Over 1,000 members and affiliates of the Jewish community in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara attended Chabad at UC Santa Barbara’s Mega Shabbat event on Friday, April 5, marking the event as the most attended in the club’s history. 

This year’s attendance surpassed last year’s attendance by more than 200 reservations. Additionally, event organizers, including fourth-year communication major and Vice President of Chabad at UCSB Leah Sehati, anticipated more ticketless attendees and adjusted accordingly.

“Especially this year since it’s the weekend of Deltopia … we know that there’s going to be a lot more people,” Sehati said. “This is the best weekend to do [Mega Shabbat] because everyone has their visitors and we want all people to see the amazing community that we have here and the amazing place that Chabad is.”

Chabad is a religious movement and club “that spreads Jewish awareness to all Jews, men and women, old and young,” according to its website. Rabbi Gershon Klein and his family founded the UCSB chapter of Chabad after they moved to Isla Vista from Brooklyn in 2017. The club serves the needs of Jewish students at UCSB and Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) on a social, educational and spiritual level with a diverse variety of events and activities.

Held annually at the Chabad at UCSB house on Camino Pescadero, the event exposes the wider Santa Barbara and I.V. community to the Shabbat tradition practiced by Chabad members every Friday evening in accordance with the Jewish faith.

“One of the special things about this event is that we are sharing the regular experience that we have with the wider Jewish community and the wider community in general,” Klein said.

According to the Torah, Judaism’s holy scripture, Shabbat celebrates the day that God rested after creating the universe. Held on the seventh day of the week, devout observers abstain from all work outlined in the Torah from Friday before sunset to Saturday after nightfall; some may choose to unplug from all electronic devices for the night instead.

“The idea of Shabbat is to take a break from our phones and how we define ourselves during the week and realize that we matter regardless of what work we do. It attempts to focus on the inwardness and soul of who we are,” Klein said. 

The first Mega Shabbat was held in 2012 under the name “Shabbat 360” and has since become a staple event for the UCSB and Santa Barbara Jewish community.

The event this year consisted of a standard four-course Shabbat meal, featuring traditional meals like Challah, a curly, brioche-like loaf of bread, and other Kosher food like matzah-ball soup. 

While some of the cooking was left to an unspecified external company, according to third-year economics major and Co-President of Chabad Ben Konig, most of the food was prepared by club members over the course of a few weeks.

“We have been cooking seriously all week and before then for a few weeks as well,” Konig said.

Notable event attendees included Chancellor Henry T. Yang along with fourth-year political science and communication major and Associated Students President Tessa Veksler. A regular attendee at the annual Mega Shabbat and Chabad’s Shabbat dinners, Veksler was delighted and felt “emotional” seeing the large turnout.

“Jewish unity is especially needed right now,” Veksler said. “I think that when people see Jewish people on the news, what they see is anti-semitism, what they see is our persecution, our discrimination, and there is something else to our community [like] this beautiful gathering.”