By Blair Donner
An unsuspecting newspaper advertisement, published well before she was a freshman at Rutgers University, was all that was needed to alter the path of Miss Jessica Yenk’s college career. The advertisement was for housing in Chabad House at Rutgers, which, at the time, was a convenient proposition for Yenk’s older brother. During this time, the property of the Chabad House at Rutgers was also Yenk’s father’s fraternity. Talk about complicated family lines! Yenk’s older brother was a student without a place to live near campus. After being exposed to the milieu of hospitality and geniality that permeated the Chabad House’s general atmosphere, Yenk’s older brother decided to live there. Within a year, he soon assumed a leadership position within the Chabad community. Then, when Jessica enrolled in Rutgers University as a freshman, it was through both her family’s avid urges and the Chabad Rabbi’s gregarious spirit that she decided to also be involved at Chabad House. Today, she serves as both the Director for the Chabad Learning Initiative (CLI) class as well as the President of the Chabad Leadership Board.
“Rabbi Goodman loves it when I tell that story,” Miss Yenk smiled. Of course, her story is touching; it captures Chabad’s purpose as the center for Jewish life on campus. Perhaps even more inspiring is Miss Yenk’s contribution to the Chabad community. As Director of CLI, she is in charge of a program that teaches complex Jewish philosophies on a collegiate level. She has tripled the number of CLI attendees, added new levels of classes, and has incorporated a free dinner for each class. The program is still growing today under her leadership.
Yet, even though Miss Yenk has experienced a successful transition to Chabad and enjoys making a contribution, adjusting to life there presented challenges for her in the beginning. As a freshman, she was nervous to come to Chabad. After all, immersion into a new environment is not necessarily easy. Over time, however, she eventually was able to overcome these challenges. By sophomore year she had established many new friends, and by junior year she was offered two leadership positions: Director of CLI and Secretary of the Chabad Leadership Board.
Now as President of that same board, Miss Yenk has big ambitions for the upcoming year. She hopes to continue organizing unique events that are fun, often involving a memorable theme. One particular goal she has is to include more activities at Chabad’s classic Tuesday night J-Cafés, such as live music. Furthermore, Miss Yenk also is ready to ensure that the events are variegated, changing styles from week to week. A plethora of community service, birthright, and socialization opportunities is also included on her agenda. From a brief conversation with her, it is obvious she is passionate about realizing these goals. She still even continues her position as Director of CLI to this day.
When Miss Yenk was asked to give some pointers to incoming freshman, she generously offered advice. “Introduce yourself,” she recommended, “Talk to others who might be alone.” Chabad is definitely a place to make connections and new friends, Miss Yenk’s advice follows that truth. From a tentative freshman and is now thriving as a student leader, Miss Yenk’s personal story embodies how the Chabad community serves as a springboard for all Jewish to students to break out of their comfort zone by interconnecting with other Jewish students on campus and to challenge themselves to take on leadership opportunities. Moreover, Miss Yenk agrees that Chabad is a place for Jewish students of all backgrounds to congregate. She is from a conservative background, and proudly states, “I’m always here to learn more.”
The members of Chabad House at Rutgers are very excited to see the fruits of Miss Yenk’s contribution as well as the outcomes of other student leaders’ and volunteers’ effort. For those who are interested in learning more about the programs offered by the Chabad Leadership Team or the CLI Class, Miss Yenk invites you to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.