In the spirit of the High Holidays, a group of University of Pittsburgh students provided a measure of comfort to the local homeless population by distributing 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to three area shelters.
The sandwich making was an initiative of Jewish Heritage Programs, which is affiliated with Chabad House on Campus.
Students were elbow-deep in peanut butter and jelly, adeptly spreading the shmears on white bread at the Chabad House on Lytton Avenue on Sept. 29, and, along with Rabbi Shmuel Rothstein, delivered the sandwiches the following day.
JHP is a national organization that was started at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993 by future Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Paul Germain, who were both brothers of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, and Rabbis Menachem Schmidt and Ephraim Levin with seed funding from philanthropist Michael Steinhardt. Its objective is to increase the number of college students attending Jewish events on campus by having designated student interns plan and run events.
While JHP had a presence on the Pitt campus for a number of years after the national organization was founded, it ceased programming for a few years, and is just now back up and running, according to Rothstein, director of undergraduate activities for Chabad at the University of Pittsburgh.
“The goal is to make the students the hotspots for Judaism on campus,” Rothstein said. “They run the events, and they bring their friends and put their own Jewish twists to the events.”
There are 10 JHP interns currently at Pitt, said Gabriel Kaufman, the student president of Pitt’s JHP. Each intern is responsible for running two events every semester.
“The events can be anything,” said Kaufman, a sophomore from Jerusalem.
Some of the events slated for this semester include a challah bake, a bowling event and a spa evening for women.
“The goal is to bring in non-affiliated Jews,” Kaufman said, adding that student interns are also encouraged to host Shabbat dinners in their own homes, and to bring Jewishly uninvolved friends to Shabbat dinners held at the Chabad house.
For Andrew Vale, a sophomore at Pitt from New Jersey, making and distributing the sandwiches to those in need was a vital piece of his High Holiday preparation.
“We are trying to make a good deed go hand in hand with prayer,” said Vale, who is president of his fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. “The whole premise of the New Year is to atone, but to atone without action doesn’t really mean anything.”
The students delivered the sandwiches to Shepherd’s Heart Veteran Home, a transitional housing for homeless veterans; Womanspace East, which helps homeless families; and Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter, which provides 25 residents each night with safe, secure sleeping quarters, a hot shower, and an evening meal.
Fifteen students participated in the program, and although that number fell short of the organizer’s goal of having 50 students involved, the end result was what mattered.
“At the end of the day, we handed out 500 sandwiches,” Kaufman said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.