Economy forces cuts on Shabbat dinners at USC Hillel

USC Hillel is canceling some of its Shabbat dinners, scaling back a weekly barbecue event and looking at other ways to reduce expenses in response to growing budget pressure due to the recession.

“We don’t see it getting better economically in the near future. We’re being conscientious and economically responsible,” said Shira Moldoff, assistant director of development and outreach for USC Hillel.

Moldoff says the USC chapter has cancelled its catered Shabbat dinners on three-day weekends, because they draw few students. And a Wednesday barbecue social that cost USC Hillel $700 each week has been reduced to once per month, she said.

Regular Friday night meals, which draw roughly 50 students each week at a cost of about $650, have not yet been affected. But the chapter’s leadership is hoping to cut that expense in half by handing responsibility for some Shabbat meal preparation over to the students, Moldoff says.

One of the options under consideration includes having students and student leadership prepare meals in USC Hillel’s fleishig kitchen, just as UCLA Hillel does each week to reduce its expenses.

The USC chapter’s student board plans to take over the Shabbat kitchen duties on March 6 as part of a trial run.

Another approach being considered is a Shabbat-in-a-box program, which would provide a boxed meal with challah and wine to students, who would be encouraged to organize and host satellite Shabbat dinners.

USC Hillel leaders say the fiscal cuts are pre-emptive in advance of the coming budget year, which begins July 1, and could help offset any potential shortfalls for this year.

Lee Rosenblum, USC Hillel’s acting director, says the problems confronting his chapter are not unique. “Every Hillel in the country is facing the same basic economic issues,” he said. 

Rosenblum said he has not had to lay off anyone from his staff, adding that the topic had yet to be raised by USC Hillel’s leadership.

“We’re going to do everything we can to forestall that,” Rosenblum said.