Interior Design magazine has honored Chabad Serving NYU as a Best of Year 2012 Project Finalist, recognizing the innovative design of Chabad’s new facility at 353 Bowery in downtown New York.

"Chabad had so much energy and positivity,” said designer Penelope Kim, who was engaged for the project by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Dov and Sarah Korn, co-directors of Chabad Serving NYU. “They had such an appreciation for design, and it is unusual and really valuable in the design process," says Kim.

Interior Design selects honorees annually. This year, the magazine considered more than 550 project submissions in dozens of categories and honored Chabad Serving NYU in its Institutional Religious category.

Korn says that in conceptualizing the design of the new center he wanted New York University students to realize that they have the leadership within to become the “matriarchs and patriarchs of their own dynasties.” To fulfill that vision, Korn wanted to build a Chabad House that would provide a home for Jewish students of all affiliations, and create a “mind-blowing Jewish experience.”

“There are so many outlets to celebrate Jewish life," explains Korn. “Trips to Israel, mentoring, leadership training, club creating, business opportunities.”

Initially, the Korns ran Chabad Serving NYU from a small basement studio on Washington Square Park. There was no kitchen, and they had to take the food from their home to NYU.

Though run on a shoestring, the Chabad NYU programs were very successful. Students loved the events, especially Sarah Korn’s home cooked meals. Word spread in the community and soon the Korns were attracting hundreds of students to their Shabbat dinners. Overcrowding became a serious issue.

“There was no space, but there was still amazing programming,” explains NYU alum Molly Keene.

The student lounge
The student lounge

The Korns started a three-year campaign to raise the capital needed to move to a new location. After locating a 7,800 square foot space at 353 Bowery near NYU, the Korns engaged designer Penelope Kim.

The space presented some design challenges for Kim. Korn wanted a hip and attractive space that did not sacrifice Jewish identity. The design also had to be flexible enough to support diverse programming.

In an effort to create a relaxed environment for students to socialize and study, Kim incorporated banquettes and high tables, giving the space a coffee bar atmosphere. That was the easy part.

Creating a sense of Jewish identity through interior design proved more challenging. Korn wanted the design to remind students that this Chabad center was built on the shoulders of millions of Jews, past and present.

Inspired by the tradition of leaving stones at graves, Kim decided to set multicolored pebbles into a wall across from structural beams. She stacked the pebbles one on top of another, creating sense of support and continuity. Kim hoped that the “pebble column” would create a portal that encouraged students to remember their countless forebears as they explored the role of Judaism in their futures. In the end, the process of designing the new Chabad House at NYU was also a deeply meaningful experience for Kim personally.

Of course, it is the students and alumni who appreciate the new space the most. Now that Chabad Serving NYU has a kitchen and eating area, the Korns are serving an average of 400 people at their Friday night dinners. In fact, the Korns have served more than 13,000 pieces of chicken, 24,000 brownies and more than one ton of chullent to the NYU community.

The programming is also thriving in the new facility. Chabad has 125 NYU students studying the Torah weekly, and over 600 participants in their new alumni program. Chabad Serving NYU has even co-sponsored more than 400 free trips to Israel as part of the Birthright Israel program.

NYU junior Rafi Haramati became involved in the Chabad Serving NYU as a freshman, and now serves as the president of its student board. He is thrilled by the new space in the Bowery.

“NYU is not a campus school,” Rafi explains. “This is a safe place to go, hang out and have a good time. The Shabbos dinner is the best part. It gives people a connection to Judaism in downtown New York.”

The Chabad Serving NYU experience has been so rewarding for Haramati that when he traveled and studied overseas, he still found time to attend Chabad’s Torah classes on Skype.

Alumni also find the draw of Chabad Serving NYU irresistible.

Jasmine Einalhori moved to New York City from Los Angeles to attend NYU. She did not have strong family ties to the New York region. Chabad Serving NYU gave her a “home cooked meal away from home” and provided a comfortable location for her to explore Judaism while in college.

Einalhori began cooking with Sarah Korn and eventually won the Next Great Kosher Chef contest. She even worked as the project manager for the construction and design project. After graduation, she became the Chabad Serving NYU Operations and Culinary Manager.

"It’s nice to have a place to go where they don't judge you, Einalhori says. “I felt comfortable walking in Friday night in jeans. It was nice to be myself."

NYU alum Molly Keene agrees. “The new space vastly improves programming, and allows for Chabad to become a place for students to hang out.”

Award winning design features this new student library
Award winning design features this new student library

Inspired by the tradition of leaving stones at graves, Kim decided to set multicolored pebbles into a wall across from structural beams.
Inspired by the tradition of leaving stones at graves, Kim decided to set multicolored pebbles into a wall across from structural beams.