It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night and I have ruined my mom’s perfectly good brisket dinner.
Somewhere along the line, the instructions from my parents in Toronto to me in Ottawa about how to properly defrost the meal got mixed up.
My friends will be arriving within the hour, expecting a nice Shabbat dinner to be waiting.
I call and order some takeout chicken. The cans of soup that I’ve had in my apartment since I moved in have been emptied into a pot on my stove.
A novice chef to say the least, I stand frazzled, looking at my kitchen like it’s a place I’ve never been before.
Yet, somehow this is one of the proudest moments of my university life.
The events leading up to my kitchen meltdown started back in September. A friend of mine in the Jewish fraternity suggested that a group of us – four guys in Ottawa for school and away from home – take turns hosting Shabbat dinners. The goal was to congregate every couple weeks at someone’s apartment, eat a quality meal and catch up.
University life can sometimes be a giant paradox. One moment you have tons of free time, and one hour later you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of essays, exams and social events. The average university student enjoys a lifestyle that’s far removed from the comforts of home, and in all the hoopla, there’s little time for reflection.
When I lived at home before moving away for university, my family went to my grandparents’ house for Friday night Shabbat dinners almost every week. It was a constant. We sat, we ate and we talked. Then we watched television and laughed, and talked some more. It was the perfect end to a week spent trying to keep up with the trials and tribulations of life.
When I arrived at Carleton University several years ago, I left behind these weekly rituals.
But it wasn’t until this year that I realized what made those Shabbat dinners so special.
One of the most beautiful things about our religion is that wherever we go, we find each other and open our doors wide to both friends and strangers. Shabbat is central to this.
That is why I rolled up my sleeves and hosted a Shabbat dinner in my apartment this year. Granted, I can’t cook, but in the end, that wasn’t important.
This year, a trend has emerged in Ottawa in which older students have been hosting Shabbat dinners on an almost-weekly basis.
This network of dinners is aided by the Jewish Students’ Association, which holds larger Shabbat dinners on campus sporadically throughout each semester. Meanwhile, a new initiative called Project Shabbat has been started by the North American Jewish Student Alliance, which seeks to help subsidize students who put on their own Shabbat dinners. It’s a worthwhile venture and one I hope students will take advantage of.
It seems so simple, but like most things in life, it’s the simple things that mean the most.
Each Shabbat dinner is a celebration of our faith and at the same time a reminder of how quickly life passes by.
It’s a lesson that’s hard to grasp when you’re going through university, and I admittedly didn’t figure it out until the later years of my post-secondary experience. But I’m glad I did.
As my final semester at university winds down, I had one last Shabbat dinner to attend. A bunch of older guys in the Jewish fraternity decided to get together one final time before we all left for the summer and prepared to enter the work world.
It was a great night, and we reminisced about the times we shared during our years as university students in Ottawa.
I recall relating the story of this Shabbat dinner to my parents and basked in the pride emanating from both ends of the line.
Somehow, through all those Shabbat dinners when I was younger, I’d absorbed the importance of the message: to gather, talk and be together for no other reason than that we can.