The smell of matzo ball soup and the sound of chattering voices traveled through the hallways of the UCF Student Union Friday night as members of the UCF and surrounding Orlando community gathered to celebrate Judaism’s day of rest, Shabbat.
Mega Shabbat was hosted by Chabad at UCF to celebrate the Jewish custom of Shabbat and to invite people of all backgrounds to experience the tradition.
“All of the UCF Jewish community comes together,” said Rivkie Lipskier, co-director of Chabad at UCF. “Ninety-nine percent of those who attend are students and professors.”
Rivkie Lipskier said this is the eighth year Mega Shabbat has been held at UCF, and about 500 individuals attend the event each year.
When the doors of the Pegasus Grand Ballroom opened a few minutes past 6 p.m., attendees flooded into the room and took their seats.
Fifty round tables with gold tablecloths were set up in the middle of the room, with ten chairs per table. The back wall was lined with hot food hidden inside chafing dishes.
UCF Student Government Financial Allocations for Organizations Chair Natalia Correa-Ferro said this was the fourth time she’s attended UCF’s Mega Shabbat.
“I’m here to show support, and I’m also Jewish,” Correa-Ferro said. “Everyone at UCF is family.”
The Financial Allocations for Organizations Committee allocates funds to Registered Student Organizations for events, projects and promotional items, according to the UCF Student Government website.
As the committee chair, Correa-Ferro said she played a part in allocating funds for Chabad at UCF to host Mega Shabbat.
“Any RSO at UCF can request funding for events,” Correa-Ferro said. “Every year, [Chabad at UCF] goes through SGA to get funding.”
Correa-Ferro said Chabad at UCF usually requests the maximum amount an RSO can request each fiscal year — this year, each organization can request up to $33,475, which is 3.25% of the total amount in the senate accounts budget in the 2019-2020 Activity and Service Fee Budget.
Various speakers — including students, professors, and Orlando residents — spoke during the event. As is tradition during Shabbat, attendees were asked to stay off their cellphones for the remainder of the night.
The Shabbat candle-lighting tradition was led by Rivkie Lipskier. Women at each table in the room were asked to use matches to light tealights. According to the international Chabad website, lighting these candles brings “peace and blessing.”
Rabbi Chaim Lipskier led attendees in prayer, and the sound of attendees clapping and chanting along with the rabbi in Hebrew filled the room.
Briana Ehrlich, freshman business major, and Molly Lucia, freshman psychology major, are roommates and decided to attend the event together.
“I feel like people don’t really take an interest in other peoples’ faith,” Ehrlich said.
Lucia chimed in.
“Also, the use of a different language usually throws people off,” Lucia said.
As the night wore on, attendees began to eat dinner, which included dishes ranging from grilled chicken to matbucha — a dish made with tomatoes, bell peppers and seasonings.
Candles flickered on each table in the dim room, and the sound of laughter and utensils hitting plates echoed throughout the room as Mega Shabbat went on into the night.
“This makes me feel closer to my family,” Lucia said. “My Jewish grandparents get really happy when I celebrate Shabbat.”