Chabad combines gefilte fish and prayer in night of celebration
Jewish club moves out of the house and onto the Brandeis campus.
It's an energetic scene at the Chabad House on Turner Street Friday night. The room is a sea of suits, kippahs and long skirts, and the atmosphere is young and lively. Students mill around, greeting one another and chattering as they seek out chairs at a folding table.When everyone is seated, the activities begin. A visiting rabbi leads a prayer, and people join in or read along from a prayer book. We sip from shallow paper cups filled with Manischewitz and then file down to the basement to wash our hands.
The rabbi's wife has been busy working in the kitchen in the meantime, and the fragrance of her craft wafts through the room. We sit down and eat the aromatic meal of salad, gefilte fish, chicken and broccoli quiche. Prayer, song and conversation continue throughout the night, and the unified voices create a familial atmosphere.
Chabad is a worldwide Jewish movement known for welcoming all Jews regardless of their upbringing or level of religious observance. Members of Chabad say that the house is a center for the Brandeis Jewish community, and provides the crux of the club's outreach activities.
Though the Chabad House is often thought of as congruent to the Chabad at Brandeis Club, the two are becoming separate entities. This semester, for the first time in the history of the club, Chabad at Brandeis is establishing a separate identity from the Turner Street abode.
According to co-President Emily Silbergeld '07, the Chabad at Brandeis Club has become an "on-campus branch" of Chabad.
"We're changing the perception of Chabad organization as being framed around Shabbat dinner," said co-President Daniel Lorch '07.
Chabad at Brandeis overhauled its organization this semester by trying to create a new identity. For the first time, they organized their own activities and tried to make the organization more student-based.
It was a hectic semester, with community-building activities like a barbecue, paintballing and challah baking, plus a visit to a shofar factory.
Silberstein also organized a "Girls' Night Out" event Wednesday nights to create discussion among the female community. One night, for example, they discussed the meaning of Rosh Hashanah for women while making cards for the New Year.
The club also builds sukkahs, the small huts that dot campus each year on the holiday Sukkot. This activity allows people of all backgrounds to fulfill Jewish tradition by stopping to eat inside the sukkah at lunch or between classes and complete the commandment of shaking the lulav, an object made from myrtle, palm and willow, and the etrog, a citrus fruit.
Lorch said that Chabad at Brandeis is a place for Jews of all levels of religious observance to find a common base, which is a reason for its great success on campus.
"People [at Brandeis] can be very divided in terms of religion," Lorch said. "For the people lost in the middle, Chabad is a place where you're not pressured to polarize."
Lorch said that the club tried hard this year to "create a face" to the executive board, and consciously chose three co-presidents with different levels of religious observance, from orthodox to varying degrees of conservative observance.
"That's the beauty of it all," Lorch said. "So many people from such a wide spectrum of past experiences all get involved.