I want to share with you a snapshot of what has been happening to our community of students—a community to which my husband and I have dedicated the past 23 years of our lives.

The Rohr Chabad Center serves the Jewish students at the University of Chicago, known for its rigorous academics and particularly for its economics department.

For two decades we have cared for the students’ emotional, social, and spiritual needs—as well as providing them with a comfortable home away from home.

We have friends and family who serve as Chabad emissaries in remote and developing countries, and we marvel at their bravery. We thought we had it easy, surrounded by the gleaming ivory towers of academia.

But today, as we look around the once-friendly neighborhood where we raised our children—both our biological children and the many students for whom we’ve become a second set of parents—the place is unrecognizable.

People shout, scream, and curse Israel, Jews, and America, the land that provided them the freedom of expression they’re glibly exploiting. A place of learning and discovery has dissolved into tension and conflict.

Our work began the moment the news broke on Simchat Torah morning that something was amiss. Days later, a student, Yair, came to our Chabad House with a heavy heart, having decided to leave school and return to Israel to fight. I was struck by the gravity of his decision and felt a mother's instinct to offer him a blessing for safety and success. Watching him leave, knowing the risks he was taking, filled me with a sense of awe and fear.

We worked relentlessly to support our students and the wider community in the following weeks. Students came to us from every corner, their souls seeking light amidst the darkness. We distributed mezuzahs and stood on campus—even surrounded by anti-Israel slurs and comments—putting tefillin on the young men, encouraging women to light Shabbat candles, and providing comfort to those grappling with hate and fear on campus.

We even invested in beautifully crafted books of Psalms with English translation, gifting them to students and explaining how these sacred psalms have served as a wellspring of inspiration for the Jewish people through the ages, starting with King David during his tribulations.

The students have been channeling their emotions into positive action, committing to mitzvahs and living more Jewishly.

One woman, a grad student, told me she’d been in a committed relationship with a Christian man and looked forward to marrying him. After the attacks, it became clear to them both that the gulf between them was too great. There was no way for him to understand how deeply she connected to people in a country halfway across the globe. She’s now committed to only marrying a Jew.

There's Lily, who came to Chabad one day asking for Shabbat candles. She felt that lighting candles was the one mitzvah she could do for Israel. Later, she sent me a photo of her Shabbat table in New York, complete with challah and candles. Her parents, Russian Jews without a strong Jewish upbringing, had joined her in embracing the beauty of Shabbat. Lily now comes to our Shabbat dinners almost every week. These moments of connection and inspiration are what sustain us through the most difficult times.

We did everything possible to shield our young children from the antisemitic shouts and slurs they should never have had to witness. It was hard to explain to their teachers what they were seeing and what they were holding in their hearts each day. Just the other week, during a walk around the neighborhood, they counted over 80 anti-Israel signs and we hadn't even walked onto the actual campus grounds.

One day, things on campus were especially tense. A loud and aggressive anti-Israel rally was taking place, and a student came rushing into Chabad, crying uncontrollably. I embraced her and held her close as she sobbed. She didn't need words—just the presence of someone who cared. Later, I learned that a visiting mother had taken a picture of me holding this young woman, her tears soaking my shoulder. She sent me the photo, writing, "I took this so that you would remember, and I could show my friends what a rebbetzin is for during challenging times."

In such moments, the Rebbe's teachings have always guided me. I draw strength from his words, whether in times of joy or deep despair.

Preparing for over 250 people for both Seders seemed daunting, but the joy of watching Jewish souls shine made every effort worthwhile. More than ever, students came to us asking where they could find something to eat during Passover.

There were days when we felt like there were two wars, one in Israel and one on college campuses around the country. Unfortunately, this campus war is still strong and frightening to the young Jewish students.

We woke up on the last day of Passover to a Gaza encampment on our quad. It was worse than you can imagine and more disgusting than you can envision. I ran with my son onto the quad to support the students, hug the girls who were crying, and just be a familiar face. We grabbed some kippahs and encouraged the boys to put them on. One young man whom I had never seen before came up to me and asked for a kippah. “I never wear a kippah,” he said, “it’s not my thing, but today I want to. I want to show them that I am a proud Jew.

A Jewish Student at the University of Chicago is assisted with putting on tefillin.
A Jewish Student at the University of Chicago is assisted with putting on tefillin.

Last Friday, things devolved to about the worst I had seen.

There were hundreds of students on the quad, and things had erupted terribly, both sides were facing off. It was scary and appalling and I honestly could not believe what I was seeing with my own eyes. I will have these horrific images in my head for a long time. We had our sons and interns setting up emergency tefillin stations, blaring Jewish music over their speakers, which was hard to hear with all the shouting.

The protestors were defacing the American flag, and students loyal to America had come to hold up the American flag and also bring some of their own.

My son was bravely holding one such flag, and his picture ended up on the front cover of the next day’s Chicago Tribune. But it was frightening, sickening, and all-around horrible.

Just as I did not think I could handle another minute of the chaos, a couple came over to us with their son.

He was a prospective student and had simply come to see the campus. Never did they expect to see the anti-Jewish and anti-American display they’d stumbled into. Meanwhile, my son was helping Jewish men put on tefillin.

The boy turned to my husband and asked if he, too, could put on tefillin—something he’d never done before.

I cried as I watched him put on tefillin for the first time in his life, and we sang and danced with chaos erupting everywhere.

His mother, who was also emotional, said to me, “Maybe this is the real reason we came today—so our son could celebrate his bar mitzvah.”

And maybe this is the reason we’ve been here for 23 years—so that young Jewish people, who’d otherwise be swallowed up by the hatred and lies that surround us so thickly, can find a lifeboat of Judaism to tide them over the groundswell of insanity that has engulfed us.

And if it is, I thank G‑d for the opportunity.