TEANECK, N.J. – For Rabbi Eliezer Sneiderman, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at the University of Delaware and a Jewish Studies professor at the Newark-based state school, coming to the national cavalcade of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity in New Jersey wasn’t just a chance to catch up with some Jewish students. Sneiderman, a one-time rush-chairman from the ZBT house at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, was visiting the fraternity where he says he first began to embrace his identity.

“ZBT definitely has a warm spot in my soul. It’s the first thing that made me excited to be Jewish,” explains Sneiderman, who later traded college life and whopping success in the stock market to go on to yeshiva and become a rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary.

Joined by Rabbi Eli Backman, co-director of Bais Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center serving the University of Maryland, Sneiderman connected the visiting brothers with the Chabad Houses back at their own universities.

The presence of bearded rabbis at such gatherings has become somewhat commonplace of late following the rapid success of national partnerships between traditionally Jewish fraternities and sororities and the New York-based Chabad on Campus International Foundation. In the coming weeks, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, co-director of the Tannenbaum Chabad House serving Northwestern University in Chicago, will attend the national gathering of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, while Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life serving the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will attend the gathering of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.

Complementary Goals

According to Sneiderman, many of the ideals that Chabad Houses and predominantly-Jewish Greek-life houses work towards are complementary.

“Today, college students can be extremely focused on themselves,” he says. “Chabad and Greek organizations serve a similar important purpose: They show that there is value to being a part of something greater than oneself.

“Our message is to be a part of the tribe,” he adds. “Be a part of the Jewish people.”

Laurence Bolotin, the assistant executive director of ZBT, says that the fraternity – which is in the midst of an expansion to 17 new campuses – “wants to serve as a connection, between high school and a man’s career, that allows a student to further define his identity. Our goal is to maintain pride by being amongst other Jewish people, [while taking advantage] of all the best college has to offer.”

Hence the partnerships with Chabad Houses, says Adam Glass, a ZBT brother from the University of Illinois.

“Chabad worked with us on our Alley-oop for Autism, our big philanthropy event of the year,” says Glass, referring to a basketball game with autistic children that raised money for autism research.

“Rabbi Dovid sponsored a barbeque for all the families afterward,” adds Manuel Demoya, another ZBT brother.

For Backman, it’s all about character-development.

“Fraternities encourage different virtues like charity, brotherhood and compassion,” he says. “These are all virtues that Chabad shares.”

At some universities, Chabad has become a preferred partner for community service projects among Greek houses. At others, like at the University of Kansas, the Chabad House has offered assistance to start-up fraternities and sororities.

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel “was incredibly helpful in us getting started in Kansas,” says Bolotin. “He was a real pleasure to work with.”

“Chabad on Campus recognizes that fraternities and sororities can make a significant contribution to the richness of campus life,” says Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, executive director of Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania and president of Chabad on Campus. “Their partnerships with us can greatly facilitate further contributions.”

Nate Fox, the president of ZBT at the University of Colorado, says that his fraternity’s partnership with the campus-based Chabad House directed by Rabbi Yisroel and Leah Wilhelm was a natural fit.

“Chabad’s connected a lot of guys with their Judaism,” says Fox, noting that the rabbi serves as the fraternity’s faculty advisor. “And through each of us getting in touch with our Judaism, we get better in touch with each other.”