Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Chabad House Adds To Existing Student Life 

This year, the addition of Chabad representatives, Rabbi Levi Schectman and his wife Chanie, will bring a new aspect of student Jewish life to campus. Chabad, formally called Chabad-Lubavitch, is a Hasidic movement with active representatives on various college campuses and throughout the world.

According to Schectman, the mission of Chabad is to reach out to Jewish students and provide them with the resources to grow in their Judaism and spirituality, regardless of their background or observance level. Wesleyan, with its large Jewish population, did not have permanent representatives before this year.

“The mission is to make them aware of all that Judaism can offer them and to empower them,” Schectman said. “It’s about making Judaism accessible through volunteers that go across the world wherever a Jew can be found and making it a possibility to be able to explore Judaism. Wesleyan seemed like it had a lot of potential for that.”

According to Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies Vera Schwarcz, who had previously organized a weekly Torah study group, Chabad representatives have been coming to the University’s campus for decades.

“This, to me, is an organic, complimentary growth and one that is an extension of the enrichment that I’ve tried to make available,” Schwarcz said.

Last year, Schectman organized several on-campus activities, including a matzah making workshop in conjunction with the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AePi) fraternity. This year, he and his wife plan to hold a shofar-making workshop for Rosh Hashanah, as well as hold classes and discussion groups to explore Jewish heritage. Schectman said they are also creating a student internship program which is still in the planning stage.

Both Schectman and Schwarcz said that having Chabad representatives on campus may serve a different niche than the existing student Jewish life organizations on campus.

“Students get together to eat, to cook, to sing and Chabad has the resources like bringing the shofar factory to students, which student-run organizations might not have the resources for,” Schwarcz said. “They have national and international resources that local groups themselves may not have.”

“The key word is complimentary,” Schectman said. “This is really about a different niche that we are going to fill with things like the matzah bakery and these classes and study groups. It’s definitely going to serve a different flavor.”

Schwarcz said that having Chabad representatives may provide opportunities for students who practice Orthodox Judaism, a demographic that Wesleyan traditionally does not attract as much as urban schools with more formal Torah-study organizations.

“Some students who may feel a conflict between being a Wesleyan student and being more religious may find an affirmation of that possibility through the Schectmans,” she said. “They live near campus—not on campus—but their home is an open home. I think that students will actually get the experience of a family.”

Schectman is originally from Milwaukee, WI and lived in Brooklyn for several years before moving to Middletown this semester. He said that he was attracted to the University student body’s values.

“I would say that the students are very passionate, very smart and they’re really here to learn, and I think I’m like that too,” Schectman said.

Schwarcz also saw similarities between the Schectmans and University students.

“Wesleyan students volunteer, and what you see here is a family who have picked up and moved to volunteer,” Schwarcz said. “I think that there is a commonality of value, of passion, and it takes a kind of idealism to serve, and that will be an interesting chemistry with Wesleyan, because Wesleyan is full of extraordinarily idealistic people.”


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