Even though college campuses across the country are embarking on their quieter summer schedules, Chabad-Lubavitch isn’t taking the season off. According to Rabbi Moshe Bleich of the Wellesley Weston Chabad House in Massachusetts, "Chabad runs 12 months a year."

There are always students or a community to serve, says Bleich, who directs Chabad on Campus programs for both Wellesley and Babson Colleges, located 45 minutes from downtown Boston.

Moreover, the interaction between Chabad and Jewish college students is not limited solely to campus venues. Last summer, for instance, Bleich led a Taglit-birthright israel trip to Israel for students from the two colleges comprising his constituency.

And this summer, more Jewish college students will participate in birthright tours in conjunction with Chabad on Campus and its preferred birthright provider, Mayanot. One in particular, according to Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of the Chabad House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will comprise several members of his campus’ Sigma Delta Tau sorority and Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.

The existence of such of Greek-centered trip is not surprising, says Rabbi Eli Backman, when considering that an increasing number of fraternity and sorority members are turning out for Chabad on Campus events, even leading some of its programs. Chabad on Campus is even a "national partner" with AEPi.

Indeed, alongside a rising rate of Chabad on Campus attendance among all college-age students in general, "we have noticed increased participation from Jewish Greeks in particular," explains Backman, who directs the Chabad House at the central campus of the University of Maryland. (He just also happens to be an honorary AEPi brother, as well as a point person for expanding national cooperation between the Greek system and Chabad and Campus.)

And that participation has had resounding benefits for the students involved. Babson College is a perfect illustration. For years, not a single fraternity or sorority called the suburban Massachusetts campus home, but in the spring of 2003 AEPi set up shop. Student Yehoshua Bedrick was among its founding members. Raised secular, Bedrick had been active in Chabad prior to fraternity’s founding, because he wanted to know more about his heritage and, he says, "Chabad expresses authentic Judaism."

His involvement in both Chabad and AEPi quickly deepened, and today he splits his time between attending yeshiva in New York and serving as a state representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the first Orthodox Jew to hold such a post there.

Andrew Friedson is also active in politics, although his constituents are his fellow students. In May of this year, the University of Maryland senior and Zeta Beta Tau fraternity member embarked on a one-year term as student body president.

With approximately 6,000 Jewish students on Maryland’s main campus, or approximately 30 percent of the overall student population, "we have one of the largest populations of Jews of any campus," says the senior. He credits Chabad’s respected place on campus to Backman’s ability to "cater to the various needs of various [Greek] chapters. He is not pushy."

For his part, Backman says he recognizes that Greek life differs from normal student life. Because many Greeks live in houses with other members of their organization, they are enmeshed in a close-knit group that tends to participate in events en masse.

From Chabad House to Frat House

Rabbi Eli Backman, an honorary AEPi brother at the University of Maryland, conducts some programs designed specifically for campus fraternities and sororities.
Rabbi Eli Backman, an honorary AEPi brother at the University of Maryland, conducts some programs designed specifically for campus fraternities and sororities.
Clearly, though, it’s not enough to simply ladle out some matzah ball soup and then expect a throng of Jewish college students to bang on the door. Backman, who has lived just off campus for the past 12 years, "works closely" with the school’s Office of Greek Affairs. He describes the relationship as one of "mutual cooperation."

In addition, Backman – like many of his colleagues at other universities – has taken to bringing programs directly to the frat house door. Supplementing the Chabad House’s regular Shabbat dinners at the Backman home, the rabbi and his wife essentially cater Shabbat meals at fraternities and sororities with large Jewish populations.

"We’ve had 80 to 100 students at those dinners before," says Backman. "The students love good food and the involvement with Shabbat."

Similarly, one Shabbat dinner that was jointly sponsored by the University of Illinois Chabad House and the school’s chapters of SDT and the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity attracted more than 100 students, according to Tiechtel. In addition, more than 80 percent of those who came for Tiechtel’s Passover seders were members of the Greek community.

Sometimes reaching out to the Greek community means providing help at times of tragedy. When a University of Maryland sorority member was murdered while visiting a friend at Arizona State University this past February, Backman spent hours counseling the victim’s sorority sisters. He also accompanied them to the funeral on Long Island and maintained contact with her parents, as well.

Whether in sadness or in celebration, the actions of Chabad on Campus representatives demonstrate a commitment to reach Jewish students wherever they may be found: When AEPi moved in at Babson, Bleich helped the brothers hang 18 mezuzahs at their hew house. And despite only having three Jewish members, when members of the Sigma Epsilon fraternity at the University of Illinois asked him to speak about Judaism, Tiechtel heartily agreed.

"We have a lot of students at non-Jewish houses," states Tiechtel. "We’ll go where we must in order to reach as many students as possible."