Students and members of the Charlottesville community alike joined the Jewish Leadership Council at the Brody Jewish Center on Friday for the Second Annual Unity Shabbat. The diverse mix — including groups of friends, local families and enthusiastic newcomers — gathered to stand in solidarity to reflect upon the Neo-Nazi rallies of Aug. 11 and 12 last summer and show support for their peers and the Jewish Community that exists both on and off Grounds.
Every Friday evening, the Brody Jewish Center and Jewish Leadership Council hold Shabbat service to celebrate the beginning of the weekly Sabbath. This past Friday’s event differed from usual services as it stood with special emphasis on unifying the University and Charlottesville communities during times of a contentious political climate.
Truman Brody-Boyd, a fourth-year College student and chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said the success of last year’s service was part of the reason they wanted to host another Unity Shabbat.
“Last summer we held this [event] as a way to heal because the Jewish community here was very strongly affected by the Neo-Nazis,” Brody-Boyd said. “To see everyone smiling and laughing made this such a beautiful event … so we definitely wanted to make this an annual event.”
While the Jewish Leadership Council welcomes everyone to join any Shabbat service, they wanted this particular event to stretch beyond its typical weekly audience. The Council wanted to reach groups of people who might not regularly attend but are eager and excited to learn about this special piece of Jewish tradition and culture.
Third-year College student Ryan Gates regularly attends Shabbat and expressed how this service stood out from others.
“Typically during services we go through and say certain prayers and hear some background to [the traditional Jewish prayers] to kind of give reference as to why we are saying them or what it can mean to each individual,” Gates said. “This Shabbat was definitely different and was more special because there were a lot more people, and it was nice to have people from other faiths and cultures to join us.”
While this event served primarily to inspire unity and to show support for the Jewish community and its culture, its hosts worked with an additional goal to reach as broad a population as possible to not only make everyone feel comfortable but also to make everyone feel wanted. Two members of the Jewish Religious Life Council — third-year College student Clara Sophia Camber and third-year Batten student Zack Szlezinger — led the service and helped to provide more in-depth explanations than usual of each prayer and details behind its significance in the Jewish faith.
Everyone regardless of religious background could sing, or at least hum along and laugh together as the leaders concluded the service singing “Adon Olam,” a traditional Jewish prayer to the familiar tune of “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.
“We are in no way exclusive and want to be able to reach out and support other organizations or communities on Grounds, just like how others came out and showed their support for us tonight,” Gates said.
For a service that typically attracts approximately 40 to 50 individuals in weekly attendance, this Unity Shabbat saw over 120 attendees.
“There was definitely a big turnout, and I met many people that I had never seen before,” Gates said. “Most people weren’t Jewish, but decided to check it out anyways, so it was nice to see people who heard about the event show up and show that they care.”
Melissa Nelson, a fourth-year Batten Student and general member of the Jewish Leadership Council, expressed her hopes for this event and its growing legacy at the University.
“My goal is that the event will encourage people from various backgrounds and faiths to come together to experience a Shabbat with us,” Nelson said. “I hope it will foster discussion and prompt students to ask questions, to learn more and to ultimately appreciate a piece of what Judaism means to me and to many others.”