It has been two years since UM Hillel hosted Shabbat Shalala, an annual dinner event held by former UM President Donna Shalala to celebrate the weekly Shabbat holiday with the local community. When President Julio Frenk decided to carry on the tradition and host Frenk Friday, it was more than just a courtesy visit to a popular spot for Jewish student life. His link to Judaism runs deep: his grandmother escaped Nazi Germany with her son and grandson, and fled to Mexico, where Frenk grew up.
Before the traditional Shabbat meal began, Frenk gave a speech about his Jewish background and the role Judaism played in his family. He described his grandmother as one of the most influential people in his life. She lived to age 106, which Frenk attributed to her resilience and determination.
“My grandmother is my biggest inspiration,” said Frenk. “She was the strongest woman I know.”
RSVP was required to attend the special Shabbat, and the guest list reached the 150-person capacity a week prior to the event. The evening began with a meet-and-greet at 6:00 p.m., where students had the chance to introduce themselves to Frenk and have their photograph taken with him.
Students like Ariel Paz, a senior who has attended many Hillel Shabbat celebrations, said it was a chance to see a different side of Frenk.
“It was great talking with President Frenk at the reception. He’s an extremely accomplished person, and his laugh and smile are contagious,” Paz said.
The service consists of a candle lighting and the reading of special prayers said on Shabbat, Judaism’s day of rest beginning at sundown on Friday evening and ending at sundown on Saturday evening.
Following Frenk’s speech, Igor Khokhlov, executive director of Hillel, presented Frenk with a mezuzah in appreciation for his dedication to UM. Frenk said he was honored to receive the mezuzah, which is a prayer scroll placed in a decorative case and commonly affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes. It is traditional for Jewish people to touch the mezuzah when entering the house to remind them of their connection to Judaism. Jews also consider the house to be protected and blessed with the hanging of a mezuzah.
The evening also featured a performance the The 18th Notes, UM’s Jewish co-ed a cappella group sponsored by Hillel and Voices of UM. The group sang a mix of American Top 40 music, Israeli pop songs and traditional Jewish music. Hillel member Joeli Roth said he enjoyed the spirited musical performance.
“The 18th Notes did a wonderful job singing and entertaining the crowd, and had everyone clapping to the beat,” Roth said.