Chabad House serving New York University, along with Jewish Heritage Programs, celebrated the advent of the school year by hosting students for their second annual Jews Cruise. Dressed in their finest, 550 students boarded "The Temptress" for a Sept. 4 ride on the Hudson River, where they feasted on a sprawling sushi buffet and dessert bar while a lively band played in the background.

Participants described the affair as the ultimate coming-together of NYU's Jewish students.

"Tonight is about two things," said junior Naomi Zwillenberg. "Fun and Jews!"


Zwillenberg, a Philadelphia native, serves as this year's vice president of the Chabad House board. She helped plan the event, which was intended as both a welcome-back mixer for students and an introduction to incoming freshmen.

"A lot of people here tonight are unaffiliated," said Zwillenberg. "And this school kick-off lets people get connected and celebrate their Judaism."

Rabbi Dov Yona Korn, who co-directs the Chabad House with his wife Sara, explained the out-of-the-box party as reflecting that Judaism need not be stiff.

"Being Jewish isn't boring," he explained. "It's exciting, vibrant, and engaging."

During the three hour cruise – which began with Korn blowing the shofar, which is done daily in the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – students ate and enjoyed the music, and engaged in lively conversation, many with new friends.

Gavi Blaszka, 21, who just transferred from a school in Seattle, was excited to start her year meeting other Jewish students.

"Surprisingly," she offered, "I wasn't finding them on my own" before the cruise.

Josh Kahn, a freshman, had lots of questions when he heard about the event.

"I wanted to know," said Kahn, "is it going to be interesting? Are cool people going? And then I realized I just have to give the NYU community a chance."

NYU, with some 4,000 Jewish undergraduates, was listed is the most-popular private university among Jewish students by according to

Two hours into the cruise, Kahn reported, "I've had a lot of interesting conversations with people about general philosophies and stuff."

"They're bringing together a community that wouldn't otherwise have a chance of coming together," stated Alex Fishman, a sophomore studying developmental biology and genetics.

A Common Ground

The crowded boat included a unique mixture of students. But despite their differences, the students recognized a common ground that broke the labels that often classify college kids. Simply put: "I'm Jewish, you're Jewish."

For those who had never attended a Chabad event, the Jews Cruise sparked their interest for more programs.

"I'm definitely going to be checking out what else they have to offer," said Valeriya Fedorenko, a sophomore studying finance. "They really seem to want to make the students happy."

Anyone watching the Korns during the cruise would agree. Mingling with students, their personable warmth and energy attracted crowds.

"They're really dynamic Jewish leaders," said Zwillenberg, "They're able to connect with a lot of other people without being judgmental at all."

Said Sara Korn, who met her husband at a Grateful Dead Concert in Las Vegas before the two of them went respectively to seminary and yeshiva: "We want everyone to feel that we understand them and relate to them."

She emphasized that the coming year has a lot in store for students. A newly renovated Chabad House will serve as a central location for free Shabbat dinners, holiday services, classes and a variety of other programs.

"The Jewish students here should feel there is a Jewish student life, not just a student life," said Korn.

"I'm really looking forward to Sukkot," said Fishman. "The events are always so comfortable, warm, and make you feel at home."

Added Fishman: "My family is not spiritual, so the Chabad here is a great place to become enlightened."