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More Room Around the (Shabbat) Table at Wesleyan University

More Room Around the (Shabbat) Table at Wesleyan University

Chabad makes a growing impact at one of America's top-ranked colleges

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Chabad at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., co-directed by Rabbi Levi and Chani Schectman, has purchased a building to offer more space for services, Shabbat dinners, classes, student programs and Jewish holiday events. Here, the rabbi and Sam Wachsberger display homemade shmurah matzah made at a “Model Matzah Bakery” workshop.
Chabad at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., co-directed by Rabbi Levi and Chani Schectman, has purchased a building to offer more space for services, Shabbat dinners, classes, student programs and Jewish holiday events. Here, the rabbi and Sam Wachsberger display homemade shmurah matzah made at a “Model Matzah Bakery” workshop.

The search for space is over.

After six years of running a campus center out of the rabbi’s home, Chabad at Wesleyan University is taking the next step—buying and renovating a building for the many services, classes and holiday programs it runs for Jewish students, faculty and guests.

Forbes magazine ranked Wesleyan University ninth out of 660 U.S. colleges and universities (third among liberal arts colleges) in its 2016 national rankings. The small private school nestled in Middletown, Conn., tied for 14th that same year in the more extensive and oft-quoted annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report.

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The school’s prestigious position has come as no surprise to Rabbi Levi and Chani Schectman, who established Chabad at Wesleyan in August of 2011. “Very smart” and “full of passion” are adjectives the rabbi uses to describe the roughly 600 to 700 Jewish undergraduates, which represent a sizable 20 percent of the overall student body of 3,224.

The Milwaukee-bred rabbi and his Brooklyn-born wife, who made it onto the list of “Movers and Shakers” in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger in 2014, “have made a considerable impact upon the Wesleyan community with their open-minded, warm-hearted dedication to all Jewish students, regardless of their level of observance,” Vera Schwarcz, emerita professor of history and East Asian Studies, tells Chabad.org.

Like Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries worldwide, the Schectmans have a mission to provide an educational, social and spiritual home for Jewish students and faculty at the college. In addition to Shabbat meals and services, a Kosher Culinary Club, the Sinai Scholars program, Torah study, classes and holiday events, they offer an open door and listening ear to those they serve.

Until now, the Schectmans have offered services and programs from their home and at available venues on campus.
Until now, the Schectmans have offered services and programs from their home and at available venues on campus.

In the Middle of Everything

However, the 10-minute or so walk to their home felt long for students, who tend to stay on school grounds. So the Schectmans held most events at campus venues, watching their programs grow to accommodate as many as 100 students. Friday-night dinners at their home also started getting crowded with students and other guests wedged around the table.

They had a good problem; they simply ran out of room.

“Levi and I decided that no matter what, we would not sleep until we found a larger and more centrally located building for Chabad at Wesleyan. And with G‑d’s help, we were pointed in the right direction and finally found a property,” relates Chani Schectman.

Since their arrival six years ago, the couple has been on the lookout for an on-campus facility for Chabad and its range of activities. The rabbi recalls literally knocking on the doors of buildings that seemed suitable. Several months ago, he noticed a large house up for sale that had been previously rented out to students. With the assistance of Chabad on Campus International and the help of key supporters, including New York-based philanthropist George Rohr, the Schectmans purchased it.

Artist's rendering of the new building after extensive renovation
Artist's rendering of the new building after extensive renovation

The building sits in a prime spot in the middle of Wesleyan student housing. It will undergo renovation to include a spacious multipurpose room, kosher kitchen, offices, conference room and library on the first floor, with the Schectmans and their children—5-year-old Mendel, and 2-year-old twins Mordechai and Yonah—taking up residence on the second floor.

The couple has embarked on a $500,000 fundraising campaign for the refurbishments.

Needless to say, parents, alumni, university faculty, and, of course, current students are thrilled about the new center, which is slated to open next spring.

Students craft shofars before Rosh Hashanah with the guidance of the rabbi.
Students craft shofars before Rosh Hashanah with the guidance of the rabbi.

“For me, personally, Chabad has been a second home and a place where I can comfortably explore my connection to Judaism,” says Matthew Renetzky, a government major from Los Angeles. He is scheduled to graduate in May 2018, just as the new facility opens.

“I am unbelievably excited about the prospect of growing Chabad. A new, larger facility on campus will allow many more students to have the opportunity to engage with their Jewish identities in a loving and supportive environment,” he adds.

Schwarcz agrees. “On a campus so renowned for its critical thinking and academic excellence,” says the educator, “the new Chabad House will be a visible and accessible source for spiritual reflection and ethical idealism.”

Baking challah on campus
Baking challah on campus
Posing for photo before the start of Shabbat and a student dinner
Posing for photo before the start of Shabbat and a student dinner
Some of the Sinai Scholars, with the rabbi and his oldest son
Some of the Sinai Scholars, with the rabbi and his oldest son
The Shechtman family
The Shechtman family


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Anonymous May 25, 2017

Wonderful! Thanks for posting! Reply

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