Chabad on Campus International was presented with the Richard J.H. Gottheil Award, alongside Hillel International, from the Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity on Saturday night at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. The award is presented to individuals or groups “that have advanced human understanding among all people.” Previous award winners have included the Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders, Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Chabad was selected because of its work in strengthening Jewish student identity at more than 500 campuses around the world and providing a non-judgmental space for Jewish students. According to the award citation, “Chabad has been chosen for this award for the remarkable work that has been done in providing Jewish students on college and university campuses around the world a place to call home. A place where they feel safe.

“Chabad provides many opportunities for students to connect and strengthen their Jewish identity through the many social, educational and spiritual programs that are available,” the citation continues. “Students need to feel like they belong and are not judged for their beliefs and views. Chabad is a great example of providing programming that reflects tolerant, non-judgmental and open discussions.”

In presenting the award during ZBT’s 2018 International Convention, Norman Waas, ZBT’s international president said: “Chabad on Campus hosts Shabbat dinner for brothers weekly, as well as inviting brothers to celebrate Jewish holidays together. The rabbi and his wife are always there for brothers with a home-cooked meal or some Jewish learning that can add meaning to their life.”

Havdalah ceremony at ZBT’s 2018 International Convention. (Photo: GreekYearbook)
Havdalah ceremony at ZBT’s 2018 International Convention. (Photo: GreekYearbook)

264 Centers Serve More Than 500 Campuses

Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus International, accepted the award on behalf of its 264 campus centers that serve more than 500 university and college campuses worldwide.

“Chabad’s approach to living is about intellectual awareness,” said Gordon. “To make a decision based on an understanding, on clarity, and to be able to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and inspire others to make a decision based on thinking, rather than emotionally reacting.”

“A student once wrote to the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory,” said Gordon. “He was worried if he should join a newly founded academic program. ‘I don’t want to be a guinea pig,’ the student wrote. The Rebbe responded by returning the letter with the word ‘don’t’ crossed out and ‘guinea pig’ replaced with ‘pioneer,’ so the line now reads, ‘I want to be a pioneer.’ I believe very strongly that all of us in this room are pioneers. Each of us has an opportunity to lead and to provide the leadership that this world so desperately needs.”

Rabbi Mendy Fellig, director of Chabad at the University of Miami, has been a central figure behind the growing bond between Chabad and ZBT. Over the past 18 years, he has increased his programming with ZBT to include Purim parties, Menorah lightings, Shabbat services, study sessions and more. More than a decade ago, Fellig was made an honorary brother by ZBT’s Miami chapter.

ZBT was founded in 1898 as the first Jewish campus fraternity and retains a strong link to its Jewish roots. Famous ZBT brothers include composer Leonard Bernstein, director Harold Ramis, Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and basketball player Tal Brody.

(Photo: Greek Yearbook)
(Photo: Greek Yearbook)

Also joining the Convention were Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel of Chabad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, another couple who have been instrumental in fostering the partnership between the two organizations. The Tiechtels and Fellig directed the Shabbat program at the convention, which included meals, services, a “Stump the Rabbi” session and a Havdalah ceremony.

“Throughout this year, many of our chapters have partnered with their Chabad to create meaningful and exciting programs together,” said Waas. “Brothers from a variety of chapters and colonies participate in Chabad’s Sinai Scholars program as a way to enhance their connection to their Jewish identity. Zeta Beta Tau is so fortunate to have a partner in Chabad on Campus throughout North America.”