Never in a million years did Drexel University sophomore Michelle Silberman imagine she’d be spending so much of her time at the school’s new Chabad House.

“I wasn’t really religious before I went to college,” says the Fairmont, N.J., native now majoring in entrepreneurial studies. “But then I got to school and, you know, you’re far from your family and you don’t have that built-in support system. So I went to Chabad just to check it out and they were very supportive of everything. I got close to the rabbi and his wife very quickly. It’s an amazing feeling to know that someone cares about you. It made me miss home a little less.”

Like Silberman, dozens of Drexel students have taken comfort in the warm and cozy environs provided by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Chaim and Moussia Goldstein from a building near campus on Philadelphia’s Baring Street that first opened its doors at the start of this year.

The Chabad House just purchased the property through a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation and additional fundraising efforts.

“Out of 20,000 students, around 1,000 are Jewish,” estimates Chaim Goldstein, co-director of Chabad at Drexel-Rohr Jewish Student Center. “Until last year, the Jewish students at Drexel used to be serviced by Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania, which is right next door. But as the Jewish community grew, we began to realize Drexel needed its own Chabad.”

In November 2010, the Goldsteins rented a modest three-story row house a 15-minute walk from campus. There they began hosting weekly Sabbath dinners, a series of informal Torah classes dubbed “Lunch and Learn.”

Despite the center’s undesirable location in the dodgy part of town, Chabad-sponsored events garnered an impressive showing of interest, with Friday night dinners attracting between 30 and 40 students.

“Soon the house was just getting too small and we were looking to move,” says the rabbi. “We found this house smack dab in the middle of student housing which was up for sale and we jumped on it.”

Now on any given day, you can find students relaxing on the couch after class snacking on fresh pieces of kugel, sitting at the dining room table with books cracked open for studying, or roasting marshmallows and barbecuing in the backyard until the wee hours of the morning.

“It’s a really warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel that you’re not that far from home,” says Noah Gross, a 21-year-old junior from Newtown, Pa., entering year three of a five-year program in mechanical engineering. “Every day of the week there is something going on, whether it’s talking about this week’s Torah portion or getting together for Saturday morning breakfast before Shabbat services. Rabbi Goldstein does a great job of relating to students no matter what level you’re at religiously. He operates on so many different wavelengths.”

For Moussia Goldstein, who recently gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, the roomier headquarters presents a plum opportunity to expand the roster of Jewish-focused programming.

“Before, we were literally bursting at the seams, which is incredible,” she says. “Now we have a beautiful dining room, a lounge area, and a great outdoor yard, and it allows us to plan so many new and different activities and events. There is something going on every single day. Before it was our home and we were making it into a Chabad House. This is a Chabad House for the students.”

Jewish students light Sabbath candles at Drexel University’s new Chabad House.
Jewish students light Sabbath candles at Drexel University’s new Chabad House.

To that end, she always makes sure that students who drop by – and they drop by often – are provided with the nourishment they need, both spiritually and gastronomically.

“During Passover this year I was there every single day of the week and Moussia always made sure that I had kosher-for-Passover food,” says Silberman, who currently serves on the Chabad student board. “She always leaves food out on the table or in the fridge. During finals week, she baked a group of us a brownie cake for good luck. Rabbi Goldstein and Moussia are always there whenever you need them.”

Recently, the Goldsteins threw one Drexel student an impromptu Bar Mitzvah.

“He had never had one,” explains Moussia Goldstein of the student, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, one of the on-campus historically Jewish fraternities. “So we decided to make him one.”

While the rabbi called the student up to the Torah to make a blessing, his wife raced around in search of celebratory candies.

“She is the foundation and backbone of this Chabad,” Goldstein gushes of his wife. “From Soup for the Soul to Thursday-night cooking classes, she really keeps everything going.”

“We’re looking to expand our scope and look for ways to really involve all the different groups of Jewish students,” says the rabbi. “This would not be possible without the support of several parents, students, alumni and friends whose gracious contributions have enabled the Chabad House to open the next chapter of Jewish life at Drexel.”

If Silberman is any indication, then Chabad of Drexel is well on its way to doing just that.

“I’m so happy I got involved with Chabad,” she exclaims. “It is truly a home away from home.”