When the almost 2,000 Jewish Jayhawks return to campus this fall, they can expect a much anticipated event in the groundbreaking for an expanded Jewish student center. Following the purchase this summer of a duplex just off the grounds of the University of Kansas, the Chabad Jewish Student Center serving the Lawrence school is planning a renovation that will more than quadruple its size.

According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who with his wife Nechama Dina co-directs the center that was established in 2006, the local Jewish community just “keeps growing and growing.” When they first arrived, they figured that their rented duplex would be able to hold programming in one half of the house, while their family could reside in the other.

They were quickly proved wrong.

“The Tiechtels have totally changed Jewish life at KU,” reports Charles Goldberg, a rising senior who belongs to the traditionally Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.

Two years ago, Goldberg ran into the newly arrived Tiechtels and introduced them to the members of his fraternity. Soon after, the rabbi assisted the young men in affixing mezuzahs to their doorways. Today, Goldberg makes a point of going to the local Chabad House when he visits his parents in Chicago.

Regarding the expansion, Goldberg says that more space will translate into more students reached: “It will be fantastic to have the space for everyone to enjoy the beauty of Chabad and Judaism.”

With a standard Shabbat dinner attendance of 50 people, the Chabad student center frequently looks to other locations for larger programs, says Nechama Dina Tiechtel. So when the opportunity arose to purchase their home, the couple jumped at it.

“We’re in a tremendous location,” she explains. “We’re a home away from home, and in the center of the action.”

Space for Everyone

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel presides over a barbeque at the Chabad Jewish Student Center soon after its establishment three years ago.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel presides over a barbeque at the Chabad Jewish Student Center soon after its establishment three years ago.

With the help of a matching grant from the Rohr Family Foundation and a lot of fundraising, the Tiechtels were able to buy the facility outright. A $300,000 construction project will provide the renamed Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center with a multipurpose room for 120 guests, as well as a computer lounge for students wishing to study, schmooze and hang out. In addition, two extra rooms will provide overnight accommodations to visiting scholars, parents and other guests, such as the Jewish students who attend Washburn University in nearby Topeka and Kansas State University in Manhattan, some 85 miles away.

The project comes on the heels of an unprecedented period of growth around the world as campus-based Chabad Houses expand their operations, and as emissaries establish new centers in locations previously not served by full-time operations. According to the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, some 13 new Chabad Houses are slated for the coming year.

For his part, Goldberg says that he’s anxious to see all the holy books currently sitting in boxes in the Tiechtels’ garage shelved in the new building’s library.

Newly retired professor Neil J. Salkind is likewise excited about the expansion.

A 35-year veteran of the university, Salkind calls himself a Chabad supporter who has been attending services and holiday programming at the center since the Tiechtels’ arrival.

“They are welcoming of everyone, and I’m delighted to support them,” he says. “Their presence gives students a perspective” on Jewish life they can’t find anywhere else.

“This will increase our ability to make everyone comfortable here,” says Zalman Tiechtel. “We provide a spiritual home for every single Jew, and the expansion will help supply the space they need.”