(lubavitch.com) When Chabad on Campus representatives convened for their annual conference in June, they had some impressive numbers powering their conviction that Chabad’s programming resonates with Jewish students.
This past year, on an average Friday night, a combined total of 7,000 students took their seats at Chabad on Campus for Shabbat dinner. Some 3,479 students attended one or more of 408 Jewish study classes offered each week at Chabad’s Jewish Student Centers. The number of students inspired by the courses enough to commit to a full semester of intense Torah study at the Sinai Scholars program has soared since its inception in 2007, and 900 students on 55 campuses graduated from the program this June.
All told, when the $5 million of Chabad on Campus International Foundation is tallied with the projected budgets of the independent Chabad centers, the movement to keep Jewish youth Jewishly engaged as they enter adulthood costs $30 million per year.
Chabad on Campus is at the tipping point, according to conference co-chair Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel. “For many of us, it’s not about explaining to students, ‘What is Chabad?’ But, rather, ‘Where do we grow from here?'”
Chabad on Campus Board of Governors Chairman George Rohr offered one answer to that question at this year’s conference, citing plans to open 15 new branches on college campuses next year, a ten percent increase on the existing 147 on-site locations (an additional 200 regional centers serve college students in the vicinity).
Newbies to the world of leading a Chabad on Campus Jewish Student Center have a leg up on the first representatives who started their work as early as 1969. The new representatives were welcomed by a peer group of 204 representatives appointed since 2000 who know all too well what it means to be the new Jewish group on the block. The recently appointed representatives also attended special workshops addressing basic issues for beginners, such as how to meet students and how to form positive relationships with faculty and administration, as well as budgeting and fundraising.
After Graduation, Keeping the Connection
“Chabad on Campus is a thoroughfare for these students,” said conference chair Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff. In a session titled “Closing the Circle” representatives discussed the importance of keeping the inspiration and connection alive well past graduation.
They are working to help students jump the gap from Campus Chabad to regional centers. Much emphasisis being placed on referring grads to the young professional Chabad, the specialized Chabad centers springing up in urban settings that cater to young adults.
In the best case scenario, the effort will look a lot like the life of Michael Greenspan. During his freshman and junior years at University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, Greenspan shared an occasional Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel. Opened to greater Jewish participation by a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, (which 4500 students did with Mayanot Israel – Chabad on Campuses’ favored provider) he spent every Shabbat dinner at Chabad the next semester. When his junior year second semester abroad took Greenspan to Hong Kong, Rabbi Tiechtel tapped Chabad of Kowloon’s Rabbi Shloimi Tabib.
“The feeling you get when you walk into every Chabad around the world is great,” Greenspan said.
Upon his return, Greenspan became a Sinai Scholar. Last year, when he accepted his sheepskin and turned his economics degree into an analyst gig at a consulting firm on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Rabbi Tiechtel gave a heads up to Rabbi Yosef and Devorah Wilhelm, director of Chabad Young Professionals of the Upper East Side. Greenspan broke bread with the Wilhelms at their inaugural Shabbat dinner.
“I am a new person in a big city,” said Greenspan. Taking part in young professional events “helps me make friends in my area with people who have similar goals. It’s perfect because it combines so many things that I am interested in.”
Independent Conference – For Women Only
Finding time to keep track of students on the move by making the phone calls that will keep them connected while running a Jewish Student Center, teaching classes and raising a family is a lot of plates to keep spinning. For the women representatives of Chabad on Campus, a conference of their own creates a much-needed platform for sharing ideas, discussing everyday hurdles and exploring new avenues toward success.
“We catered to the unique feminine role on campus and the many hats a woman must wear to fulfill that role,” said chair of the women’s conference, Manya Lazaroff, co-director of the Chabad center at Texas A&M.
In addition to raising and allocating much of the $30 million spent by Chabad on Campus Jewish Student Centers this past year, these women create curricula for programs that draw a total of 3700 students each week to Chabad Jewish Student Centers on campuses nationwide. In addition to hosting a combined total of 13,000 students on ‘Bring a Friend’ Shabbat, these women are largely responsible for orchestrating Chabad on Campus Passover Seders and for organizing kosher for Passover meal plans for Jewish students. Breakout sessions introduced ideas for maximizing capital campaigns, innovative teaching strategies, motivating student boards, and planning large meals on tight budgets.
“During the semester, we host at least two programs every day. The conference was a time to step back, see the big picture and examine the issues we brush aside because we are so busy,” said co-chair of the women’s conference, Goldie Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad student center at UIllinois.
These women also raise large families, often in cities without Jewish schools and where their children’s primary companions are college students in the throes of finding themselves.
Conversations begun at the convention, whether about homeschooling, or what one does when a student confides about substance abuse, can now be continued post-conference through the new “Ashreinu Society,” a weekly teleconference will provide women campus shluchot with a forum for discussing the challenges of life on campus .
“We will be strengthening the feeling of sisterhood,” said Mrs. Lazaroff. Ashreinu “gives us a tool to learn from each other and help each other. Because if mom isn’t happy, no one is happy.”
Staying True to the Core
Like many conferences, the Chabad on Campus meet up was full of Power Points, welcome packages, annual reports and lots and lots of talk of growth. What makes it different, however, to scores of other conferences, whether on business, education, science, or the arts, said Rabbi Lazaroff, is the inspiration of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which “is the core of everything we do.”
“Our main strategy is to express the direction to ‘Love your fellow Jew’. We care about students. We help them when they are sick. We listen to their troubles. We celebrate their birthdays. We are a home away from home, a place where they can feel safe, and explore their Judaism without being judged.’”
Photos by Bentzi Sasson for Chabad.edu