Minnesota Hillel’s Maroon & Gold Shabbat Back In Full Force After Three Years

Minnesota Hillel, an organization focused on fostering Jewish identity among college students at the University of Minnesota, will host their annual Maroon & Gold Shabbat on April 21 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

The event, now in its ninth year, has been modified each of the last three years due to COVID restrictions. This year, the event will return to pre-COVID standards with upwards of 500 students, parents, alumni and community members expected to attend, Benjie Kaplan, executive director of Minnesota Hillel, said in an email statement.

Maroon & Gold Shabbat, originally known as “Milgrom Shabbat,” was turned into a larger community event in 2014. Since then, “it has grown from 75 people in the Hillel cafeteria to over 500 people,” Kaplan said.

Polly Lehman was a member of Minnesota Hillel as an undergraduate student and now works as the director of Jewish student life at the organization. In this role, she focuses on student engagement, programming, leadership development and overall community building. She said the event will feature many different components, such as student speakers reflecting on highlights of the organization from the past year and sharing their experiences in the Jewish community.

The event’s Shabbat service will include a unique spin along with its regular rituals. This particular service will feature several Minnesota Hillel students performing various songs, Lehman said.

Several awards will also be presented at the event, including the Rabbi Louis Milgrom Memorial Student Leadership Award, given to a student “who demonstrates a strong commitment to Jewish life on campus,” Lehman said. The award is named after Rabbi Louis Milgrom, a beloved figure in Hillel’s history.

Lehman and the rest of the organization are thrilled to have the entire community back together again and for current students to participate in their first full-fledged Maroon & Gold Shabbat.

“We’re so excited to show them this strength and unity that I don’t think they’ve seen before,” Lehman said.

Last year’s Maroon & Gold Shabbat was in person after two years of virtual gatherings and had primarily students in attendance, Carlie Sachs, the current president of Minnesota Hillel, said. That event was held in the organization’s building with 200 students in attendance. 

The event in 2022 was limited in the number of community members that could attend due to many of them taking extra COVID precautions, Sachs said. This year, Maroon & Gold Shabbat will be in a much larger space to accommodate more people.

“We’re looking forward to having essentially unlimited space for as many community members as we can hold,” Sachs said.

Despite the event being virtual in 2020 and 2021, that didn’t stop Minnesota Hillel from engaging with the Jewish community.

COVID shut the University down three weeks before Maroon & Gold Shabbat in 2020, according to Kaplan. Carli Shapiro, the president of the organization during this time, said there was a fast turnaround to make it a digital event. But, with the help of student planners, staff and members of the Jewish community, the event was able to get 600 people to participate from their homes. 

TC Jewfolk, the Minnesota-based nonprofit, had been leading community-wide digital candle lightings during the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns. Minnesota Hillel partnered with TC Jewfolk to help with the candle lightings component of the 2020 Maroon & Gold Shabbat, Shapiro said. 

Shapiro, who currently works in the Jewish community, thinks the event is a great opportunity to showcase Hillel’s reach and the impact it has on students. During her time as a student, Shapiro said Minnesota Hillel had many positive impacts on her.

“Pretty much everything I ever learned in college, I learned from Hillel.”

While Maroon & Gold Shabbat in 2021 was still virtual, Lehman said it was a “more creative, deconstructed version.”

Kelsey Bailey, the president of Minnesota Hillel during this version of the event, said the organization had more of an idea of how to execute a virtual Shabbat, but it “still was completely different than years before.”

The event that year featured student videos and slideshows and shipped out Shabbat boxes, aptly called “Shabboxes,” with ritual items and other gifts, according to Bailey.

Lehman thinks Maroon & Gold Shabbat is special because, not only is it Minnesota Hillel’s “final hurrah,” but it is solely rooted in community and engaging students with their Jewish identities.

“We very often come together to celebrate things,” Lehman said. “We’ll come together to celebrate a holiday. We’ll come together to celebrate an achievement of someone. But this event is purely about celebrating the community that students have built.”

Registration closes on April 7. Additional availability may be available by emailing [email protected].