For the students who frequent the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park, no longer will cramped Shabbat meals and Torah classes in close quarters be the norm. When they return to campus for the beginning of the spring semester next month, they’ll find that all of the center’s programming will take place from a new headquarters in the heart of the urban campus.

Rabbi Yossi and Baila Brackman, who have operated the Chabad House from their own home for the past nine years, consider the move to be important for both the students and their growing family. By conducting activities in a large space separate from their residence, they say, they’ll be able to provide more abundant programming and service more students. At the same time, they’ll keep the familial atmosphere that has made the center so popular with students.

Berk Diler, an undergraduate from Turkey, agrees with that assessment.

“I believe that the new place is going to be warmer and more welcoming,” says Diler. “In the old Chabad House, we had one big multi-purpose room for classes, services, lounging and dining. Considering that the Brackmans lived in the house, [the family] couldn’t possibly have a private life. I think this new house will enable them to have a break.”

The new space, which was formerly a Unitarian seminary, is a 3,500 square-foot building, its dimensions and interior feel dwarfing the Brackmans’ 1,900 square-foot home. According to Yossi Brackman, who will renovate the space this summer, the building will also provide ample room for further expansion. The move is made possible by a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation, as well as the support of community members in Hyde Park and people affiliated with the university.

“Until now, we’ve had the inability to do programs whenever we want,” explains the rabbi. “Our house is not designed to be able to do large programs, and the new space is much more suited to that. Now students won’t hesitate to just drop in because they know they won’t be interrupting our dinner or bedtime.”

The Chabad House’s new home sits one block from the Brackmans’ residence.
The Chabad House’s new home sits one block from the Brackmans’ residence.

The Brackmans, who host some 60 students monthly, will no longer have to rent rooms on campus to host some events. They intend to arrange the new building in a completely student-centered way with space for classes, Shabbat and holiday services, offices, a student lounge, extended dining room, library and commercial kitchen. The new center, which is just one block away from their home, will also have guest rooms for families of those who are patients in the university’s nearby hospital.

“I go to Shabbat quite often, and having a new space will be a great thing for everyone,” says Misha Mintz-Roth, an international relations graduate student. “I’m sure that they’ll have no problem making use of the space. I like the feel of being at a homelike environment, and I’m sure that this will be just like their own home.”

Among those programs that will directly benefit from the move is Linking Hearts, a Chabad-affiliated club that pairs students with senior citizens in the local Jewish community.

“Jewish students have come to regard this center as as home away from home,” notes Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. “This move will only amplify that by preserving the warmth of what they're used to and an expanded space they will quickly fill.”

“The new Chabad house is giving the organization a huge opportunity to expand its programming,” agrees David Akinin, a junior economics major from Venezuela. “We have been waiting for this for a long time, and will be able to bring the community together on campus. It will be a great change for everyone.”