When Julia Sebban attended Yale in the late 1980s, she couldn’t take part in Chabad events and services on campus because there was no center then. However, when she heard about an event in Los Angeles to support a new Chabad on Campus building at her alma mater to serve its students, she decided to get involved.

Nearly three years ago, she took part in a Chanukah party to jump-start the project’s capital campaign. She also offered feedback about different design elements as the building evolved and kept up with its progress. Earlier this month, she had the privilege of attending the dedication ceremony for the new Chabad House at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

A sizable crowd sat on folding chairs on Oct. 6 in front of the building at 36 Lynwood Place—a crowd that included Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy; Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch; and philanthropist George Rohr, chairman of the Chabad on Campus International advisory board.

Yale University President Peter Salovey presided over the event, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, gala procession and grand luncheon. The speakers noted the importance of creating a home for students and being there for them emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and culturally.

The major donors and Yale alumni also talked about how the project has impacted them.

Brad Berger (Class of 1977) of Beverly Hills, Calif., dedicated the building in honor of his father, Martin S. Berger, and Norman L. Bender (Class of 1968) of Woodbridge, Conn., dedicated it to his late mother, Alice Lewin Bender. As such, the official name is the Alice Bender Chabad House and Berger Family Building.

“My hope is that everyone left with a sense of inspiration—that this is a beautiful home that accomplishes so much for the students on campus,” says Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, who co-directs the Chabad on Campus center with his wife, Sara. “So much time, money and effort have gone into creating this home, and people were able to notice that no detail was left untouched.”

Yale University President Peter Salovey presided over the event. (Photo: Studio99Productions.com)
Yale University President Peter Salovey presided over the event. (Photo: Studio99Productions.com)

Chabad on Campus serves about 2,500 Jewish students at the university.

‘They've Thought of Everything’

Sebban sees the new space as having a key role to play in impacting the future of Jewish leadership. Chabad gives students opportunities to get involved and to explore Judaism during those first crucial years away from home and at college.

“College is the time to give people access,” she says.

Now, those attending events at the Chabad at Yale will be able to do so in a space conducive to their learning and growth. The 11,500-square-foot new building has guest suites and libraries, a synagogue, study spaces, dining room, kitchen, lounge, parlor and space in the back for a sukkah. It even has a pool table (everyone needs to unwind sometimes). On multiple levels—four floors, to be exact—the interior is carefully designed in rich wood, stone and glass.

“They’ve really thought of everything,” says Sebban.

Max Goldman, 26, flew from his current home in Los Angeles to his old one in New Haven to attend the dedication of the new Chabad House—an idea that was in the works when he was a student. It marks the first time he has been back at Yale since he graduated in 2010.

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky addressed the gathering. (Photo: Studio99Productions.com)
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky addressed the gathering. (Photo: Studio99Productions.com)

A former fraternity house just off campus, the space will serve the next generation of students like Goldman, who found Chabad on Campus a warm and comfortable place to celebrate Jewish traditions and culture.

Goldman recalls regularly showing up at the former Chabad site—a two-story house that filled with students for Friday-night Shabbat dinners. He became involved early on in college when some of his Jewish teammates from the track and cross-country team started spending time there. By sophomore year, Goldman was a board member, and then went on to serve as president of the Chabad on Campus center during his junior year and part of his senior year.

“I think this has really been a long time coming,” he says, adding that he hopes the new space will foster the same sense of camaraderie and community as the older one.

Having just finished law school and taken the bar, he says he was glad for the chance to celebrate with the Rosensteins. “Everybody in the organization really feels passionate about it and feels like it makes a tangible, positive impact on life—on the campus itself and on Jewish life at the campus,” says Goldman.

Rosenstein was delighted to welcome the dignitaries, alumni and donors from around the world. He started Chabad on Campus at Yale in September 2002, he recalls, in a one-bedroom apartment. First came Shabbat dinners, then social events and classes; soon, the word just spread. They were able to purchase a small house for their activities, about 1,100 square feet, which quickly became too small.

The new space and amenities fit the bill perfectly now. “It’s a beautiful property!” he exclaims.

Rosenstein hopes that the new Chabad House will allow people to relax, meet others and socialize, all while learning about their heritage in a comfortable setting—“a home away from home” of sorts.

(Wedding) Bells and Whistles

Molly Weiner was first introduced to Chabad through a Jewish graduate student and professional organization on campus. The 28-year-old recalls the intimate space they had before in a beautiful old house with exposed beams. Still, she’s excited about the new edifice—so much so that she plans to be married in it this February.

“I’m grateful to the rabbi in creating such a warm and inviting Jewish home for me and for other students,” she says.

Her family lives on the West Coast, and her fiancé is coming in from Israel. Chabad serves as a point in the middle and a location she would have picked regardless because of its meaning to her, not because of any bells and whistles associated with the new building, she explains. The timing is a happy coincidence.

“The new Chabad House is beautiful, but if it had been in the old house, I would have gotten married there, too. It’s about what Chabad on Campus signifies to me here,” she insists, “as well as the welcoming and helpful and educational rabbi and community leader Shua has been for us.”

The Alice Bender Chabad House and Berger Family Building, the new home of Chabad on Campus at Yale.
The Alice Bender Chabad House and Berger Family Building, the new home of Chabad on Campus at Yale.