Max Saltman (C’21) and Ethan Savino (C’22) lead the Kabbalat Shabbat service in St. Augustine’s Chapel. Photo by Sambhav Bansal (C’23).
By Dixon Cline
While Tennessee is part of what is often referred to as the “Bible Belt,” the University of the South is not necessarily a Christian monolith. On January 31, the Sewanee Jewish Association (SJA) hosted Kabbalat Shabbat at St. Augustine’s Chapel for both Jews and gentiles to attend. The service was given by Max Saltman (C’21) and Ethan Savino (C’22), the secretary and president of the SJA, and they served a full congregation.
Although St. Augustine’s Chapel is not the largest location, the room was nearly filled with dozens of people of all ages and backgrounds interested in celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat. St. Augustine’s was chosen as the location due to the fact that there are no synagogues within a reasonable distance of Sewanee. The nearest Synagogues are in Chattanooga Nashville, and Huntsville, Alabama.
According to an email from Cassie Meyer, the Director of the Dialogue Across Differences Program, the Kabbalat Shabbat is Hebrew for “Receiving the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is a traditional “day of rest” celebrated from Friday evening to Saturday night in Judaism. Everyone was welcomed to the service regardless of experience with Judaism and without a dress code.
Saltman told the audience that while Kabbalat Shabbat at Sewanee might seem to be “one of the least formal Jewish celebrations.” He also informed the crowd that Shabbat was observed by millions of Jews every Friday and Saturday. “Everyone celebrates Shabbat,” despite differences in denominations.
The Kabbalat Shabbat includes the blessing of bread and wine, as well as reciting Hebrew songs and prayers. To make the service easier for newcomers, the program included English translations for the songs and prayers so that the meaning of the celebration could be understood.
Saltman said that SJA will try to have a Kabbalat Shabbat service every other Friday and that SJA will try to host services for several Jewish holidays.
That the SJA formed during the end of 2017. The original purpose of the SJA was to have an organization on campus for the Jewish minority of Sewanee students and to inform more people about Judaism. However, after the antisemitic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during October of 2018, the SJA has devoted more of its resources to combating antisemitism through fundraisers and spreading awareness.
When asked, Saltman said that he has not experienced antisemitism while at Sewanee, however, more work could be done to make Sewanee more inclusive and understanding.
Those interested in the SJA can find more information regarding events on the SJA Sewanee Engage page as well as an interfaith email chain.