By far, Chabad at Rutgers serves as the center for a Jewish community on campus. Leadership opportunities, socializations, and religious services are hosted on a daily basis. It’s therefore no wonder Chabad at Rutgers experienced a 50% growth from last year, and is currently the largest institution of its kind on a college campus within the United States. A total of sixty students actively chose Chabad housing over other options. Furthermore, the Jewish community of Chabad serves as an anchor for students who might otherwise experience great struggles maintaining their Judaism. In order to gain more insight two student resident of Chabad were interviewed, both from very different backgrounds.
The first candidate is named Liana Sandor. After spending a year abroad in Israel, Liana has just enrolled in Rutgers University as a freshman. As she and her family strongly identify with her Jewish heritage, her family understood that college would present many challenges to some of their key values. However, for Liana, Chabad has made this challenge easier.
“There’s nothing wrong with an on-campus dorm,” Liana explained, “It’s just it would make being Jewish a lot harder. For instance, keeping kosher is one thing that is really important to me. Chabad provides us with kosher food. The rooms also really nice. So is the entire building. Living here the fourth year is free, too.”
It’s true – Chabad offers an entirely kosher meal plan. The building also provides multiple amenities besides dorm rooms, including private WiFi, multiple classrooms for studying, a synagogue, pool tables, ping-ping tables, a gigantic dining hall, and a comfortable recreational room. Yet, beyond these superficial boons, I delved deeper into Liana’s decision to live at Chabad. When asked what the most difficult obstacle would be if the Chabad housing option was unavailable, Liana’s answer was both powerful resonating.
“Shabbat,” she answered without hesitation. “It would be hard to keep Shabbat.” Indeed, Chabad offers full Shabbat service, meals, and most importantly a community of Jewish believers who also find Shabbat important. This is not something so easily found on a secular college campus.
The second candidate is not new to Chabad, but rather a returning resident student named Samuel Suhitlov – or Sam for short. Pursuing a major in History, he spends his free time playing chess and with friends. Although Sam comes from a Jewish heritage that values their roots, but would not identify as orthodox, he has made Chabad his home.
I asked why he decided to live in the Chabad at Rutgers for a second time in a row, and Sam replied that at one point he did consider living off campus. However, Chabad’s convenient location, comfortable dormitories, and community were all benefits that outweighed any other options. “I felt welcomed here,” Sam related, “The Rabbis are very nice, there’s great support here, and I made a lot of friends.”
Additionally, as someone who doesn’t come from a background with orthodox practices, Sam was satisfied with the level of acceptance he felt by the Chabad community. “No one ever pressured me into keeping Shabbat, or anything else,” he told me, “But I did get to learn a lot about Judaism – and lots of things I never knew before.”
For students like Liana and Sam, Chabad welcomes them both. It does not matter if a willing member went to Yeshiva or public school. It doesn’t matter if a willing member can recite prayers fluently or cannot speak a word of Hebrew. It does not even matter if a willing member observes Shabbat or has never been to a synagogue service. All Jewish people are invited at Chabad. Our mission is not to segregate, but to achieve an inclusive environment. After all, an gem of wisdom from the Torah states, “As iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen one another.”
The Chabad community is excited for the growth and future of the upcoming year. Who knows what brilliant colors our newest members will bring to the fresh school year? Surely, whatever happens, it will all be for the best.
For more information visit us on the web at chabadrutgers.com, chabadnj.org, or call 732-296-1800