Inside Hillel House’s Friday night Shabbat


The Hillel Executive and General Board welcome students, Jewish and not, to their Friday night Shabbat events. Photo by Jake Winston, ‘24

Meaghan Endres, Staff Writer

Walking through the doors of Hillel House on Friday, I found myself among a burgeoning crowd looking to celebrate the first Hillel Shabbat of the year. Washington and Lee University students and Virginia Military Institute cadets alike flocked to the red doors of Hillel, seeking out celebration, community and a reprieve from the D-Hall dinner menu. 

Truth be told, I am not Jewish, nor had I ever attended a Shabbat dinner before that Friday night. Bribed with the promise of Napa Thai and Challah bread, I tagged along with two of my Jewish friends who assured me that Shabbat was open to all. 

This sentiment of inclusivity was palpable as soon as we walked through the doors. Arriving at the celebration, it became very obvious that my friends were not the only Jewish students who extended an invite to their non-Jewish friends. In fact, it’s more than likely that most people at the gathering were not Jewish at all. 

This was, however, completely welcomed by those on the Hillel Executive and General Board, who run the weekly event. It was made very clear by all members of these boards that Shabbat was here for one and all, and attendees were encouraged to invite friends for next week as well. 

After all, though our Washington and Lee Jewish community is dedicated, passionate, and heavily involved, it is admittedly not overwhelmingly large. Therefore, non-Jewish students like myself with curiosity about this religious practice have become a significant part of what makes Hillel Shabbat the lively event that it is. 

The beauty of the event comes from its welcoming nature, one which makes every person in attendance feel a sense of love and community during the tumult, stress and isolation that can come with the first week of classes, and for some, of college. 

Shabbat at Hillel also does not take itself too seriously: it knows its guests are college students with somewhat minimal attention spans, and it caters to them. 

This casual take on Shabbat can be summarized perfectly by Hillel Executive Board President Jake Winston, who joked that “if you’ve been to Shabbat, then you know that this ain’t it.” The celebration manages to strike a perfect balance between customary Shabbat practices and Hillel twists. 

Traditional Hebrew prayers are said over the wine (Kiddush) and Challah bread (Motzi), as well as during candle-lighting by members of the Executive Board and Jewish VMI cadets. Cards are given out at every table with translations of every prayer so that everyone, even those who do not know the language, can follow along and say the prayers. 

After the prayers, the Challah bread is passed around and guests are welcome to begin eating. 

Hillel has catering every Friday night for Shabbat dinner from some of the most beloved restaurants in and around Lexington. At this particular Shabbat, Napa Thai, a very popular Lexington eatery, was brought in to feed the dozens of guests. The selection was varied and well stocked, with plenty to go around. 

Tables filled up quickly, and people gathered to talk about the upcoming school year and everything that it promises to bring. 

Shabbat is held every Friday night at the Hillel House. Jewish students and their guests are asked to arrive at 6 p.m., and are welcome to enjoy the celebration and dinner completely free through Hillel’s generosity. Those interested in leading services or helping prepare a Shabbat Dinner may contact Hillel at [email protected] or 540-458-8443. 

I highly recommend that anyone interested in attending Shabbat, Jewish or not, make their way to Hillel House this Friday night for prayer, conversation, and best of all, great food.