From the start, Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Madison, Wisc., have been centered on the 40,000-strong University of Wisconsin. But in the 28 years since Rabbi Yona and Faygie Matusof arrived in the state capital along the shore of Lake Mendota, a campus-based Chabad synagogue has been out of reach.

Until now.

Following the granting of a conditional-use permit for the building occupied by the Matusofs’ son and daughter-in-law – Rabbi Mendel and Henya Matusof came to the university four years ago with the help of a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation to take the reins of campus activities while the elder Matusofs concentrated on the surrounding community – Jewish students will finally have a Chabad synagogue to call their own.

Located in the heart of an estimated Jewish student population of 2,500, the Matusofs’ home is ideally placed. Alderman Mike Verveer, whose Fourth District includes the Gilman Street property, said the new location for the synagogue is “obviously very convenient for a lot of students.” The house itself was built in 1921 and survived initial attempts to convert it into a parking ramp.

In their first year on campus, the Matusofs’ outgrew their small rental apartment with a steady stream of students who came for classes and meals. They quickly moved to another apartment, which they figured would be spacious enough to hold weekly services and larger weekend gatherings known as Shabbatons. The steadily growing attendance, however, once again forced a move onto Gilman Street.

With the conditional-use permit in hand, the Matusofs plan to renovate the house to include a library, lounge, kitchen and synagogue with seating for more than 70 people.

Jordan Soffer, a freshman at the university commented that the expansion comes at a critical time.

“Every Shabbat, there’s a struggle to fit everyone who wants to come in,” said Soffer. “Mendel always manages to do it, but with so many people interested, this building campaign will do amazing things.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, freshman Talia Kohn explained: “Each year, the attendance for Shabbat and other events grows, and I feel that participation sometimes is hindered by the same building space. It gets very cramped some weeks, which might deter some people from returning.”

With no time to spare, the Matusofs have instituted a tight construction schedule.

“This week, we received a conditional use permit that will allow us to begin construction,” he stated. “We will start to build in March, and we will be finished by September 2009, G-D willing.”

Ariellah Ahlzadah, introduced a year ago to Chabad on Campus, related her personal impressions.

“Most of the Jewish students are looking for a home away from home, and that’s what Chabad is,” she said. “I’ve never felt more welcomed and at home amongst a group of people who are at first total strangers.”