Alumni, students and parents gathered for a reunion banquet celebrating a Jewish center’s decade of work at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York.

More than 120 people attended the banquet at the Picnic House in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, which served as a reunion-of-sorts, allowing revelers the chance to see old friends and share memories of their time at Chabad-Lubavitch of Stony Brook, where on any given Shabbat, an average of 40 students could be seen at the dinner table of Rabbi Adam and Esther Stein.

Melina Dreyfuss, a 28-year-old alumna of Stony Brook who was honored at the gathering, said that it was the Shabbat experience that had such a profound impact during her undergraduate years. While the Friday night dinners were always themed, from murder mysteries to Turkish cuisine, she said the warmth the Steins cultivated kept her coming again and again.

“Being there on Shabbat, I felt like part of their family, and part of a larger Jewish family,” said Dreyfuss, who described growing up Jewish on Long Island as concentrating on who had the bigger bar or bat mitzvah.

Spending time at the Chabad House and learning about her identity, explained Dreyfuss, allowed her to discover the “love and joy” of being Jewish. In 2003, she served as the Chabad House’s president of the board.

“I felt it in my heart and soul,” said the 2004 graduate, who now calls Manhattan home and returns to Stony Brook occasionally. The Steins “saved a soul of a girl who didn’t know she had one.”

The youngest person to hold the position of marketing manager at her Wall Street firm, Dreyfuss said that the lessons she learned with Esther Stein has helped her succeed in the professional world: “Knowing that you can be yourself, persevere, grow and learn – I keep working at it and believing in myself and pushing forward.”

Aryeh Hauptman, left, who graduated in 2007, served as a student board president of the Chabad House.
Aryeh Hauptman, left, who graduated in 2007, served as a student board president of the Chabad House.

Genuine Approach

At the banquet, 2006 alumna Elana Kamen also reminisced about her time at the Chabad House.

“The Steins really opened their house as an extended family away from home,” said Kamen, who also served as a student board president and now works as a music teacher in a public middle school in Rockland County.

Like Dreyfuss, Aryeh Hauptman also said that he applies lessons from the Chabad House to his career as an equity specialist.

When Adam Stein offers to help students put on tefillin, explained Hauptman, “he feels so comfortable, because he recognizes that it’s for their best interest. That’s very genuine.

“In the same way,” continued the alumnus, “when I pitch an idea, I focus on the best interest of the client or company. And that helps me follow through properly.”

When Hauptman came to Stony Brook seven years ago, he expected to find an established Jewish community, but he soon learned that a small cadre of students who kept kosher like him had just graduated.

“I was the only kid on campus with a yarmulke,” he said.

But Hauptman was drawn to the Chabad House, which attracted Jewish students of every background. Soon, as president of the historically Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, he was introducing other students to the Steins’ openness.

Before Sukkot, Hauptman and his fraternity brothers built the Chabad House’s sukkah, and they cleaned the Jewish center before Passover.

Turning to the banquet, Hauptman, who was also honored at the event, said that it was good seeing old friends.

“There are a number of friends I still keep in touch with and some I haven’t seen since graduation,” said Hauptman, who brought his wife and fellow alumna, Jessica Neissani. “It was great seeing everyone coming out.”

“The event was so special,” remarked Adam Stein. “People who hadn’t seen each other in years got the opportunity to reconnect.”