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A hearty plate served at Shabbat consisting of chicken, white rice, charred veggies, yellow quinoa and a green salad Taylor Nguyen/Daily Nexus

I am not Jewish, but I do enjoy Shabbat dinner. To those who do not observe Shabbat, it is a time of rest and spirituality that takes place after sunset on Friday evenings. At UCSB, Shabbat is also an opportunity to immerse oneself in a different culture, enjoy a free dinner and meet new people. Everyone is welcome and, yes, I did say free.

Like many other college students, I often find myself homesick and a little hungry. Thankfully, Santa Barbara Hillel offers a potential remedy for both of these problems. I will admit that I went mainly for the meal. However, I left feeling like I had just attended dinner at my aunt’s house: way too stuffed and filled with warmth and love.

After a hearty, “Shabbat Shalom!” cheer, dinner commenced. The first course is challah and soup. A loaf of the gorgeous, braided bread is handed to each table in which everyone eagerly ripped off a piece of the fluffiness. I sneakily took seconds of the challah and dunked it into the vegetable noodle soup. The salty chicken broth and savory carrots mingled with the subtle sweetness of the bread. The flavors were reminiscent of home: simple, but delicious. The food was passed around in true family-style, something that I hadn’t experienced for months since eating in the dining commons.

Afraid of being out of place, I expected the dinner to be a tad awkward, to be quite truthful. However, the dinner revolved less around religion and rather more around togetherness and community. The atmosphere was intimate and carefree with everybody crowded into the center tables. No one seemed to mind the closeness at all. Each table was filled with conversation and laughter, I practically forgot about the long week that had just passed.

My ears perked up when Rabbi announced that the main course was ready. I hopped into line with my plate outstretched, waiting to be served by members of the Hillel. They never ceased to be welcoming and friendly, making small talk with beaming smiles the entire time. I happily returned to the table with a heaping portion of food.

The chicken was tender and slightly sweet from being cooked with a healthy amount of roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. A serving of white rice complimented the bold flavors. It reminded me of something my dad would whip up. My taste buds immediately transported me back home. My eyes lit up at the sight of sugar snap peas, broccoli and green beans. The veggies were roasted and slightly charred, resulting in a burst of smokiness that livened up what may have otherwise been a bland side dish. Yellow quinoa was mixed with black beans, corn, avocado and more delicious roasted tomatoes. With the addition of a mixed green salad, I was more than satisfied.

The simplicity was the best part. Shabbat dinner was effortless in the way that a good, home-cooked meal should be. The more I find myself preparing a delicacy of the canned soup variety, the more I realize how significant these modest meals can be. To take a moment away from the stresses of college and sit down to enjoy food with new friends meant finding a home away from home.

Shabbat dinner is held Friday nights 6:30p.m. at 781 Embarcadero del Mar — come by for a welcoming evening of good food and new friends.