When Nathaniel Moldoff went to college, he naturally sought out the school’s Chabad House. In fact, an active Chabad-Lubavitch center was one of his criteria for applying to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

These days, the sophomore holds a student board position at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center directed by Rabbi Elazar and Shira Green. It’s a leadership role that lets him watch the construction of the center’s new building up close.

Moldoff reports that the new center’s main room is in decent shape, but there’s still a ways to go to convert the building’s shell into a multipurpose space that can host everything from a Harry Potter-themed Sabbath dinner to Torah classes, holiday celebrations, and inspiring lectures.

Right now, the Greens do it all from their house, packing in scores of students every week for meals and classes.

“It’s very nice and homey now, but it’ll be nice to have more space to grow in the future,” says Moldoff, adding that he looks forward to seeing it become a hangout for students to connect, study and enjoy.

The new building, which was purchased with the help of the Rohr Family Foundation, Franklin and Marshall alumni and students’ parents, needs extensive structural repairs, so the Greens have turned to the nearby Lancaster Yeshiva Center for help.

“They’re looking for a project to do and we have a project to be done, so it’s a win-win situation,” says the rabbi. “They’re learning the trade of commercial construction on our Chabad House.”

Green knows the yeshiva students and budding contractors well. When he moved to this corner of Central Pennsylvania 10 years ago, he was instrumental in setting up the program, which involved a half-day of commercial construction training and a half day of learning Torah. He went on to focus on the Chabad House activities fulltime, but relishes getting to work with the program again.

“There’s extra energy and enthusiasm being put into the building,” he says. “I think it’s a unique situation where yeshiva students are literally building a Jewish institution. It also provides tremendous value for philanthropic dollars: Every dollar donated helps build the center as well as train yeshiva students in a trade.”

Arthur Weiner, whose daughters Ruth and Gabriella have been part of the Chabad House’s evolution as students, watched and helped the Greens build the Chabad student community from scratch, establishing a beacon for Jewish life in the area. Even though both of the daughters have graduated – Ruth is now in law school and Gabriella finished in May 2011 – Weiner continues to support the Chabad House because of the important work it does.

A student from the Lancaster Yeshiva Center works on remodeling the new home of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center serving Franklin and Marhsall College.
A student from the Lancaster Yeshiva Center works on remodeling the new home of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center serving Franklin and Marhsall College.

“We want to nurture our Jewish values,” he says, calling the Greens’ work “critical” to both the memory of the Jewish past and in supplying a bright Jewish future. “We don’t want our kids to forget where they came from.”

Donald Feldman, who serves on the board of directors, says he and his family treasure the Greens. A member of a nearby synagogue who studies with Elazar Green, he considers the rabbi both a neighbor and a friend.

“They’ve had a very positive impact on the community,” says Feldman.

He calls the expansion a necessary project for students.

“It’ll provide a gathering place for the students at Franklin and Marshall, a place where they can go and socialize with other Jewish students,” he says. “The Greens are very welcoming to guests, but there’s a limit to what they can do in their home. This can be a dedicated building for the use of the students and the community.”

When asked about the opening date for the new center, Green responds with a smile.

“Thank G‑d, we have made significant progress, but we still have a ways to go,” he says. “We hope to be open for the next semester, but in this economy, it may take longer to finish the project.”