As a resident of the Bayit, a program house for Jewish students on campus, I have become accustomed to the weekly Wesleyan Jewish Community (WJC) Shabbat service that attracts dozens of people. Occasionally, I walk in on Friday evening after the service (sorry for skipping them, Mom!) and see trays and trays of food out in a glorious display. No matter how many people attend, there always seems to be enough food for everyone. It’s an impressive feat. I decided to reach out to Talia Rodriguez ’24, a member of the WJC’s Executive Board, to learn more about this weekly dinner.

The WJC is a pluralistic Jewish organization open to all students on campus. It organizes various campus events, including celebrations of major Jewish holidays and social gatherings to foster community. Rodriguez is the WJC’s cooking coordinator and has the daunting task of coordinating a Shabbat dinner for a huge group. Up to 35 people attend the weekly service. 

While Rodriguez herself enjoys cooking, other members of the WJC or outside volunteers cook Shabbat dinner. Based on the recipes for the weekly dinner, Rodriguez puts together a shopping list and sends it to the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life. She has two tips for volunteers: prepare on Thursday night to streamline the cooking process on Friday, and make a dish that lends itself to feeding a large group. Each week’s dinner is different, with the meals ranging from a hearty lasagna with a salad to vegetarian bean chili with noodle kugel. While making a meal for such a large group is challenging, Rodriguez has mastered the art.

“I could totally whip up a big meal in three hours,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez herself is an avid chef, specializing in vegetarian food. She is of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish descent, so cooking represents her mixed heritage and enables her to express her identity. One particular dish she grew up eating was her grandmother’s Passover buñuelos. Buñuelos are fried dough fritters typically made with a risen yeast dough, although her family prepares them with matzo for Passover. Since starting college, Rodriguez has expanded her repertoire and enjoys cooking food from a variety of cultures, whether it’s bibimbap or matzo ball soup. Her proudest accomplishment is cooking a massive Mediterranean meal for Homecoming and Family Weekend in 2021, serving over 60 people.

The weekly Shabbat dinners are central to the WJC’s close-knit community and allow everyone to bond over a shared love of food, regardless of religion. There are tables set up in the Bayit’s common room, and guests are encouraged to sit together and mingle. For Rodriguez and many others, cooking every week is a great way to give back to the WJC community, as well as meet new people through the universal language of food. She and many others have found a great opportunity to volunteer through these meals.

“It’s more accessible,” Rodriguez told me. “You don’t have to know any Jewish prayers or the Torah like the back of your hand, [but] a lot of people know how to cook.”

Although the WJC has had immense success in maintaining its weekly Shabbat dinner, Rodriguez expressed concerns about the future of the tradition. Since the cooking is done entirely by volunteers, she is unsure whether there will be enough people willing to lend their time in coming years. Ultimately, the program may have to move in a different direction. However, despite worries about continued participation, the WJC has successfully held other cooking events, including a challah baking class led by Eliana Bloomfield ’25.

The WJC’s weekly dinners represent the power of commensality. Regardless of religious affiliation, cultural background, or personal identity, every Wesleyan student can bond over a shared meal. Rodriguez told me that this was her favorite part of cooking dinner, and that the community of the WJC in general has helped her in times of loneliness and hardship. 

“Everybody’s gotta eat,” Rodriguez said.

Blake Klein can be reached at