Over past several years, Chabad-Lubavitch at the University of Washington's housing woes had become practically legendary. One Seattle location had the windows nailed shut, making it an instant sauna when more than a few people showed up for programs. One had a faulty foundation, greeting a pack of jovial students from a ski trip with a miniature flood.

But through it all, students and the Chabad House's co-directors, Rabbi Elie and Chaya Estrin, made due with the lack of space through a system of almost military-like logistical planning.

That's why returning students and staff are positively ecstatic over the newly-purchased Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center, which opened this week.

"The past three years have been quite an adventure," says senior Avi Zellman, a native of Spokane, Wash. "The challenge we all shared was a lack of room. It was a weekly experience trying to create space for programs, dinners, services and speakers.

"We became so adept at dealing with an overbearing number of people that we actually had different floor plans that catered to the type of event, number of people and, of course, the creativity and flexibility of the people there," continues the student, who besides his work with Chabad is an officer of the Huskies for Israel student club on campus. "Each building provided its own set of challenges."

After trying to hold normal meetings in three different small houses – the last a combination of two apartments – the Estrins have found in the new center, which they purchased for nearly $900,000 with help from a Rohr Family Foundation grant, the space that can handle the burgeoning program.

"It's a 3,800 square-foot building on a 5,000 square-foot piece of land, with a nice, open floor plan," begins Elie Estrin. "It's what we needed to host a lot of students."

After things settle from the move and the start of classes, they're thinking of "building a huge deck to have programs under the stars," he adds. "We'll probably do other things later, like update the kitchen."

A Permanent Place

Rabbi Elie Estrin helps a student at the University of Washington put on tefillin.
Rabbi Elie Estrin helps a student at the University of Washington put on tefillin.
The new digs couldn't be any more different than the last location, whose 160-square-foot dining room could just barely fit 25 people at a time, and that was with guests bumping up against the radiator. And thankfully, says Estrin, students will no longer have to go out the front door to make it around to the back entrance to go to the restroom.

"Shoulder to shoulder definitely describes the last place we were at," confirms Valerie Loughney, 24. "The main living room could barely fit the two tables pushed together for Shabbat dinner, let alone the 20-plus people that sat around them. People who came in late were relegated to the end of the table closest to the door, and if you wanted to go chat with some people on the other end or grab something out of the kitchen, you would have to scramble across the sofa pushed against the wall and dodge whoever was sitting on it."

Naturally, the Estrins have big plans for the new place.

"As far as the new space goes, we plan to expand our programming to touch the over-21 crowd with monthly socials, and further our relationship with Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity down the block," attests Chaya Estrin. "We're also focusing on the school's new dorms, which are only two blocks away."

In its first few days, students have been pronouncing the new location a hit.

Students are looking forward to holiday programs in the new Chabad House at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Students are looking forward to holiday programs in the new Chabad House at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"Yesterday was my first day at the new Chabad House and I was awestruck by the place," says Loughney. "The living room alone was the size of the entire last house, with beautiful colors and high ceilings and, most importantly, space.

Like the Estrins, she's already thinking of the possibilities: "We'll be able to have three long tables set up easily with room to actually get up and move around," she exclaims. "The kitchen is larger than the previous one and the whole place is just beautiful."

Zellman, says the new space addresses an issue more important than a solid foundation, sound roof or adequate space. Unlike the previous homes, this one is not rented; it's permanent.

"The often-asked question was 'where's Chabad?' " he relates. "With a stable location, that can finally be answered definitively."