Texas Shabbat 500 signifies strength within Jewish community

Jason Epstein

Over 600 Jews gathered in the Recreational Sports Center for Texas Shabbat 500, an annual event promoting Jewish unity with students and organizations on the Forty Acres on Feb. 27.

A night of services, programming and a free meal drew a large crowd to the Recreational Sports Center. Texas Shabbat 500 aims to bring 500 people together to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath and this year, over 600 arrived in solidarity. From Austin to San Antonio and even College Station, attendees travelled distances to attend this annual outing and compare experiences about Jewish life in college.

Unfortunately, not all experiences are always blissful. In blatant and subtle forms, anti-Semitism appears on college campuses globally. In South Africa, the Student Representative Council and Progressive Youth Alliance called for all Jews at Durban University of Technology to be expelled from the university. The vice chancellor quickly rejected these requests, yet it prompted an uncomfortable atmosphere for such students.

In America, these anti-Semitics are contemporary. At U.C. Davis, just over a month ago, students of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, awoke on the Jewish Sabbath to three swastikas spray painted on the fraternity house. A few months prior, swastikas in chalk appeared on Yale’s pavement in its Old Campus, just outside a freshman residence hall. Following the incident, the school could not physically remove all of the images nor the troubling awareness of such hatred on campus.

A recent survey conducted by a research group at Trinity College found that 54 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism in their first six months of college in America in fall 2013. This worrying statistic suggests that anti-Semitic acts exist beyond those reported to the school and in the media; they exist in students’ ordinary lives.

Though organizations can only propose estimates of the number of Jewish students at UT due to religious anonymity, an estimated 4,000-5,000, or nearly ten percent of the total population, scatter the campus. Four Greek organizations sprout predominantly Jewish involvement, though remain open to all, and Jewish students have been represented in UT athletics as well as top positions of student organizations, including UT’s Student Government. Jewish organizations around campus also attract students and UT even offers a major called Jewish Studies, a field of interdisciplinary study in the Liberal Arts and Social Science.

Integrated in the Longhorn culture, one cannot generally discern a Jewish student from any other due to UT’s thriving diversity in religion, heritage and culture. Nonetheless, Jewish students are present and where Jewish students are present, so is some form of anti-Semitism.

But that won’t stop students from representing themselves and their faith. Students of dissimilar political views, color, interests and even religion walked just past the stadium from north, west and on-campus dwellings on their way to the event just before sunset. People congregated at Texas Shabbat 500 for varying reasons—to socialize, to eat or even to just see the event itself. Yet they all came together in accord to celebrate culture and practices for a common cause: American Jewry.

Epstein is a Plan II and journalism freshman from Dallas. Follow Epstein on Twitter @Jwepstein96.