By Blair Donner
Professors with prepared lesson plans for a bright new batch of students, buses busily zooming down past student centers, and clueless freshman meandering towards their classes all describe yesterday – the first day of the 2016 Fall Semester. This day, however, was not just the incipient prologue to another semester at Rutgers University, but also the precursor to the first of many J-Cafés events to come, a classic event hosted by Chabad House at Rutgers. This time at least 500 students showed up to the event. Curious freshman and returning upperclassman alike could be seen hustling through the Chabad House’s open doors, into a world of music and food, all excited to greet both old and new friends.
J-Café stands for Jerusalem Café, and essentially a party held every Tuesday night of the semester, usually with a relevant Jewish theme. There is always music blasting, normally an upbeat Israeli or Hebrew tune that reflects the jocularity of the evening. And, of course, there is also food – and plenty of it. The J-Café yesterday included an assortment of fruits and desserts, along with Israeli shwarma, salad, falafel. The room was inundated with students sitting at tables, filling the open spaces, often asking the inevitable question faced by all upon a return to fall semester – How was your summer?
New activities, and some refreshed activities as well, were also added to the activities available at the party. Immediately at the entrance of ballroom were two small table, with familiar and friendly faces graciously welcoming in the J-Café attendees. The first table featured little trinkets and party favors for visiting students to take home. Some of these included Shabbat candles, Rutgers University themed footballs and stickers, and, perhaps more solemnly, posters of Israeli Defense Soldiers at the Western Wall with an emotional caption plastered on top: “Please, send Moshiach now!” The second table offered another special treat, that is, Birthright sign-ups. For those unfamiliar, Birthright is a free (no, that’s not a typo) trip to Israel sponsored by an organization called Birthright Israel. Their vision is to strengthen Jewish identity and communities within Israel by providing Jews throughout the world an all-expenses paid trip to Israel. Chabad at Rutgers University offers sign-ups, including Birthright trips that consist of participants mainly from the Rutgers Jewish community.
If a visitor yesterday was able to pass through these two tables, make their way through the crowd and its excited chatter, they would see another feature in the back of the ballroom known as the L’Chaim table. There Rabbi Baruch Goodman could be heard announcing a heartfelt thankyou to all the guests. Later, he not only shared candies and sweet drinks with students who thanked him for the arranging the evening’s activities, but also some of his classic Rabbi jokes, stories, and words of wisdom.
So, if J-Café is held on a weekly basis, what made this night in particular so special? In a short Q&A session Rabbi Goodman provided the answer himself. “The day before was the Involvement Fair,” he said, referring to one of the largest activities on campus in which all co-curricular organizations come and invite prospective students to join their cause. “We might have gotten nearly 150 students to visit our stand for Chabad yesterday,” Rabbi continued, “And I can say with full confidence that at least 100 of those students showed up.” A true miracle, considering the low-turnout rates between vocalized interest and actual commitment.
The first J-Café of Chabad was a clear success. Plenty of Jewish students came to visit the Chabad House institution, and plenty of enjoyable activities offered after the first full day of classes. The Chabad House administration plans for many more successful J-Cafés, and will surely incorporate new and exciting themes as the semester progresses.
For more information on events like this or the upcoming holiday celebrations please contact Chabad House at Rutgers at 732-296-1800. Please visit us on the web for the latest news at www.ChabadNJ.org, www.ChabadRutgers.com or like our pages on Facebook Chabad House at Rutgers and Rutgers Chabad.