Chabad houses help students feel at home
A lot of college students find themselves far away from their homes, families and religions, and many of our peers long for the homey feel of celebrating ancient traditions with loved ones. Luckily for Jewish students, there are two Chabad houses here at UB that provide a comforting atmosphere where those who are interested can explore their religious identity.
The Chabad house is a center that serves the needs of the Jewish population. Such houses are located all over the country and can be found in over 150 colleges and universities across the world.
Conveniently located on both North and South campus, the Chabad houses, run by rabbis Moshe Gurary and Avrohom Gurary, provide just what college students are looking for after a long week of classes: peace, a homey feel and a hot meal.
"The Chabad house's motto is that this is a home away from home where Jewish students who are away from home can still feel that homey environment," Moshe said. "It gives them an opportunity to celebrate their Jewish identity and culture through a very informal experience."
The Gurary brothers do not expect every Jewish student to celebrate his or her faith as formally as they do, but instead want to provide a safe haven where Jews of all secular backgrounds can feel at home.
And students such as Aleksandra Zak, a junior biological sciences major, love the welcoming environment provided each time they walk into the Chabad house.
"The Chabad house is a very warm environment, very accepting and it feels a bit like home away from home," Zak said. "It's just nice to go somewhere out of the stressful school environment and be able to enjoy the presence of friends … [The rabbis] always have a way of making each person feel welcome. They're extremely hospitable and are always trying to please everyone, whether it be cooking meals every Friday for 50 people or helping out in other things, such as dedicating time to every person at Chabad house."
The Friday meals that Zak is referring to are the Shabbat dinners that are held weekly at each Chabad house. A typical Shabbat evening consists of a brief religious service, followed by a full-course meal where friends can relax and reflect on their week.
Zak isn't the only one who appreciates the services provided by the Chabad house. Rachel Koenig, a freshman speech and hearing sciences major, discovered the Chabad house in September and loves attending Shabbat every week.
"The environment at the Chabad House is probably the most warm, inviting, and comfortable of anywhere else I've been on campus. Everybody warned me that the Chabad house was only for the most observant Jews, but everyone [at the Chabad house] could not be less judgmental; instead of differences being scrutinized, similarities are embraced," Koenig said. "The rabbi and his wife are so sweet and hospitable, and their children are adorable. There is also always good food and no one is ever turned away from the Chabad house."
Although most people think being Jewish is a requirement of visiting the Chabad house, this is actually not the case.
"It is not an exclusive thing and it is not geared towards a certain affiliation of Jewish people," Moshe said. "Some people believe this is made for religious people, but this is not the case at all. Most students who attend are from various secular backgrounds and many have no affiliation to the religion whatsoever."
Moshe has been involved with the Chabad house since 1999, but the original house opened up in 1971.
"We started off on South Campus on Main Street right across from the campus, and when North Campus was built, we added another location on North Forest Road, right next to the Ellicott foot bridge," Moshe said.
There is no cost to visit the Chabad house, however, the rabbis appreciate donations from alumni and students' parents. Many people don't realize that providing the student population with a Jewish haven is the Gurary brothers' full time occupation. They are always on call to solve crises, they advise students, answer questions, offer a variety of educational courses and help celebrate holidays as well.
One of the more celebrated holidays, Passover, begins tonight. To celebrate, the Chabad house on North Campus, located at 2450 North Forest Rd., will be hosting two Seders, one tonight and a second tomorrow night. They are scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. and are expected to last a little over two hours. There will be a brief service, followed by a full-course meal with all of the traditional food associated with Passover.
The Chabad house has a Web site, chabad.buffalo.edu, and there is also a listserv and Facebook group that prospective visitors can sign up for to receive notifications.
Although the Chabad house does not charge money to visitors, for the Seders, the rabbis suggest a $14 donation.
"[Passover] is one of the most celebrated holidays across the world by Jews. This year, Passover is in the middle of the week, so most students cannot afford to go home or have classes during that they can't miss, so we're hosting two public Seders," Moshe said. "We're trying to step into the shoes of these students' families and provide a home away from home."