Why Chabad Became My Home Away From Home

Amid the stresses of assignments and exams on a campus of 50,000 strangers, what’s a nice Jewish boy to do 1,780 miles from his mother’s matzah ball soup, NFTY conventions, and childhood rabbi? Where might I go to maintain a sense of home, identity, and community when I spend most of my days in classes with hundreds of classmates, am constantly inundated with new information, and removed from the comforts of old friends and family? Self-doubt and loneliness bred by social and emotional pressures are abound on a large and diverse college campus for those without a strong social group. For Jewish students like me at the University of Minnesota though there exists a place of support, a place to embrace my Judaism and just relax, a place to be a familiar face. That place is Chabad.

It is not simply “like” home, but literally one in many ways. The former sorority house that it occupies is the residence of Rabbi Yitzi, his wife Chavi, and their three young children. An open door policy creates a welcoming environment. The smell of potato kugel and baking chicken, the sight of crowded tables and chairs, the sound of lively debate and contagious laughter greet any Jew (and even non-Jew) who walks through its doors each Friday night.

The weekly, four-course Shabbat dinners that routinely draw a crowd of 50 students or more is just one way I enjoy the comfort of home at Chabad. Through attending high holy day services, Sushi in the Sukkah, ice skating during Chanukah, Passover seders, and the Purim Party, I embrace my favorite Jewish holidays and have enjoyed memorable experiences with many of those on campus I care most about.

What I cherish most about Chabad, though, is its embrace of discourse as a means of learning and informing my identity. The Sinai Scholars program brings together a small group of students for weekly discussions that pertain to Jewish law, ethics, and practices. Before, during and following Shabbat dinner I often spend my time engaged in interesting debate and honest conversations. I have spent time at Chabad discussing philosophical questions such surrounding what it means to be Jewish and current topics such as gender identity. Nothing is off limits, candor is encouraged, and discussion is free from judgment. In this way, Chabad serves for me as a place for exchanging Jewish thought and, as a result, developing and reinforcing my Jewish identity.

Over the course of three years in college, Chabad has become more than just a place on campus to go for food and conversation. It has become more than a place that hosts events and trips. Over time, Chabad has become a community to which I belong. It has become a focal point around which camaraderie is built and relationships develop. It has become a reminder that no matter how many few Jews there are on campus or in the world, I will always have a community and a place to call home.