Colleges and universities around the country aren’t the only institutions welcoming students. Campus-based Chabad-Lubavitch centers, whether they’re in large cities or small college towns, are joyfully rolling out the red carpet to embrace Jewish college students as they begin the new school year.

At the Schottenstein Chabad House serving Ohio State University, Sunday’s freshman move-in day was celebrated with a “Move-In Munchies” party. There to welcome members of the new class was accounting junior David Kaplan, who has been a Chabad House regular since coming to Columbus.

“I love the active Jewish participation among our students,” said the Cleveland native. Activities at the center are “also a great way to meet people.”

Sarah Deitsch, program director at the Chabad House for the past 12 years, said that new freshmen and their families mingled with returning students over a spread of bagels, sushi, brownies and coffee. They also got a run-down of the coming year’s activities, which include four Midnight Breakfasts held the first Saturday night of each quarter, free High Holiday services beginning next week, a host of Torah classes, and special mid-week meals and cooking demonstrations.

The effort was a continuation of an effort to connect Jewish freshmen to their home-away-from-home long before classes began. A few weeks ago, Kaplan was one of the more than 70 attendees of a first-ever party Deitsch and her husband, Rabbi Zalman Deitsch, held in Cleveland.

“It was nice to have freshmen meet upper classmen so they could know what Chabad is about,” said Kaplan. “That helps create a sense of belonging Jewishly before they even get here.”

The dinner was so successful, that Deitsch said she will expand the event 100 miles south to Cincinnati next summer.

Feasts of Offerings

Students learn how to roll challah dough at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Students learn how to roll challah dough at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where classes began earlier this month, the Rohr Jewish Student Center has been busy welcoming students with a month-long series of events. It all began with a large barbeque before classes started “to welcome old and new friends,” said co-director Henya Matusof.

Jewish freshman at the Big Ten school were also treated to a challah-baking demonstration in their dorms, a Falafel Fest smorgasbord at the Chabad House, and an Asian-themed Shabbat dinner.

The feast of offerings was similar among all of the 115 campus-based Chabad Houses in North America, said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

“Whether it’s at a home-cooked Shabbat meal or at an in-depth look at Chasidic philosophy, students realize that Chabad on Campus is where they can be themselves and explore their heritage at their own pace,” said Gordon. “While each campus is difference, every Chabad House shares the common goal of providing a nurturing environment that serves students throughout their academic careers and well past graduation.”

This month, the national organization released its own calendar of Jewish unity events, including a National Leadership Conference and International Shabbaton in New York City this November. In addition, several spiritually-uplifting weekends in regions across the country will draw students from multiple campuses.

Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, director of the Chabad House serving the University of California at Los Angeles – where classes begin on Thursday – said that he was “excited” by the coming year’s opportunities for Jewish students.

Tomorrow, Gurevich will be hosting an evening kick-off Grill & Chill BBQ, followed by a pre-Rosh Hashanah workshop the next day. At the workshop, students will get to make their own shofar – the ram’s horn blown during the High Holidays and the month preceding them – as well as make candied apples to celebrate a sweet new year.

Sophomore Hila Peretz, who hails from Northern California, said that she’ll definitely attend.

“When you go to Chabad, you stay several hours,” said Peretz, a veteran of the Sinai Scholars course offered at the Chabad House and dozens of others nationwide. “You connect to Judaism and meet nice people.”

Above all, she added, “it reminds me of home.”