditional Shabbat dinner, which includes a candle lighting and service, a Jewish meal and motivational speakers.
“Here, we feel like a strong community,” Hillel Rabbi Moshe Trepp said. “We come together. If you celebrate at Chabad there might be 150 people, and if you go the Hillel there might be 150 people, but when you are surrounded by 500 people you feel like a stronger community. You’re not just a part of a group within another a group, rather you see yourself as a part of a group in its entirety.”
Trepp said Shabbat 500 allows the Jewish community to take pride in its heritage together, and it unites a diverse group of people under the commonality of religion. The event provides an opportunity for students to explore their religion and spirituality, Trepp said.
“I decided to come this year because this year has been a year of rediscovery of my Jewish heritage and roots,” English junior Arielle Carnfill said. “I was raised Christian and had an ethnically Jewish family and we did not talk about it. Now I’m feeling free to go to Shabbat and go to services and learn all about Judaism.
From coordinating the event, to fundraising, to outreach and marketing, the well-attended event is completely student run.
“Since August, we’ve been meeting with our fundraising team, which is about 10 to 12 people, and reaching out to synagogues, foundations, families and friends, trying to raise all the money for the event,” said program fundraising chair Halle Brazda, a journalism sophomore. “Our goal was 15,000 and we got even more than that.”
Math sophomore Shirel Miller, one of the event coordinators, was thrilled with the turnout.
“We spent many late nights working on this,” Miller said. “We’re happy our friends came to support and beyond proud that we had the capability of bringing an entire community together. On behalf of (the) board, we’re excited to see what next year brings.”