Shabbat; Shalom

David Milavetz - Pres. AwardIt was a week of celebration, farewells and transition at Hillel last week. After two years in St. Paul, Roni Levin will be returning to Israel after serving as the Young Shlicha and working with Director of Student Life, Andrea Golden and Hillel students on a plethora of Israel programming of all kinds during her tenure. While Yosi Gordon will still return to Hillel for some special programming next year, students and staff bid him farewell as Hillel’s rabbi after two years with fond memories. And a fond farewell was said to Mike Kann, who will be leaving Hillel after serving for 3 1/2 years as the Engagement Associate and to Sarah Routman, who is stepping down after nearly 8 years as Hillel’s Executive Director. Hillel intern, Eric Best, shares his reflections of this memorable Shabbat at Hillel:

This is one word that I’m just coming to understand as a non-Jewish student who has worked for a Jewish Student Center for nearly two years. From what I understand, other than its direct translation to “peace,” it, perhaps like a Jewish “aloha,” can be both a greeting and a farewell. And, as I’ve heard, it can also be used in celebrating Shabbat (“Shabbat shalom”).
Last Friday was my first ever Shabbat—the Senior Shabbat at Hillel UMN, where we wish our graduating students luck out in the world. I was always hesitant to go to Shabbat, perhaps out of religious discomfort or out of fear in offending those of a different culture, but I decided that I needed to go before I leave Hillel or the University of Minnesota. I owed it to my friends here at Hillel—which, in addition to my workplace for 2 years, was my home for nearly four months—and I owed it to myself to see the community of Jewish and non-Jewish students around me that celebrated after sundown.
The word “shalom” perfectly described my experience.
At Shabbat, I saw a new side of the friends, students, and staff at Hillel—the spiritual hymns and the prayers, the challah, and the sense of community—and the way I saw the Jewish community and their traditions changed.  So much of my work involves planning and discussing programs, but now I saw the other side of it.
I also got to say goodbye to all of the seniors, as well as outgoing staff—including Executive Director Sarah Routman and Engagement Associate Mike Kann. Shalom, Jewish seniors. I hope you find whatever you’re looking for out there.
This may be my last semester working for Hillel, and this Shabbat reiterated what has been floating around my thoughts: I was changing, even Hillel was changing.  My goals and dreams were changing. Shabbat revealed to me that though Hillel was transforming with its students, staff, and seeing the end of the semester, there was something else there: a connected Jewish community.
The other aspect of “shalom” (“Shabbat shalom”) was more than the greeting I heard from friends that evening; it symbolized the peace and festivity of the evening. It symbolized a greeting of friends and of family, a farewell to a long week of work, and a welcome of a new week ahead.
I saw a cafeteria filled with good food—I’ll go ahead and mention the challah again—which was baked with love by Hillel students that afternoon, and dozens of good friends. I saw three generations of Jewish families celebrating the end of the week and our outgoing seniors. I saw a connected, diverse, local Jewish community joined in respect for their culture. Yes, there was a religious element to the traditions, but any discomfort I had before was certainly gone by the end of the evening. What Shabbat meant for me was beyond cultural, religious, or political divides.
As a young person, between classes and jobs, my life can seem like one big transition from one part of my life to the next. But the community I found myself in at Hillel has stayed with me, even if I wasn’t always expecting it to. Two years ago I took a crash course in Judaism (the staff still make fun of me for mixing up Rosh Hashanah and Hamantaschen), a culture I knew very little about. As I say farewell to our seniors and staff, and as I move on from Hillel, I know that the Jewish community will always be there, wishing me “Shalom.”
Eric is a Communications Assistant at Hillel at the University of Minnesota. He is a junior studying Journalism and English at the University.