David Zheng, Staff Photographer

Jewish and non-Jewish Yalies alike attend Friday night Shabbat dinners at Yale’s Chabad house to wind down and reset after the week’s work.

Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, is usually accompanied with a Friday night dinner that both Jewish students and non-Jews can enjoy at Chabad House. Hosted by Chabad Co-Director Rabbi Meir Chaim Posner and his wife, Devorah Leah Posner, the dinner has been held indoors this semester in compliance with COVID-19 regulations and outdoors last semester in a large tent. Yalies from all backgrounds can attend the Friday night meals, filling their stomachs with a home-cooked meal and their minds with fruitful discussions.

“The most special moment is when people walk in and you say ‘Shabbat Shalom’ and you’re here. That’s where the atmosphere is created — by the people. We want people to feel like this is a home for them, so they can just ‘be’,” Devora Leah Posner said.

Rabbi Posner and Devora Leah Posner are part of the leadership team at Chabad House at Yale. The Chabad House hosts programming to engage Jewish students in certain religious rituals, and many of their programs, including Shabbat dinners, are intended for non-Jews as well. 

“There is a policy — that everyone is invited. Everyone belongs there,” Rabbi Posner said.

The Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, talks about using every day of the week to get ready for Shabbat, and that is just what they do at the Chabad House, remarked Devorah. She said that shopping for the event happens throughout the week and the cooking itself — which the staff at Chabad House does, despite sometimes receiving over 100 guests — happens on Thursday and Friday. The amount of attendees is “an ongoing guessing game,” and currently the event is held indoors at a much smaller scale because of the weather and University COVID-19 policies. 

Both Rabbi Posner and his wife described the Shabbat dinner as a place for “rejuvenation and recharging,” and also a place where Jewish students can develop a sense of pride and general confidence in their Jewish identity.

Michael Bochkur Dratver ’23, current student president at Chabad House, said that Shabbat dinners are the “keystone experiences” of Chabad at Yale, offering a “unique mix of energies,” as they are exciting and fun while still being “relaxing and reflective.” 

As student president of Chabad, Bochkur Dratver’s duties include speaking to as many new attendees of the dinner as possible. He said that he gets excited every time he sees a new wave of people entering the dinner. 

“I am proud that Chabad welcomes absolutely anyone to their Shabbat dinners, as it creates a space most reflective of the community-driven focus Chabad at Yale has,” said Bochkur Dratver.

Former student president of Chabad Sam Feldman ’22 said that Shabbat is supposed to be a separate day from the rest of the week and he finds that celebrating Friday nights at Chabad’s helps him create that separation. He called Shabbat dinner at Chabad, “Yale’s best kept secret.”

Shabbat is supposed to be a day of rest. “Part of this is eating a home cooked meal, but the other part is never feeling rushed — to run to class, or a section, meeting, or whatever it may be,” Feldman said.

The Chabad House offers a variety of programs and opportunities for students to get involved with Jewish life. Sinai Scholars, an eight-week discussion-driven program surrounding Jewish thought, is just one of the many learning opportunities Chabad holds. Other opportunities include a sisterhood that bakes challah bread every other week, and most importantly, Rabbi Posner said, one-on-one learning within the Chabad House. There is also an annual Birthright trip to Israel for eligible participants at Chabad. 

Chabad hosts events associated with most Jewish holidays. 

“Although I especially miss my family during Jewish holidays,” Bochkur Dratver said, “Chabad at Yale truly feels like a second family that I can rely on and come to not just for the holidays, but at any time while I am in New Haven.”

Sylvie Goldner ’25 loves how the dinner revolves around this same concept of family.  She has brought her non-Jewish friends to some of these meals, remarking on how happy she was to see her friends partake in Jewish traditions.

“From the family-style dinner where everyone passes around and shares plates of challah and bowls of soup, to the incredible family who hosts all of the students in their own home,” Goldner said. “I am able to take the sacred time of Shabbat which revolves around rest, and hence being present, as the members of my family turn into the Yalies gathered around the table.”

The general sense of community that Shabbat dinner and Chabad house as a whole generates is one that “has a secondary benefit of combatting certain forms of hatred, specifically antisemitism,” Rabbi Posner said. 

According to Rabbi Posner, there can be “unintentional anti-Jewish bias” among students who have not grown up alongside Jewish people, and that oftentimes coming to Chabad events can help correct these misconceptions.

“What I have seen is that these students have come to Shabbat dinners and had discussions with the Rabbis and the Jewish community, and they have come out with a completely different view of what it means to be Jewish and, more importantly, that Jews don’t live up to the stereotypes that they came in with,” Rabbi Posner said. “It starts at a very micro level and has ripple effects.”

Chabad House is continuously hosting Shabbat dinners weekly on Friday in compliance with University COVID-19 policies, which are subject to change. Everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, is welcome to the dinner with a reservation.

The Chabad House at Yale is located at 36 Lynwood Pl.

Correction, Feb. 21: A previous version of this article said Devorah herself prepared and cooked the meals for Shabbat dinner. In fact, there is a staff that helps prepare and cook the Shabbat dinners. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Paloma Vigil is the Arts Editor for the Yale Daily News. She previously served as a DEI co-chair and staff reporter for the University and Sports desks. Past coverage includes religious life, Yale College Council, sailing and gymnastics. Originally from Miami, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Psychology and Political Science.