Chabad of Queens College celebrated the opening of its new home on Sunday with a sushi-and-salad buffet and charity auction.

Queens College president James Muyskens addressed the gathering of 50 students, parents and supporters with words of praise for Chabad-Lubavitch's three-year involvement on the campus. Pointing to Chabad House directors Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer and his wife Tzipah, he said, "My message here tonight is 'Thank you.'"

The Wertheimer's official campus club had previously occupied a cramped room in the school. Now, in addition to being their permanent residence, the new facility will house a study hall and library, administrative office, large dining hall and an outdoor area for barbecues and a Sukkah.


George Rohr, the international businessman whose generous support made the new center possible, was overseas, but wrote a letter which was read at the event. He wished the institution "much mazel and bracha as you go forward together."

"I know that this Chabad House is a place where Torah is not only studied, but lived," wrote Rohr.

Wertheimer was clearly excited about having a permanent place for students to enjoy and use. Daily student life typically ends with the last class at the commuter school, so the establishment of a permanent hub for Jewish students looking for a campus community was clearly a milestone.

"We're here," he said emphatically. "There's nothing like bricks and mortar." Waving his hand around the living room, the rabbi added, "but this Chabad House is not a building. It's a home."

Students were equally enthused.

"This Chabad House is cozy," said pre-law major Eden Kasaev, 19. "You walk in here and you go, 'Let's sing!' Or if you want, you can just lie down on the couch."

A Campus Home

Tzipah Wertheimer, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch at Queens College, greets students at the opening of its new center. Photo: Yocheved Sidof
Tzipah Wertheimer, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch at Queens College, greets students at the opening of its new center. Photo: Yocheved Sidof
Going with the theme, Sunday's inauguration event felt very much like a family reunion. Everyone was smiling, socializing, and made themselves at home. The event had a touch of class, with an array of beautifully arranged foods, but students nevertheless went to the fridge themselves when they needed ice.

According to the student club president Laura Turetsky, 21, such comfort is a reflection of how dear the Chabad House is to students. She said she got involved in its programs two years ago when college wasn't turning out as she expected.

"I came to class, I went home, and I just felt so distant from anything I had ever been promised college would be," said Turetsky. In the first months at Queens College, "I didn't know what to do."

Then a friend introduced her to Chabad; Laura said she "fell in love."

Hillel Samlan, 20, only met the Wertheimers a few weeks ago, but with the level of comfort he feels at their home, you would never guess. Because the school is home to 18,000 students, 4,000 of whom are Jewish, you could easily go unnoticed. But "right away when I walked into the Chabad house, they immediately wanted to know about me, and who I was," said Samlan.

Charlotte Krug found out about the Wertheimers when she came upon a pamphlet for "Parsha and Pizza," their weekly discussion of the week's Torah portion. With her busy schedule, the 21-year-old honors student and theater and psychology double major – she's also studying for a double minor in business and Hebrew – was also looking for a social life to balance out her academics.

"The Chabad House here," said Krug, "is a constant social place where you can create very strong bonds. I wouldn't know half the people I know if it weren't for Chabad."

Dee Rendel, 21, though, pointed out that Chabad of Queens College was a place for more than just meeting people.

"To me, Chabad is more than just about hanging out," said the psychology major. It's "the only place to go for a spiritual feeling."

With weekly Tanya classes and Friday night meals, it's no surprise that the students felt spiritually fulfilled. Samlan, who has only attended a couple of the Tanya classes so far, said he was excited to continue. A psychology major, he was deeply interested in the spiritual aspect of Judaism: "I wouldn't know where else to find it," he said.

Economics major Jonathon Javaharian, 21, termed the Chabad House "the most altruistic campus club" for programs such as its collecting blankets for babies in need and its providing relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

According to Rendel, the club is always there to champion student causes.

"They're always working for the students, and you feel it," she said, pointing to how the Wertheimers supported students in campaigning to keep the campus library open longer. "They fight for our rights."

When asked about the most common feedback she receives from students, Tzipah Wertheimer responded simply, "We really just get a lot of thank-yous."

So it came as no surprise when Yitzchak Lockerman, 19, promptly returned the $100 gift card to Dougie's Bar-B-Que & Grill – a popular Brooklyn kosher restaurant – that he won in the charity auction.

"The Chabad House can use this more than I can," Lockerman told Wertheimer in handing the card back to her. "Just continue what you’re doing. This is my way of giving back."