Bughouse Square: Learning Shabbat

Maaike VanderMeer guest writer

So much is familiar in this Sweeting classroom with its clean blackboard and fluorescent lights. Some desks are pushed together to make the long table we share. The food is familiar too: everyone has a takeout box from the SDR. I don’t know all the people around this table by name, but I recognize most from hallways and staircases: Moody students, each and every one of them.

And yet, it is all new to me. We are here on Friday evening to celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

The meal starts with chanted blessings over the grape juice and over the challah bread, which we share. A joyful singing of “Shabbat shalom” is accompanied with clapping and table pounding. Then we eat.

I open my Styrofoam box and poise my plastic fork over it, and already people around me are talking.  After the meal, we fill the blackboard with prayer requests. Some are names of Jews interested in Jesus. There are recent news updates, such as the BDS (Boycott Divest Sanction) movement, or incidents linked to rising anti-Semitism. Everyone is passionate about the nation of Israel. There are words and concepts I don’t understand, but they happily answer all questions.

After prayer we go our separate ways, to the cry of “Shabbat shalom!” 

As a student group, Kesher exists for anyone who wants to learn about Jewish life and faith. But why should non-Jewish students make time or brain space for one more thing?

First, because Jesus was a Jew. Hopefully, hermeneutics drilled into our minds the importance of historical-cultural context. I want to learn everything I can about Jewish tradition, thought, history, belief and values because I want to know all there is to know about my Jesus. And it is anything but dry facts! Messianic Jewish understanding of the Bible is riveting in its depth and beauty. Go to a Seder meal, and you will symbolically partake in the history of redemption in a profound way.

Second, because God has chosen the nation of Israel, and God does not change in His promises or covenants. The eyes of many nations are on Israel as her existence is continually threatened. Whatever happens to Israel will affect us all.

For the love of Jesus and the Word we’ve inherited, and for very pressing practical and political reasons, I make the choice to come to Kesher and to learn from our Messianic Jewish family.

Would you join me?   


What is “Bughouse Square”? Bughouse Square is the nickname of Chicago’s Washington Square Park, which for decades served as an outdoor free-speech venue for soapbox orators. The Newberry Library, located just across the street, still sponsors the Bughouse Square Debates in the park each year in honor of its rich history of free speech and public oratory. This piece is considered a “standard” article in our print edition.

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