Shabbat Dinner - A Multi-faith gathering

By - Amy Grief, Ryerson Master of Journalism Student

How many Shabbat meals has the Maple Leaf Gardens—now known as the Mattamy Athletic Centre—hosted?

Just one. And it happened on March 27 at Ryerson University’s largest ever multi-faith Shabbat dinner.

The event, run by Hillel and Ryerson President Sheldon Levy, brought 120 members of the campus community together in celebration and conversation. “I feel that through a dinner like this, and through interfaith or multi-faith collaborations, it leads to a high level of understanding,” says event chair and Ryerson student Mitch Reiss.

Reiss, who also sits on the university’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, says that this annual Shabbat dinner began around six or seven years ago as an intimate gathering in Levy’s office. Levy, who mingled with students and staff throughout the evening, addressed the crowd prior to dinner and Ryerson’s chancellor Lawrence Bloomberg said the HaMotzi before the multi-course kosher meal. Esteemed staff members such as Dr. Mohamed Lachemi, the school’s provost and vice president of academics, also attended.

The event however was more than just a dinner. Members of the Hillel executive board taught the crowd Shabbat 101 by explaining customs and prayers such as the Kiddush, hand-washing and candle-lighting. Incoming Hillel president Dylan Simmons even led “Shalom Aleichem” and many attendees hummed or sang along. “The nicest part was really getting to learn more about Jewish customs and culture,” says Allison Belen, the president of Ryerson’s Catholic Students Association.

Belen, a third year social work student, opened up to her table and had a frank discussion about religion and spirituality. At events such as this, she says, “We’re able to talk about things that mean a lot to us and that really inform the core of who we are. And it’s nice to share that because on a regular daily basis we don’t often get those opportunities.”

As a Ryerson graduate student I was nervous about attending. How would students of other faiths interpret the Shabbat traditions? The answer: with the utmost enthusiasm and respect. Belen, for example, enjoyed what she called “the candle-lighting ceremony.” Though we all ate dinner on a basketball court in the athletic complex, the room felt just as comfortable as my Bubby’s dining room. Many guests stayed well beyond dessert, largely thanks to the “Ask Big Questions” discussion facilitated by the Hillel executive team. Each board member sat at a different table and asked: “Who is in your Community?”

At a time when Canadian university campuses seem divided, the multi-faith Shabbat dinner gave students and staff members time to break bread and talk. Reiss hopes attendees learned a little bit more about each other’s beliefs, but more importantly he says, “Building connections with people from all across campus is really the core purpose of it.”