Welcome to Rutgers University Chabad House, the hub of Jewish campus life and home of the largest student group on campus. Located at 170 College Avenue, in the heart of the busy New Brunswick Campus, Chabad House has been the centerpiece of Jewish life at Rutgers University for the last 30 years. This year is especially meaningful at Chabad House, for it is celebrating 30 years of service to the Rutgers University Jewish student community.
Over the years, Rutgers University Chabad House has grown in size and scope. Long a second home to Rutgers’ ever-growing number of Jewish students, Chabad is known for providing a relaxed, stable respite from the rigors of campus life, even as its dedicated leadership works frenetically to expand the range of events and social services Chabad offers.
Here students find weekly services for Shabbat, kosher Shabbat meals, high-holiday prayers, frequent Jewish themed get-togethers and social events, lectures, panel discussions, and performances. In addition, Chabad has a full-service, centrally located, women’s dormitory and a 3-meals-a-day kosher dining plan. Chabad House also delivers services that are less well known. These include Chabad’s free student counseling program and a program that encourages students to participate in frequent, scheduled visits to Jewish patients at area hospitals and nursing homes, to name a few.
Students affiliated with Chabad House recognize Chabad’s unique success facilitating socialization between the widely disparate populations of Jewish students on campus. Chabad, by definition, universally adheres to the ‘no judgment’ approach to outreach that leads so many students from so many backgrounds to thrive socially, academically and religiously. In fact, many of these students—currently enrolled and alumni—recall their days at Chabad as the best of their college experience. Looking back, numerous Rutgers graduates fondly remember their Chabad experience as foremost in shaping the lives they lead and the people they have become.
“When I arrived on campus, at first I was very shy,” remembers Karen Kestenbaum, a senior and the current president of Chabad House. “Gradually, I emerged from my shell to the point that I am now in a position of public leadership.” Karen, needless to say, is no longer that shy student of four years ago.
Another student leader, Elan Gorshein, Chabad’s Student Director of Hospital Visitations, describes how Chabad allowed him to remain comfortable with his outlook on religion while providing “the opportunity to socialize primarily with other Jewish students.” Rebekah Loewenstein, Chabad’s co-Vice President adds, “Chabad helps me connect with people who feel similarly about issues that are important in my life. At Chabad House, I found a place that welcomes everybody.”
These sentiments are far from isolated, nor do they happen by chance. Just visiting the office of Chabad House Campus Rabbi, Baruch Goodman, does much to explain why. In the window, a prominently displayed sign reads: Orthodox? Conservative? Reform? It Makes No Difference at Chabad House. According to Rabbi Goodman, “getting students through the door just once, means they have a chance to experience the beauty of Judaism and Chabad House. A great many friendships are formed here.” Sophomore Shlomo Aronoff describes the crux of Chabad programming as “largely social in nature.” As he explains, “Friday night dinners are an especially great way to meet people; I made almost all of my friends at Rutgers through Chabad House.”
Chabad House’s approach works. The proof has been its ability to win over scores of loyal students—individuals who at first resisted even setting foot in the building because of indifferent or even negative feelings they may have harbored towards Judaism. Co-Vice President Rebekah Loewenstein describes how she delayed walking inside for months, despite the pleas of a good friend to “just check this place out.” Even after taking her first plunge through the front doors, Rebekah wanted to bolt, “until Rabbi Goodman said something that still echoes in my mind: Labels are for clothing, not people. This perfectly summarizes the best thing about Chabad House: here, all Jews are welcome.”