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Bringing Shabbat to Forest at Duke: An Intergenerational Connection 

Home Bringing Shabbat to Forest at Duke: An Intergenerational Connection 

Jewish students from Duke University bring the spirit of Purim and Shabbat to residents of Forest at Duke, fostering intergenerational bonds

Students from Jewish Life at Duke took a meaningful step beyond their campus borders to spread the joy of Shabbat to the residents of Forest at Duke, a local retirement community.  

The event was the second in a monthly series led by Sarah Gorbatov ‘26, the Service Chair for the Jewish Student Union (JSU), the representative student organization for Jewish students at Duke University. On Friday, March 22, the students organized a special Shabbat service infused with the spirit of Purim, a festive holiday celebrated in the Jewish tradition, for Forest at Duke residents. 

Purim, a holiday commemorating the salvation of the Jewish people from a threatened massacre in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther, is marked by joyous festivities and four commandments, including the reading of the Purim story, exchanging gifts of food called mishloach manot, giving to those in need, and feasting.

Jewish Students from Duke University gather with residents of Forest at Duke for Shabbat.

At Forest at Duke, the students incorporated special Purim traditions into their Shabbat service. They read aloud the story of Purim, with residents participating in the reading. One of the residents, Myra, a former opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, excitedly sang the story with her own unique flair and operatic talent. 

Residents expressed their excitement and gratitude, with one resident sharing, “This was really a gift.” Many of the residents joked with the students about Duke basketball and were eager to learn more about the students’ experience at Duke.  

For Hanna Lavi ‘25, the experience felt like building a cohesive Jewish community across generations. “Everyone wanted to participate, and it felt like a whole Jewish community,” she shared. Lizzy Glazer ‘26 echoed this sentiment, describing the event as “a heartwarming experience to connect with the seniors and know we were bringing joy to them.” 

Reflecting on the significance of the intergenerational connection, Blake Brown ’25 remarked, “It was meaningful to do something that was across generations and L’dor vador” — a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘from generation to generation,’ emphasizing the bond between past, present, and future. 

Sarah Gorbatov, the driving force behind the event series, emphasized the importance of students reaching out beyond the campus boundaries. “We wanted to bring Shabbat to communities who normally would not experience it,” she explained, highlighting the inclusive spirit and mission of the Jewish Student Union. 

The Shabbat service at Forest at Duke was more than just a religious observance; it was a way to bridge the divide between the generations and come together to share laughter and traditions. Both the residents and students are looking forward to upcoming Shabbat services together and continuing to form connections. 

Get Involved

Duke students can sign up to volunteer to lead Shabbat services at the Forest at Duke again on Friday, April 5 from 4:45-5:45pm. Volunteers will help lead communal prayers, blessings, and songs, and socialize with the senior residents. Carpool will be organized from the Freeman Center for Jewish Life. Sign up here. 


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About Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke (JLD) is the hub for all things Jewish on Duke’s campus. An accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, JLD takes a pluralistic approach to Judaism to ensure that all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation, are welcome and included.

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