Chabad at UC Santa Barbara hosted its annual Mega Shabbat dinner on May 19 at the Chabad at UCSB house on Camino Pescadero in Isla Vista. The event garnered over 800 attendees from the campus and greater Santa Barbara community. 

Over 800 attendees from the greater Santa Barbara community gather at the event. Courtesy of Chabad at UCSB

The dinner featured a four-course meal that began with mocktails and appetizers. The meal was initiated with a glass of wine to welcome those at the Mega Shabbat, with grape juice given to those not of age. 

The meal continued with chicken soup and matzo balls — traditional items of a Shabbat dinner — then dished out chicken, couscous and roasted vegetables. The dinner ended with a full dessert spread with pastries, cookies and candy. 

The dinner ends with a full dessert spread with pastries, cookies and candy. Courtesy of Chabad at UCSB

Chabad at UCSB’s Rabbi Gershon Klein and his wife Miri Loschak host the weekly dinners in Chabad at UCSB — their home in Isla Vista — and helped direct this year’s Mega Shabbat for the community.

“It’s in our home, it’s in the yard of where we live, where we have all our club activities,” Klein said. 

Planning for the Mega Shabbat began in the beginning of spring quarter, with a Mega Shabbat committee being formed under Chabad at UCSB to start the process. Fourth-year political science major and Chabad at UCSB Co-President Alexa Grines said the goal number of attendees for the event was 613 people, saying that number is significant in Judaism. 

“It’s a number of Mitzot, which is translated to good deeds in the Torah,” she said. 

Grines spoke to the weekly dinners Chabad at UCSB hosts every Friday night, saying it follows the Jewish Sabbath that begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. 

“The Sabbath is a 25-hour day of observance where Jews do not use technology, do not work, do not do the typical things that individuals would do on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “So every Friday night, we come together and we have dinner. We have a full-course meal and typically about 150 to 200 Jewish students join us every week.” 

Connecting to the Mega Shabbat tradition, Grines said the annual event is an opportunity for the broader UCSB community to experience this Jewish custom. 

“We try to bring in the broader community and those at UCSB who don’t normally experience weekly Shabbat,” she said. “It’s just our way of showing the broader UCSB community what the Jewish community is all about.” 

Grines applauded the growth in numbers this year’s Mega Shabbat brought in comparison to last year’s dinner, which garnered about 500 people for the first time since the pandemic. 

“They brought it back last year, which was a massive success,” she said. “It’s grown in size since before COVID and it’s also grown in popularity.” 

Multiple UCSB administration members attended the dinner, including Chancellor Henry Yang and Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead. 

Klein spoke to the events of Chabad at UCSB being unique, as it primarily operates out of his family’s home to create a familial feel for its members.

“It’s a very interesting nonprofit where everything happens in our home, so it’s a very family feel,” he said. “We live in Isla Vista with our two daughters, so we invite people into our home.” 

Klein expressed joy in the high number in attendance at the Mega Shabbat dinner, saying it exceeded his and the organization’s expectations.

“It’s a dinner for 800, so it was really crazy, way above what we anticipated,” he said. 

Grines spoke to the importance of the Mega Shabbat providing an educational opportunity to learn about Jewish religion and culture. 

“I feel like both as a leader and as an attendee, it’s valuable to learn about other people’s religions and cultures, and having this event where anyone and everyone is welcome,” she said. “This event was widely publicized not just to UCSB, but also to people in Santa Barbara.” 

Grines emphasized that the Shabbat dinner ultimately welcomes the greater Jewish and non-Jewish community to enter a space of unity. 

“It’s a night of unity and truly showing people the warmth of the Jewish community,” she said. “We do this by feeding anyone and everyone and not turning anyone away.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the May 25, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (they/them) is the Co Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Shuda was the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year and an Assistant News Editor during the 2020-21 school year. They can be reached at asumishuda@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.