Shavuot 5784/2024 is the first Jewish holiday after an extra-long year of Post-October 7th Jewish campus life, an unusual year with added tensions, stressors, challenges and opportunities. Some thoughts as we enter this holiday of the Giving of the Torah after all we experienced this year at UAlbany:

NOTE: This a post in progress. We started writing this up just before Shavuot – as we were asked to speak on this topic as guests at Bayview Chabad on Shavuot, we’ll come back and fill it in as we rethink it and develop it. For now, a sampling of thoughts:


We heard this powerful line from a student, a junior who had previously not attended Jewish events in college. She had friends from home who were active Jewishly here, but she never took that step. Until October 7th. She said this to us on the first Shabbat after October 7th. She was heavily involved in sorority life, other groups, but she was aghast at some of her friends responses and felt alone with others couldn’t understand and relate to what she was going through. She felt, “I have to be with my people.”

Some synagogues read The Book of Ruth on Shavuot. Ruth is famous for saying to Naomi, “Your people is my people. Where you go, I will go!” It’s always important to be connected to and part of a community, but in times like this its especially important. Now is not the time to go it alone. Some parents have been calling us anxiously that their students shouldn’t go out, shouldn’t affiliate, but actually, this is the time that we need to be with our people more than ever. Students who affiliate, who connect, who participate, feel more supported, empowered and strengthened than those who stay away and go it alone.


One of the first reactions to the events of October 7th is that there are no six degrees of separation. We had students on campus who knew friends who had been at Nova themselves or were called up for military duty. A beloved professor at UAlbany lost her brother to the terror attacks at Nir Oz. A student served in Gareen Tzabar with the one of the hostages. And many of our students, especially those from Plainview knew hostage Omer Neutra personally, or through family. Students with family in Israel were deeply affected.

But many students who did not have the same first, second or third degree of personal connection yet still felt a strong palpable sense of personal concern. The October 7th attacks and the aftermath on US campuses and cities around the world hit home, the impact felt in a very direct way. It is very telling about Jewish peoplehood, about the sense of family. As our Shabbos House motto, “where every Jew is family” – it comes through strong, loud and clear, underlined in bold in times like these.


That need for connection – to each other, to Israel, to our roots and heritage, to a sense of community – led us to add a whole series of Israel-themed programming, from tabling to speakers, benefit sales and fundraisers to special guests and themed programming. (See a listing of this year’s Israel programming at our “III – Invest in Israel” page, for 2023-2024)

Our annual online crowdfunding campaign in December 2023 bore this title “Strengthening the Connection!” One parent wrote us: “Dearest Rabbi and Raizy- I don’t think there could possibly be a more appropriate theme to this campaign. You have connected A. to love, community, his Judaism, your family, tradition, friends, Israel.. the list is infinite and the effects of this connection will last a lifetime. Donation sent with so much love, M.”

Judaism is like a relationship. Both our connection between people, to the Jewish people and our connection with G-d isn’t static and can’t be taken for granted. Like a good relationship, it needs continuous investment, the goal is to strengthen and deepen the connection. Love doesn’t sustain itself by itself. It takes tending to, nurturing, enriching. And same with our connection to the Jewish People, to Israel, to G-d and to Torah. We’re much richer for it when we invest in the relationship.


The horrific attacks of October 7th as well as the aftermath with the disturbing responses on college campuses, city streets and over social-media awakened “The Pintele Yid” that deep hidden Jewish pilot flame, the core soul. Many felt their Jewishness stronger than ever. And it translated for quite a few students into an eager surge of interest in Jewish engagement and mitzvah observance. Some began to wear Tefillin daily or more frequently, to add daily Torah study, to recite the bedtime Shema, say the morning’s Modeh Ani – so much more.

But even more powerful than that was witnessing student enthusiasm in engaging fellow students to do a mitzvah! This is something we’ve seen more in this generation of students at Shabbos House than ever before, but even more so since October 7th.  Once we were on campus until just before Shabbat for an award ceremony and came back to Shabbos House with students hosting a group of prospective high school students and two of our students rushed over to greet me, exclaiming joyously: “Rabbi, it was his first-time putting on Tefillin!” And we’ve seen students put on Tefillin at a campus table or at one of the on-podium Tefillin meetups with ease, with eagerness and alacrity, as if it were the most normal thing in the world!

Concrete, practical, hands-on Mitzvot became for many students a way to physically express their Jewish inner core, to identify as Jews and with Jews, to feel deeply connected with Jews in Israel and around the globe. Regardless of religious affiliation, official level of observance, or family background – many students upped their Jewish involvement in these and other ways, some of whom doing so with an infectious enthusiasm, spilling over and positively impacting and engaging others.


October 7th fell over Simchat Torah which was UAlbany Fall Break this year. Students starting returning on October 8th and we had a well-attended and meaningful vigil on campus on October 9th. Rabbi Mendel explained “Acheinu” (which became a sort of prayer anthem for the hostages) and at the phrase “Mai’Afailah L’Orah” from deep darkness to light, Mendel said, “our goal is light!” As the Rebbe’s HaYomYom sets our mission: “We are light workers!”  That line was captured as the essence of the event by a UAlbany spokesperson and shared that way online. Indeed, this became a key focus and theme for us throughout, to try to keep a meaningful energy, a more positive vibe, to channel the upset in constructive ways.

It’s been the similar for President Havidan Rodriguez. His emails and messages kept to a similar theme and tone throughout the year. And at graduation, at the Main Commencement, these were the closing words of his speech: “Let me challenge you. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Within each of you is the capacity to be that light. So wherever you see darkness, shine a light…. At UAlbany, we have worked hard to foster a culture in which everyone is welcome. Let’s stand together as a community against hate, intolerance, and violence. As you leave our university community, please take this challenge and commitment with you. Wherever you go next or whatever your future may bring, work to create communities built around mutual respect, dignity, and empathy. Foster dialogue and facilitate inquiry around complex and challenging issues. Don’t be afraid to challenge others, but do so with the understanding that they also have valid opinions and their own belief systems. Every single person and every graduate here today plays a critical role in making this happen…let’s change the world for the better.” 

It can be hard to track or quantify, but we believe this focus and tone, when repeated and emphasized and prioritized, can go a long way in making a difference. It won’t change everything and it won’t change everyone, but it does matter and it does change things.

“Let There Be Light!” is famous from Genesis. Rebbe asks why it is the first of all Creation? What’s the point of light before anything else to illuminate? The Rebbe explains its because light (and all that it symbolizes and represents) is mission statement of Creation, its our purpose and calling. Starting off with light sets the tone.


Look, its been this way with the emails and phone-calls we’ve been getting throughout this time. Whether its letters (or from) campus administration, or email updates from other campuses, calls and emails from concerned parents, plus all the social-media posts! – there’s been a lot of buzz and talk surrounding the situation. Some are exceedingly alarmist and overly negative, others may not feel the gravity or severity of a situation. Some are (disturbingly) casual and business as usual, others upend everything and can’t see a way forward. Usually, stark black and white messages are both out-of-touch, the reality is some type of more complex and nuanced balance of both.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that our messaging during this year since October 7th recognizes the realities on the ground, reflects on how we’re dealing with it, but doesn’t only say the negative and leave the focus solely on that. It was important to us that our programming, our efforts and our messaging, too, have a positive, uplifting, meaningful and constructive tone and focus. It be about our strengths, not only the areas of weakness. That we speak of not only the problems and challenges, but the opportunities and blessings. We can’t defined only by antisemitism, but by stronger, deeper, richer Judaism!


This ordeal, the whole experience, has been tremendously telling and revealing about people, it brought out the best in some and the worst in others, and some people stepped up in ways we’d never imagine. It stripped away veneer, it brought forth the inner core.


We’ve always loved this song at Shabbos House. It’s a big Simchat Torah special and year-round rallying cry. But this year after October 7th it became an anthem, a slogan, an uplifting cheer, a statement of Jewish pride and connection, and hope. How much it speaks of the incredible resiliency of Israel and the unity of the Jewish people!