By Blair Donner
his past April 28, 2015, was a unique night for me at the regular Tuesday night gather in Chabad. Working with my enthusiastic freshman peer Maggie Klein, we had the task of interviewing members of the Chabad community. Our questions focused on three areas: their role in the Rutgers community, their religious background, and their personal Chabad story. The interviews took place in the brand new Chabad House Sephardic Synagogue. Miss Klein had the task of gathering students and filming, while it was my job to ask the questions.
As I listened to each response, I started to notice patterns. Before attending Rutgers University, many of the Chabad members had not been very observant Jewish followers. This startled me, I would expect the exact opposite. Nevertheless, it seemed as if a lot of students had come more secular backgrounds and did not plan on being so involved in a Jewish community. One thing such interviewees said that drew them into staying at Chabad specifically was the enthusiasm, kindness, and love of the Rabbis. Indeed, as a first semester transfer student at Rutgers University from a secular and mixed background, I can attest that both Rabbi Goodman and Rabbi Shagalow have played a part in my decision to become a member of Chabad House at Rutgers.
Besides this, another major factor that influenced many of the interviewees to become involved was the community itself. “Everyone was just so warm and so inviting,” describes incoming student Jacob Holdowsky. When asked about a specific favorite moment with Rutgers Chabad House at Rutgers, nearly all students recounted a moment that focused on interaction with the overall community. Purim, Passover, and overnight Shabbats were some of the immediate recollections. Events like these, surely serve to both unify and strengthen the friendship of the students here.
One story in particular of a girl who would like to remain anonymous stood out to me. Born in Russia, but growing up near New York City, this student was born into a Jewish family. However, they were never really observant of their faith. To them, being Jewish was just a name, not an identity. It was actually a special trip called birthright that changed this girl’s mind about faith. After travelling to Israel on this program for free, she wanted to become more in touch with her Judaism. On returning to Rutgers, the Chabad provided the perfect community for exactly that.
Although many of the students I interviewed happened to come from non-observant backgrounds there were still plenty of students who came from religious homes. I wondered what brings students coming from a religious background to Rutgers Chabad House. What I found out was although some students may have been brought up religious and some not, they are all looking for the same thing. No matter the background each student was searching for a warm friendly environment, with nice people, great food, and Rabbis who really care about every student that comes through the door. Religious and nonreligious students alike found that environment at Rutgers Chabad House.
Looking back at all the personal stories that I have heard, I realized that they began to leave an impact on me. Sometimes I think I take Rutgers Chabad for granted. I forget that just over half a century ago, being Jewish was not something the individual could be so open about. Outreach communities like this were practically unheard of, but today they exist without question. As each individual sat before me relating a story about how Chabad House empowered them, I started to appreciate exactly what this special place means to me. One thing that’s so important in Judaism is the Jewish community, and if there is one place in the world where I could experience that aspect of this beautiful religion, Rutgers Chabad surely would be on the top of that list.
For more information, visit us on the web at Chabadnj.org or call us at 732-296-1800. Chabad House at Rutgers University is located at 170 College Ave New Brunswick, NJ 08901.