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Rutgers Chabad's Syrian Shabbat Celebration Unites 500+ Students

This weekend, Rutgers Chabad House hosted an extraordinary Syrian Shabbat, uniting over 500 students from diverse backgrounds, including Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Persian, Moroccan, and Egyptian, in a vibrant celebration of Syrian culture. The event saw students from all Rutgers campuses and friends from other colleges immerse themselves in Syrian traditions, from history and prayers to delectable cuisine.

Linda Levy, a student guest from Monmouth University, expressed her delight: “I am so pleasantly surprised to see such a hub of Syrian life here at Rutgers,” she said. “It feels like home here, and I can’t believe how many Syrian students are here!”

The Grand Ballroom of Chabad House was transformed with exquisite Syrian decorations, offering a feast for the senses with traditional Syrian Shabbat foods. Guests enjoyed hot chicken soup with allspice matzah balls, various kinds of mazza (Syrian appetizers)  featuring lachmajin – a tangy mini meat pizza, the iconic torpedo-shaped kibbeh – fried bulgar dough stuffed with beef), meat cigars, yebreh - stuffed grape leaves with beef, exotic Sephardic mocktails, all without a gefilte fish in sight.

Raquel Arakanchi, the student Syrian event coordinator, shared a poignant message from the weekly Torah portion, emphasizing the importance of heritage and unity: "My Sephardic and Mizrahi grandparents have taught me the importance of staying connected with my culture and its traditions... No matter where we come from, we should all be proud of our complex and beautiful heritages and stay connected with our rich Jewish history and individual cultures." She continued, highlighting the shared bond among the Jewish community: “Ultimately, though, we all share one heritage – we are all one Jewish people. We are all connected by a shared background and have a responsibility to work and build on that connection... Together, we will experience great strength, blessings, and joy.”

Rutgers sophomore Josh Bamdas was thrilled with the culinary journey: “I’ve never tasted anything like this! Loved the variety and unique flavor of different Syrian foods. I’m Ashki, but Syrian food is always better!” Another student added, “I’ve always been just a salt and pepper kind of guy, but a whole new culinary world has now opened to me using tamarind, grape leaves, cumin, za’atar, rose water, almonds, sesame seeds and apricots with my beef! Thanks to Chabad and all the Syrian students for this great Shabbat.”

Some dishes were purchased at Syrian restaurants in Deal by Chabad’s Kosher Kitchen Director Rabbi Mendi Pevzner, others were prepared in house by Chabad’s Head Chef Benjamin and Sous Chef Trinidad. “Our proud and able Syrian students came together on Thursday night and Friday and cooked up a Syrian storm of savory foods for their fellow students to experience and enjoy, added Rabbi Baruch Goodman, Chabad’s Activities Director, “everyone who participated felt the authentic Syrian warmth and heritage come alive.”  The Syrian Shabbaton was organized by RU students Esther Gindi, Raquel Arakanchi, Joe Gindi, and Gina Arakanchi, and assisted by Ariael Blotner, Meira Davidowitz, Leeba Zucker, Eva Woods, Samantha Braff, Sarah Bednarczyk, and Viri Mayers.  Friday Night Kabbalat Services were led by Chabad’s Syrian students Ariel Ifrah and Jack Greenberg.

Visiting guest student Miriam Kassan spoke of her and countless other families’ heroic and difficult trek leaving Syria’s oppressive government to the more welcoming lands Israel, Spain, Portugal and America. She also shared a fascinating story of when her teacher and her whole family had to flee Syria when virulent Arab antisemitism took a terrible turn in Syria and how all the refugees helped one another with great self-sacrifice, leaving no one behind and taking care of each other’s needs while traveling on foot hundreds of miles to Israel. She concluded by saying, “And just as they made it through those horrific, anti-Semitic times by being there for one another, so too today, we will get through this temporary period of anti-Semitism together.”


Rabbi Baruch Goodman, Chabad’s Activities Director, praised the event's success: “Our proud and able Syrian students came together... and cooked up a Syrian storm of savory foods for their fellow students to experience and enjoy. Everyone who participated felt the authentic Syrian warmth and heritage come alive.” The Syrian Shabbaton was a labor of love, organized by dedicated RU students and supported by the community. It not only celebrated Syrian culture but also stood as a beacon of unity, resilience, and shared heritage, reminding all participants of the strength found in community and the richness of their diverse backgrounds.



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