Episcopal Hosts Community Shabbat Dinner

Episcopal held a community Shabbat dinner on Friday, November 10, in the school’s Buck Student Center. Led by Episcopal history instructor Matthew Levenson, the event celebrated the culture and traditions of the Jewish Sabbath with more than 70 guests. Episcopal faculty, staff, students, parents and administrators gathered for a meal, prayers, music and reflection.

Mr. Levenson explained each step of a Shabbat dinner, including lighting the Shabbat candles, prayers over the wine (grape juice) and bread, as well as the traditional hand washing ritual. Caila Moed ’09 said the opening prayer for the lighting of the candles in Hebrew. Episcopal students read poems and said prayers in Hebrew. School Chaplain The Rev. Teresa Seagle read a poem about the beauty of Shabbat written by a Sephardic Jewish girl titled “Shabbat Shalom.” The menu – cucumber salad, chicken pot pie, corn pudding, kugel, and matzo ball soup – was prepared from a cookbook featuring recipes from Holocaust survivors.

“The dinner was a gathering of our community in a shared experience of finding peace at the end of a busy week,” said The Rev. Teresa Seagle. “We celebrated with our Jewish community members and we learned about rituals of another faith tradition, which is part of the goal of an Episcopal education and the Episcopal Church – that exploration of other faiths can enrich and deepen our own personal beliefs.”

Caila Moed ’09, who brought the vision for the event to the school and also sponsored it, shared her experience while a student at Episcopal.

“In addition to its world-class academics, arts and athletic offerings, Episcopal School of Jacksonville does an excellent job fostering a welcoming faith-based environment. They supported me not only as a student, but as an alumna. Their Fine Arts department single handedly made me into a professional dancer by my senior year, and their college prep department did everything in their power to help me gain admission to New York University. They teach Christianity through modeling agape, and for me, it was a positive way to experience another religion.”

Caila graduated from New York University and is living in Cambridge, Massachusetts while her husband, Eric, earns a graduate degree at Harvard. She is an up and coming young professional in the field of philanthropy and nonprofit development.

“The only aspect of my experience [at Episcopal] that missing was other families like mine. Through philanthropy, my husband and I hope to continue to support the cultivation of a Jewish community on campus so that no student or family ever feels alone or as if they are missing out. We hope this model can be emulated at schools around the country to help us all come together and support one another. The Shabbat dinner served as a kick-off of these efforts. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with Head of School Adam Greene on programmatic and systemic ways to welcome all communities on the Episcopal campus.”

The evening closed with an overview of the Havdalah Service, the end of the Sabbath, traditionally held Saturday at sundown, but incorporated into the event so guests could experience the full Shabbat tradition. The Friday Night Live Band played Hine Ma Tov (“how good and pleasant it is that people live together in peace” and Shavua Tov “a good week, a week of peace, May gladness reign and joy increase”) to close the evening.

“Hosting Shabbat dinner at Episcopal was a great way to share all the special aspects of this traditional meal with those at Episcopal who aren’t Jewish,” said Matthew Levenson. “It also gave those of us who are Jewish an opportunity to celebrate together with family and friends in our community and to share with those we live and work with what makes the Sabbath so unique to our faith.”