From Gateshead to Texas // Rabbi Moshe Trepp is making a difference for thousands of Jewish students in Austin, Texas

The small blue house is located on a relatively quiet street in Austin, Texas. It’s quite late on a Friday afternoon, and I’ve just arrived in the city after driving for many hours. I’ve been expecting a calm Shabbos, but as I pull up in front of the house, I realize that it will be anything but calm and quiet. University students are all over the place, emerging from and disappearing back into the house. Soon, a tall, bearded man appears in the doorway. He’s wearing a light-blue button-down shirt, casual pants, and cowboy boots, along with a large black yarmulke and tzitzis. “Shalom aleichem! Welcome to Austin!” he calls out as he approaches my car. 

Shabbos with the Trepps

Meet Rabbi Moshe Trepp, a talmid of Gateshead and Mir who is the campus rabbi at the University of Texas, where there are many Jewish students. He envelops me in a big hug before helping me into the house with my bags and showing me to my room. I’ve known Rabbi Trepp for a few years now, having originally met him in Houston (a three-hour drive from Austin). 

Once I’m settled in, I follow Rabbi Trepp out to his large backyard, where dozens of students are congregated. Many of them are wearing T-shirts sporting the logo of the Texas Longhorns, the university’s football team. Some are drinking beer or smoking cigarettes as they chat casually with the rabbi. Rabbi Trepp’s wife, Faigy, and their children are setting up tables. Very soon, we will be davening Minchah, Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv, followed by a large outdoor Shabbos dinner. 

Within a few minutes, many of the students disappear to their dorm rooms and apartments, only to return a bit later dressed in more formal clothing. As the sun begins to dip near the horizon, Mrs. Trepp lights the Shabbos candles in the dining room. 

We form a minyan for Minchah in the backyard, followed by Kabbalas Shabbos. As the sky goes dark, the backyard is filled with spiritual light. Rabbi Trepp walks around the yard, linking hands and dancing with his students as they sing a joyous Carlebach tune. The song gets louder, and the pace of the dancing grows faster. I feel like I’m at the intersection of Mezhibuzh and Silicon Valley, bringing in Shabbos with an aura of old-world chasidus in this modern city. Soon after Maariv, we sing Shalom Aleichem followed by Eishes Chayil. By now, the backyard is packed to capacity with many more young men and women who arrived after davening.

Rabbi Trepp glows as he makes Kiddush. After netilas yadayim, Mrs. Trepp’s delicious homemade food is served buffet-style under the dim rays of string lights hanging across the backyard. Students of varying backgrounds from all over the United States eat, drink and socialize while Rabbi Trepp and his wife make their rounds. Seated near me are a few young men who pepper me with questions about Judaism. I do my best to answer them, but Rabbi Trepp steps in and takes the heavier ones. The Shabbos meal lasts until very late into the night. 

On Shabbos morning, Rabbi Trepp and I walk to his shul, located a block away from the university. A minyan of young men, along with a few women, have already gathered to pray. After davening, there’s a light kiddush, and we then head out into the colorful streets of Austin. It’s early afternoon now, and there’s lots of loud music as we pass street art and cool eateries. Students are milling about in their Longhorns gear. Rabbi Trepp mentions that there’s a big football game taking place today.

As we head back to the Trepp home, the rabbi stops on a street corner where there are several colorful trucks parked strategically in a square. Some of them are food trucks dishing out hot fare, while others are selling craft items and T-shirts. Rabbi Trepp approaches a truck that seems to be selling accessories and paraphernalia for drug users. A young glassblower using a blowtorch is in the process of forming a novelty marijuana pipe. 

Gut Shabbos!” Rabbi Trepp exclaims as he greets the man. They talk for a few minutes while I take a quick glance at the merchandise. The contrast between the young glassblower, who is clearly Jewish, and the tall rabbi is intriguing. They seem to be enjoying each other’s company. 

Back at the house, the Shabbos meal takes place indoors, and although there is a smaller crowd than there was the night before, the house is packed to capacity with students. The Shabbos seudah lasts many hours, until Minchah. 

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