On a Friday evening in February, the narrow green door of a house on Edgewood Street swings open and shut. Just inside stands a dark-haired man, his hands at his pockets, who gives out a hearty greeting with every swing of the door: “Shabbat shalom, everyone! Shabbat shalom.” The man is Rabbi Shua Rosenstein (“Rabbi Shua” to most), and he is welcoming guests to Sabbath dinner at the Chabad house.
Chabad is a national Jewish organization whose Yale chapter has existed for four years. While it organizes a wide range of events and opportunies, Chabad is best known on campus for its bounteous Friday night dinners, which are open to all. There is no fee, although reservations are necessary (an e-mail to Rabbi Shua is enough).
Chabad’s Shabbat dinners host Jews and non-Jews alike. Jewish students and faculty who regularly attend vary greatly in religiosity. Non-Jews are welcome to take part — and do.
Tonight, the charismatic Rabbi Shua is greeting guests as they arrive. He shakes the hands of boys he knows, although, because it is Sabbath, he does not shake with the girls. “Did you get a chance to register?” he asks one student, a member of the new Jewish sorority AEPhi, regarding her upcoming birthright trip. “Yes, I did,” she says, “but can I get the deposit back if my mom says no?” He assures her that she can and directs her to the stairs.
The second floor consists of a small low-ceilinged room with wooden beams. There, long tables covered in white paper tablecloths curve around the room in the shape of a J. At 7:30, the seats and tables are already packed. There are about 30 students sitting down. The tables, set with plastic utensils and cups, are charged with challah, babaganouj, gefilte fish, and several different kinds of salad — which make up the first of four courses. Soda and wine are lined up at the centers of the tables. For every couple of seats there is a Chabad songbook with a clear plastic cover. The songs inside range from the Kiddush, which everyone sings together at the beginning of the meal, to more irreverent selections, such as “Puff the Kosher Dragon” or “ ’Cause I’m a Jew.”
After leading the entire group in prayer and song, Rabbi Shua urges everyone to tuck in. “But pace yourselves,” he jokes, referring to the three courses that follow.
Chatter and laughter flood the room. There is much jostling of elbows and much passing of bowls, drinks, plates. The first l’chaim, or toast, of the evening is given by Chabad president David Light in honor of Sara, Rabbi Shua’s wife; Sara, while “very pregnant,” has put together the entire meal. “I second that toast,” declares Rabbi Shua, raising his cup. Everyone follows suit, downing wine.
“The food is so great here,” one student intones, reaching for bread. “It’s the best food you get all week.”