Samantha Adelsberg graduated from New York University in 2010 and wanted to stay in the area. The Chabad House Serving NYU, directed by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Dov Yona and Sarah Korn, was a big factor in her decision to remain downtown, because she knew she’d have a Jewish community and fabulous place to enjoy the Sabbath.

“I think more and more people are considering living downtown solely because of the NYU Chabad,” she said. “I don’t know if I would be living downtown if it wasn’t for them being here.”

For the past year and a half, Adelsberg’s been part of efforts to build out post-graduate alumni events and programming, from sushi and wine events to a barbeque, and a Chanukah party to Friday night dinners that have exploded to outgrow the Chabad House.

“They’ve grown exponentially since our first year,” reported Adeslberg, “which has been really exciting.”

Last week, the Chabad House held an inaugural event at its new building in the Bowery, an 8,000-square-foot space with exposed steel beams, warm wood-toned doors, leather couches and room for everyone.

“I think the first thing is that this gives us a tremendous amount of room for physical growth,” shared Adelsberg. “This really allows us to dream big and do big at the same time. It really gives us that much more energy and determination to make this how amazing it could be.”

When the Korns arrived to the area in the late 1990s, they started with three students in an 800-square-foot room for a Sabbath meal in a small basement space. As the organization has grown, it has become an epicenter for daily Torah classes, undergraduate programs, social action projects, educational initiatives, one-on-one counseling sessions and culinary activities, all informed by Torah principles and Chasidic teachings.

Multi-flight Friday night dinners alone can draw more than 350 students and post graduates.

“We try to be really diverse,” said the rabbi.

Work on the new building project began some two years ago, when students started raising money and the organization purchased the building. To date, the building campaign has raised $5 million out of the projected $8 million. Parents, students, alumni, and grandparents have all chipped in to help make the building a reality, with construction getting underway over the summer. Divided into a main hall, industrial kitchen, a rabbi’s study, meeting space, conference room and offices, library and synagogue, the building will allow for even further innovation as programs migrate to the new space.

“We really tried to craft it so that it should be hip, that it should be modern, but also that it should have a strong Jewish message,” explained Korn, speaking to the impetus to use the creativity and flavors of the modern world to illuminate the Torah’s teachings and make Jewish life “colorful, flavorful, dynamic, and spicy.”

A large Jerusalem stone mezuzah on the exterior welcomes visitors to the sleek Bowery building, which plans to grow its community primarily through its student and post-graduate networks.

“Now we have a space that can service them as well as the new students that are coming in,” said the rabbi. “It’s also a space where we can celebrate their wedding engagements and be able to nurture them for that stage of life.”

Jessica Jaffe, an NYU junior who has been on Chabad’s student board for the past two years, became close to the Korns through their Friday night meals. A new building, she stated, means that even more people will have the chance to become a part of the community and find a home away from home.

“I think of Chabad as one big family,” she said. “And a bigger building will foster the growth of this family and this growing community. I think it’s just going to do even greater, bigger and better things.”

She added that it won’t lose its cozy family feel. While they may all fit in the new space, as opposed to spilling out the doors, students are working to keep it unique and provide room for people to stand while they eat and move around if they so choose.

“We’ll still have Sarah’s home-cooked food,” gushed Jaffe. “We’re trying to keep that same feel, but move it to a more comfortable and nice space.”

Rabbi Dov Yona and Sarah Korn
Rabbi Dov Yona and Sarah Korn

A kickoff event saw speeches from supporters, featured powerful stories of how the Chabad House has impacted people’s lives, and gave visitors a chance to mingle and look around.

“I couldn’t imagine a greater response to the Jewish oppressions of the past than this beautiful space for Jewish youth,” Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, and chairman of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, told those gathered.

Philanthropist George Rohr, whose family’s financial support has enabled much of the recent expansion of campus-based Chabad Houses around the globe, agreed. In his address, he noted that some people thought developing a Chabad House of such size was a crazy idea.

“It was crazy,” remarked Rohr, who helped spearhead the project, “but a good crazy. It’s impressive to see big dreams coming to reality.”

“It was just so emotional and so inspiring to see what the Korns have created, and I think that everyone in the room felt so lucky to be a part of that,” observed Jaffe.

Harry Reidler, an area attorney who attended NYU for law school and has two children who graduated from the university, represented Chabad as it sought to acquire the condominium space. He recalled watching the building’s transformation and said he admires the Korns’ work in the process and how they pulled it all together with enthusiasm, perseverance and hard work.

They “took from nothing and made something very, very beautiful,” he said. “It would have been nice to have it when I went to law school.”

Reidler sees a bright future ahead for the Chabad House, which he expects to be an example for other campus operations to follow.

For their part, the Korns, who met at a Grateful Dead concert in Las Vegas “many moons ago” before embarking on a Jewish journey that led to rabbinical school, seminary and marriage, are humbled by the support. They’ve been Bowery residents for the past eight years, and have witnessed the neighborhood’s evolution.

“I saw these buildings rebuilt,” said Dov Yona Korn, “and it’s pretty cool to be able to participate in the Jewish revival here.”