It’s cold. It’s been snowing off and on for the past week. Flu season has started. Right about now, wouldn’t some hot soup sound really good?
Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer thinks so. That’s why he and his wife, Tzipah, co-directors of Chabad on Campus at Queens College in New York, run a program where they deliver free homemade chicken soup to students on campus. Of late, they include a matzah ball in it, too.
“They love it!” says the rabbi of the students receiving the soup when they are under the weather, or studying and need a boost. “I’ll deliver it around Queens, or they can come and get it.”
At least 4,000 Jewish students attend Queens College, according to Wertheimer, and most of them live at home; it’s a commuter campus. Being New York City, it’s not as if kosher food is hard to find; still, there’s something about the idea of this that makes it quite appealing.
“It feels good. It’s so personal. It’s so Chabad to do such a thing,” says the rabbi. “It says: ‘We’re on the ground, we’re right here—we’re always here.’ ”
The project started a couple of years ago, and Wertheimer is the first to acknowledge that the idea was not original; other Chabad campus rabbis deliver food to students for all kinds of reasons. But he thinks he was the first to really brand and market it.
Two years ago, he posted “TXT4SOUP” on Facebook after finding himself with a surplus of chicken soup after a Shabbat meal. He placed the soup in plastic containers he got from a local deli and froze them, then announced online that if students wanted soup, they should text him and he’ll be there.
It garnered a decent response. But last year, a designer created a postcard with the logo “TXT4SOUP,” and the rabbi handed them out on campus and at the Chabad House. “That made an enormous difference,” says Wertheimer. “Students loved the graphic; they took pictures of it and posted it on Facebook, and word spread that way.”
At the Wertheimer home, making and delivering soup to college students is a family affair.
Yoni Skurowitz, for example, posted “Sick in bed. Can anyone bring me chicken soup” on his Facebook page last February, and sure enough, Shayna Sara Rosenblatt responded with: “Chabad of Queens” and gave him the texting info. “They’ll bring me soup?” he replied. “Yup!! Rabbi & Tzipah are the best!” she answered. The next posting was from Tzipah, asking where to deliver the soup, and that it will be there in five minutes. To which Skurowitz declared: “Thank you so much … you guys are awesome!”
“You don’t have to be sick,” adds the rabbi. “It’s not limited to that. It can be a pick-me-up,” he says of the generously sized single serving.
The father of four says he once delivered soup to the AEPi fraternity house and brought his 5-year-old son with him, who held it in the car on the way over. Both he and his wife take turns making it; the project has become something of a family affair.
And what happens after the students return next semester and start flocking to him in droves?
“That should be my biggest problem,” he quips.
‘Keep Calm and Study On’
Across the continent in British Columbia, Canada, Rabbi Chalom Loeub handed out care packages this month for students taking finals. In them were a granola bar, a homemade muffin, a can of soda and a sign that read: “Keep Calm and Study On.” He put together 18 and gave out all but three.
“It was very positively accepted; people loved it. They know Chabad is here for them, even in the middle of exams,” affirms Loeub.
He, too, notes that he’s among many rabbis who support students in this way. (Speaking of other rabbis, Wertheimer of Chabad of Queens College just so happens to have been born in Vancouver, and his mother attended the University of British Columbia.)
Loueb, co-director of Chabad Jewish Student Center-Vancouver with his wife, Esti, says in this case, his wife thought up the idea. “It helps you meet people,” he says, “and it shows that we’re not just trying to get you to Jewish events, but that we’re here for you in other ways.”
Audrey Abergel, a second-year student political science and international relations major at the University of British Columbia, says she got a care package a the Student Union Building a few days before an exam—a chocolate muffin, granola bar and Diet Coke.
“I thought it was incredibly sweet, and I really appreciated the gesture,” says the native of Valencia, Calif. “I love, love, love Chabad! They have been such a big and influential part of my semester. I know I always have a place to go with them and will always enjoy a wonderful time. I frequently go to their Shabbat dinners and almost every program event.”
The Louebs—with one child and one on the way—serve roughly 3,000 Jewish students at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and other local Canadian colleges.
When asked if the rabbi plans to hand-deliver similar packages in the future, he replied immediately: “Yes, we’ll do it again for spring exams.”
The TXT4SOUP designed postcard that went out to students at Queens College.