Song, spirit and a whiff of chulent

BP Photo By Emilie Benyowitz

Sigal Spitzer, Staff Writer

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As the aroma of chulent fills the Shalhevet hallways each Friday afternoon, around 20 students and staff gather to eat, talk, sing zemirot and pound the table in this year’s louder-than-ever version of pre-Shabbat ruach, or spirit.

In the conference room nearest the foyer, the raucous group lunch — more commonly referred to by its English-language initials, “PSR”– attracts teachers, rabbis and administrators in addition to students, most but not all of them boys.
The school supplies snacks and drinks including candy and chips, along with two crock-pots full of chulent assembled Thursday by Director of Development Aaron Keigher and cooked overnight.

Friday lunch in the cafeteria has been switched from dairy to meat to support the new tradition. But the chulent is free of charge — sort of.

“PSR is not free,” said Mr. Keigher. “You must sing for your food.”

Through most of the lunch period, Reb Tuli Skaist can be seen jumping up and down and strumming on his guitar, as Rabbi Schwarzberg, Rabbi Leubitz and Rabbi Segal engage the students to sing Shabbat songs and niggunim (wordless folk melodies).

“I love PSR because it gets me into a Shabbat ruach through singing with my friends in all different grades,” said freshman Tom Amzalag.

“I like the energy and how Shalhevet students are able to connect to Shabbat,” said senior Ariella Joffe. “With my extra-curriculars, there is no time to prepare for Shabbat, but PSR gets me excited and mentally prepared.”

Whereas in previous years the place to be on Friday afternoon was storming through the hallways singing Shabbos Kodesh — often to administration disapproval because it ran over into 8th period — this year, the tradition has the full backing of the administrative team. Some students miss the older, more rebellious version, however.

“Shabbos Kodesh was better,” said junior Adam Wannon, who attends almost every week. “But they are very different, and PSR is still a lot of fun.”

Everyone is welcome to go to PSR, but females are currently a small minority.  Last week, teachers Ms. Roen Salem and Dr. Jill Beerman were there, along with Ariella, fellow seniors Leah Katz and Ashley Hakimbaba, and junior Rachel Kenner.

“I think it is expected that there are mostly males,” said Ariella, though she couldn’t say why.  “It is fine a lot of guys go but it shouldn’t be awkward for girls to go too.”

The number of girls seems to be growing.  In October, there were weeks when no female was there at all.

“I walk by every week and I have always wanted to come in, so I popped by this week,” said Rachel Kenner after attending her first PSR Dec. 9. “It’s fun and it doesn’t bother me [that few girls are there].”

But some girls are still uncomfortable by the fact that mostly males participate.

“I don’t go to PSR mostly because it is all boys and it would be awkward to be the only girl,” said freshman Jillian Einalhori.

Mr. Keigher has new ideas for the future of PSR and invites everyone to stop by on Fridays to sing and eat chullent.  He hopes to bring more females to PSR on a regular basis.

But he refused to divulge his chulent recipe. Asked why, he replied: “I wouldn’t know what to tell you — really there is no recipe. I usually follow a combination of what other people do.”

He added that he varies the recipe somewhat from week to week, usually using barley, mixed beans, potatoes, onions, meat and a “secret spice blend.”

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