Penn campus co-director and graduate student co-author their first book
By: Reuvena Leah Grodnitzky
For Vikki Kalbacher, an accidental arrival at a Chabad Chanukah party six years ago yielded more than just latkes. The event initiated a relationship that has since deepened her involvement with the Jewish community and study of Judaism. Now, Kalbacher has teamed up with Nechama Haskelevich, co-director of Chabad at the University of Pennsylvania, for a creative project to make her encounter a universal experience for Jewish students.
Is It Shabbos Yet?: The College Student Edition is a spinoff of the 1990 classic book, Is It Shabbos Yet? by Ellen Emerman, where a young girl, Malky, continually asks her mother the title question as the two prepare for the Friday-night meal.
In the new book, Emma, a young college student, goes about her day, pressing snooze on her alarm, grabbing a drink at Starbucks, writing papers and inviting friends to Chabad for Shabbat. The book’s storyline reflects Kalbacher’s experience on campus with Chabad becoming her second home.
“Our book depicts a slice of life on campus shlichus,” said Haskleveich, who has served Penn’s campus for the past 20 years with her husband, Rabbi Levi Hasklevich, and their children. “Depicting how students appreciate the warmth and light of Shabbat, and feel the Rebbe’s embrace through the shluchim, is both inspiring and uplifting.”
As the story goes, on one Friday night as Hasklevich and her daughter, Devora, who was 16 at the time, were preparing food for the Shabbat meal, Kalbacher walked into the kitchen and was put to work, prepping food for the many guests who would be arriving later.
Haskelevich jokingly instructed Kalbacher to toss the salad, but not “Malky-style,” like the girl in the book, who tosses the salad in such a way that the vegetables go flying all over the kitchen. As Haskelevich explained the joke, Kalbacher began brainstorming an idea for a similar text where a college student zips through her Friday routine, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the weekly holiday. Devora Haskelevich, also taken by the concept, eagerly offered to create the artwork for such a book.
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 lockdown began, however, that the trio had the time and resources to pull it together.
“It was really fun to create the artwork for this book,” said Devora Haskelevich, a senior at Kosloff Torah Academy High School in Pennsylvania. “I enjoyed experimenting and learning how to use new apps and programs to make the designs. Seeing the pictures transformed into a real book was very exciting. It was also really great to have a creative project to work on during the lockdown of the pandemic when a lot of regular activities were suspended.”
Chabad House directors already consider the book a valuable teaching tool for their communities.
“The Emma story is a cute twist on one of my kids’ favorite Shabbat books,” said Dassie Prus, co-director of Chabad of Doylestown, Pa. “It’s a great way to teach the youth in our community about Shabbat, as well as bring awareness of the important work of Chabad on Campus where we hope they will continue connecting to Judaism one day.”
And for Shaina Rosenfeld, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Hamilton, Ontario, the book points to the deep yearning within youth to connect to the beauty of Shabbat.
“The book adeptly captures the experience of looking forward to Shabbat in the life of the average college student,” said Rosenfeld. “While going through the real-life stressors and hectic day, there is the undercurrent of looking forward to Shabbat, a trait shared by Jews across the world and backgrounds.”
For current Chabad on Campus students, the book seems to accurately depict their weekly Chabad experience.
“The book perfectly describes the feeling I get every Friday, waiting to go to Shabbat at Chabad. The counting down the hours, the excitement to welcome in the Shabbat with my Chabad family, and the bright light it brings to my life,” said Zoe Coelho, a junior at the University of Vermont.
For Andrew Gaynor, who participated in Chabad on Campus activities at Tulane University and the University of Delaware for nearly 10 years, the book’s message is a universal one for students.
“Emma’s experience with Chabad on Campus is truly reflective of what one would find on a real campus Chabad House: a warm home, some mitzvahs to complete, and a big comfy couch,” said Gaynor, who now works as a scientist in Baltimore. “This book is a clever take on a childhood classic that truly delighted our Shabbat guests and evoked smiles from a room full of adults when we read it to them.”
To Kalbacher, the book’s lighthearted style is infectious.
“My hope is that the book brings a smile to everyone who reads it,” said Kalbacher, who is completing a degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania. “It was a fun project and a reminder that being silly is encouraged, especially on Shabbat!”
“Is It Shabbos Yet?: The College Student Edition” can be purchased at Jewish bookstores or online at www.LubavitchHouse.com/book.