Jewish students find a second home at the Chabad House
Every Friday night, Rivka Gurary serves a $1,000 meal to her family.
She spends two to three days preparing dishes of chicken, soup, challah, gefilte fish, rice, salads and desserts - from scratch.
The meal is not only for her immediate family - her husband, Rabbi Moshe Gurary and their five children - but also the entire Jewish community at UB.
The Chabad House, located at 2450 North Forest Road behind Wilkeson Quadrangle, is a home away from home to over 100 UB students and thousands of UB alumni, according to Rabbi Gurary. Since 1971, the Chabad has hosted services, meals and other activities for free each Friday night and Jewish holiday.
When Rabbi Gurary was born, his father was the rabbi at the Chabad house on UB's South Campus. Growing up, Gurary spent every Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, helping his family host dinners for Jewish students. He said he always knew he would someday follow his father's footsteps.
Now, he's continuing his father's tradition at the Chabad on North Campus.
Gurary said he is inspired by the impact the Chabad has had on Jewish students for 35 years. He said the Chabad welcomes all Jewish students from any kind of background.
"Many people have a myth and they think that this is for religious people, run by rabbis in black hats and beards," Gurary said. "They feel intimidated and think that they won't be accepted if they are not religious. But, actually, the majority of the students that do come to the Chabad House are not religious, and students are welcomed because we look at them as Jewish. It doesn't matter what level, this is a home for every single Jew."
Gurary said the intimidation usually ends as soon as students walk through the doors.
Dana Himoff, a senior communication major, comes from a modern Orthodox Jewish family in New York City. Her grandfather was a well-known Orthodox rabbi who moved to Israel from Yemen and was very active in his Jewish community. Himoff was very close with her grandfather and feels obligated and inspired to continue spreading Judaism the way he did, she said.
She studied at a yeshiva, an orthodox Jewish school, from kindergarten up until attending UB. She was nervous to go to a big school like Buffalo because it was her first time fully engulfing herself in a non-Jewish community. She said the Chabad changed her entire experience at UB.
"Chabad plays a huge role in my life," she said. "It's definitely a home away from home for me. I go every Friday night for Shabbat dinner and on every holiday. I also like to support Chabad with any events they have and try to involve other people as well. Judaism is a huge part of my life."
Ebbie Boutehsaz, a dental school student, also spends every Friday night at the Chabad.
"Growing up in a community where family and religion are important aspects of life, I believe the Chabad house offers both, in a relatively similar manner, with individuals from all walks of life," Boutehsaz said.
Himoff and Boutehsaz see the importance of staying in touch with their Jewish heritage and believe the Chabad has helped them do so.
The Chabad serves over 100 UB students currently, but is always looking to promote its services to other Jews at UB.
The Chabad does not receive funding by UB or any other national organization. Every dollar used for meals, programming and lessons comes from fundraising. Parents, alumni and others in the Jewish community donate to the Chabad, Gurary said. Each Friday night meal costs approximately $1,000.
Rivka said the atmosphere is "amazing" each Friday night.
"It's so powerful," Rivka, who recently had a baby, said. "Sometimes I don't feel good; I turn to my husband in the morning and say, 'How am I going to pull this off today?' I just can't imagine. After not sleeping, cooking for days, nursing and having a baby, but the second the students walk in, I get such a burst of energy and I don't even know where it comes from."
Rivka doesn't mind dedicating hours each week to cooking the food for dinners and holidays. Furthermore, the Chabad provides room and board to students staying at UB on Yom Kippur or other Jewish holidays.
The Chabad has even housed students who didn't have anywhere to live for a few months.
"If a student gets stuck and doesn't find an apartment, we welcome them," Rivka said. "You know, I had a student that couldn't find an apartment for a few months and lived here. I have a student now that's going away and she didn't want to spend $500 to live here for a month so she's living by me, too."
Rivka maintains very close relationships with the students. She has five children of her own and works as an online Jewish studies teacher for children in Guatemala, Sweden, America and all over the world. Yet, she finds time for the UB students.
Rivka loves helping students during their time in Buffalo and even after they graduate. She and Gurary recently went to New York City to attend weddings of UB alumni who attended Chabad each week.
"The students are so close to me," Rivka said. "I had a student who woke up once and there was something wrong with her eye. She couldn't see, she saw stars and she couldn't open her eye. I was the first phone call she made. During their lifetime - when they give birth, for bad things too, God forbid, funerals of parents - we're there through it all."
Judy Buchman, a UB alumna, felt immediately connected to Rivka and the Chabad.
"Even before I moved into UB, Rivka messaged me and asked if I needed help moving in, or a home-cooked kosher meal, which really made me feel at ease," Buchman said. "I always saw the Rabbis at the Student Union trying to indulge the Jewish students in Morning Prayer, they had Tefillin prepared. They really care about the students and not only preach the Jewish religion, but they make it relatable and fun to learn."
The Chabad is preparing for Rosh Hashana, which falls on Sept. 4-5 this year.
Gurary said, this year, many students aren't leaving Buffalo to go home because school just started; he hopes to fill the gap for students who are missing the holiday with their family at home.
Himoff encourages every Jew to try out the Chabad; she emphasized how welcoming it is to everyone.
"It does not matter how religious you are at all, it's just a place where Jewish students can learn about Judaism, meet other people and have extremely good food," Himoff said. "It's definitely a great experience."