Tag Archives: Hillel

Jewish Friday Night Tradition in College

Text: Every Friday evening at sundown, the informant and his friends, many who are non Jewish, gather at USC Hillel, the Jewish center, for a communal dinner. Before eating, they recite two traditional prayers: the Hamotzi over bread and the Kiddush over wine. The meal typically includes chicken, challah bread, wine, and vegetables. This dinner marks the beginning of Shabbat, which lasts from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. During Shabbat, observant Jews refrain from work-related activities, including turning lights on or off. The informant participates primarily in the dinners rather than observing the full Sabbath restrictions. This weekly observance commemorates God’s creation of the world in six days and His rest on the seventh, serving as a time of rest and rejuvenation for the community.

Context: The informant does this for fun and because it’s nice to not pay for food in college sometimes, as he puts it. He started doing it once he got to USC and started bringing his friends who weren’t Jewish because they also wanted free food and were allowed to go as well. He doesn’t participate because its too much work to stop everything for a day but he likes being around other Jewish people and sharing it with his friends

Analysis: The communal Shabbat dinners at USC Hillel highlight the adaptive and inclusive nature of cultural traditions within a modern context. These gatherings, which blend traditional Jewish prayers like the Hamotzi and Kiddush with the practicalities of college life, showcase how cultural practices can serve both religious and social functions. The inclusion of non-Jewish friends in these dinners emphasizes the role of folklore in building community and fostering intercultural understanding. While the informant participates more for social and economic reasons than religious observance, this adaptation of the Shabbat tradition underscores the flexible ways in which individuals can engage with cultural heritage. This practice not only honors the historical and spiritual significance of Shabbat but also adapts it to contemporary settings, making it accessible and relevant to a broader audience.

Shabbat Dinner

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”



Tell me about Shabbat dinner. How do you Shabbat?

So – growing up, I like kind of experienced Shabbat a handful of times when my dad was aroud. But it was never really – it never took off as a big thing after he left. Then when I got to USC, and I got involved with the Jewish community here – Shabbat became more of a tradition in my life. And even though I’m not the most religious person, I consider myself a lot more spiritually Jewish than practicing and ‘following the rules’-type Jewish – so I don’t exactly partake in the ritualistic hand washing or..

Did your family do that? What was your typical family Shabbat like vs your USC Shabbat? And was it just with your family, or did you do ever do Shabbat with a community?

Ok, the two times I did it with my mom and dad, um, there was – it was like a small – it was just the three of us. A small dinner. We did our blessings, and the handwashing, and the hamotzi, and the wine. Um. And when I got here, I learned a bit more about – it was my first community Shabbat – and I felt – it felt good to learn a little bit more in depth about what Shabbat meant. And that hey, I wasn’t alone in not partaking in certain things, like people my age also kind of just want to eat a little bit before meal, or not do the hand washing, or talk in between washing your hands and doing the other blessings.

What does Shabbat mean to you?

I feel really Jewish right now. “What it means to me!” Seriously, Shabbat means to me- taking a break from your responsibilities and really looking at yourself, and going “Hey, slow down. Life is more than crazy assignments and exams, take some time for yourself. Nourish yourself, eat some food. Relax.’ It kinda brings you back down to earth for a little bit.

What do you find most meaningful from the Shabbat dinner?

The people – being around people. It would mean nothing to me without having friends to talk to, and – I don’t know, talking to people about their crazy week and relating back to things and knowing that you’re not alone.

So what does a typical USC Shabbat dinner look like?

Pretty fun at Hillel. There’s lots of food, and good company, and lots of wine. And it’s a good experience. It’s actually probably something I’m really gonna miss – being around other people and taking time to wind down and eat good food. I really underestimated how much Shabbat actually meant these last four years. It’s actually like “Shit, I’m gonna miss it.” I’ll make an effort to continue doing it, but it’s just –the people here at Hillel. Pretty great.

When did you start wanting to participate in Shabbat dinners? Because you said it was never really a thing you had enjoyed much before, although you knew about it and had done it – so when it happened at USC, it wasn’t like “Oh my! This is a whole new experience! I wanna – yay!”

Yeah – I think that a lot of it comes from me wanting to explore – ok. Here’s how everything came to be. My dad was the Jewish one, my mom met him and converted- but apparently that wasn’t enough, because his mom was one of those stereotypical Iranian crazy Jewish moms who was like “She isn’t one of us, she isn’t really Jewish, it’s either her or me,” and he chose his mom so he left. And so my mom remained spiritually Jewish- she tried the hardest she could to keep us both involved in Jewish life. We actually joined a temple in my hometown for a while when I was in the 4th grade. And that lasted one or two years – but also from the temple we kinda got the same thing, like “Oh, you’re just some Mexican lady, you’re not actually Jewish. And so we left there too. And then from there on out it was kinda like “Alright, we can have our own beliefs, and we’ll keep our Judaism in our home. And yeah, we might not have Shabbat dinner every week, but we still have our faith.” It was kind of just like – we’re not practicing but we’re silently faithful. And then I got here, and I don’t know, even in the very beginning of the year when they had the involvement fair, and all these – or before I got accepted when they had all of the “Explore USC! And look at all of our cool things we have!” There was like oh, Jewish life on campus, and it was kind of like “Oh, I can explore this part of my identity and not be judged for it. And look at maybe possibly” – at the time it was kind of a ‘who knows’ kind of thing, where can this lead? And it led to some good places. So I guess me getting involved in Shabbat dinners was the positive part of me finding my identity as a self-identified Jew.



Did not go over basic Shabbat practice and the meaning of the individual referenced components (the hamotzi, the wine, etc.), but got to speak of Shabbat as a whole and comparative variant practices.