Tag Archives: Chabad

There’s a New Hillel in Town

by Gabi P. Remz

For a newly arrived freshman seeking a Jewish community on campus, the choice used to be obvious. There was just one place to go, and while it might not have been perfect, it was Jewish. When the first Shabbos at college came around, you would mosey on over to Hillel for dinner and maybe even some services.

But times have changed, and while Hillel is still an extremely popular and vital source of Jewish life on campus, alternatives are popping up all over the country—and thriving.

Most notably, Chabad has developed an extremely strong presence on many campuses, sometimes eclipsing attendance figures of Hillel and being considered the primary source of Jewish life on campus.

But lately, smaller communities and movements have created names for themselves. Perhaps the strongest of these is a group called Meor, an organization, that, according to the Northwestern University affiliate’s website, is “dedicated to extending Jewish learning opportunities to the broadest spectrum of Jewish students.” That is, Meor often works to help students strengthen their Jewish literacy through a variety of programs targeting both students with advanced and beginning Jewish backgrounds.

Meor currently operates on 26 college campuses, from large public universities like the University of Georgia to some of the most elite schools in the country, such as Yale, Harvard and MIT.

Sharona Sernik, a Northwestern University student who is now very involved in Meor, assumed her Jewish life would consist of Friday night dinners at Hillel when she first got to school. But things quickly changed when her friends led her to the Meor building.

“When I started to go to Meor’s weekly events, I realized that they had a lot more to offer than Friday night dinners,” Sernik said. “There was always a group of students who wanted to learn about Judaism and about each other, and I loved that exposure. I had never learned about Judaism formally and the intellectual approach they took was really fascinating.”

Northwestern is a prime example of a university that has three different Jewish organizations operating simultaneously, and the groups often overlap in terms of specific students who attend events.

“People like to say that on a Friday night you go to Hillel for services and to socialize, to Meor for the dinner, and to Chabad for drinks and dessert,” Sernik said. “I think that captures the way people see the [multiple Jewish organizations’] different roles.”

While many can be satisfied by some combination of Hillel, Chabad and Meor, there are still those who look for independent minyans, unaffiliated with the major national movements that are bound to a certain ideology.

Ben Chartock, a student at Cornell University, wasn’t even searching for a Jewish community when he arrived on campus. But when dragged to Friday night services by a friend, (whom Chartock coincidentally met when playing a round of Jewish geography) he heard murmurs of something called the “Round Table Minyan.” Chartock says this oddly-named group was described as “mixed-sex seating, singing Kabalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv,” and was, as the name suggests, strictly meant for services while sitting at a round table. The Minyan maintains a loose association with Hillel, but generally operates independently.

“The Table Minyan was all about davening,” Chartock said. “I didn’t feel like I was there to show my face but rather that I was there to do our davening and be part of a larger life.”

One major draw to the Minyan, Chartock explained, was the mix of students who defied the typical Hillel or Chabad crowd.

“The kids are part Modern Orthodox, part pluralistic, part Conservative, part environmental hippie, part Reform, and part serious students,” Chartock said.

The Round Table Minyan serves an example of a growing number of small communities—often dedicated only to services—that are shaped by students and are proud alternatives to typical campus offerings.

Of course, there are downsides to these smaller movements. The size factor is considerable, as Chabad and Hillel are able to draw significantly more students (though the total number varies from school to school). And while a small community might sound appealing, leaving the mainstream of Jewish life can lead to a certain degree of alienation. Additionally, Hillel and Chabad are both beneficiaries of powerful donors, a feat much harder to achieve without name recognition.

Hillel and Chabad still dominate college campuses throughout the country, and they will for a while. But while the standard options might be easiest, a little extra searching or happenstance might put new college freshmen in unexpected, but wildly important, settings that cultivate their Jewish identities for four of their most formative years.


Watch out for Wolpo

By Jeremy Gillick

The right wing group SOS Israel, led by Rabbi Sholom Dov Wolpo, leader of Chabad’s messianic wing in Israel, has published the first in a series of English-language newsletters that includes a vaguely threatening message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and accuses him of selling out his nation and country to “High Commissioner Hussein Obama.”

The newsletter comes in advance of the 15th anniversary of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s death.

The pamphlet includes an excerpt from an interview with 83-year-old Geulah Cohen, a former Knesset member who was an outspoken opponent of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe warned Mr. Moshe Katsav 17 years ago…that he, personally will be the first to fight with all his forcefulness and might against Shamir so that his government will fall. The fact remains that any Prime Minister who has tampered with our inheritance of Eretz Yisroel has received his just desserts in a humiliating and painful fashion.

Being truly concerned for your future, we turn to you, Mr. Prime Minister, and advise you: do not tread on the path of your predecessors which caused danger to the residents of Eretz Yisroel and themselves. Whoever harms Eretz Yisroel is declaring an open war on Hashem and his Torah, with all the resulting consequences Continue reading

Mumbai Attack, Jewish Angle

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

All our Thanksgiving weekends were touched with sadness as news from Mumbai interrupted what should have been cheery days watching football and spending time with family. The details of the perpetrators’ motivation and planning are still being worked out, but we know a number of attackers landed via boat at Mumbai on Wednesday and attacked specific locations around the city, from malls to cafes to train stations. The most publicized was a siege at the Taj Mahal Hotel that lasted until the weekend.

In all, at least 179 were killed and 239 injured.

We at Moment were particularly aghast when we heard that one location the attackers targeted was the Lubavitch Chabad center. The bodies of six Chabad center victims–Chabad emissaries Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, Yocheved Orpaz, Ben-Zion Kruman, Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Norma Schvartzblat-Rabinowitz–were flown to Israel today for burial.

As for an official response, Israeli Prime Minister Yehud Olmert and the Shin Bet cleared India for all responsibility, despite recent reports indicating that counterterrorism forces in Mumbai were woefully unprepared, and even praised the rescue efforts.

Olmert also spoke of the terrible associations we all have when we hear of terrorists targeting Jews. His comments were poignant and, sadly, too true:

“The images of the Jewish victims and the horrific sight of the Chabad house managers wrapped in prayer shawls are shocking and take us back to images from history that we hoped wouldn’t repeat themselves,” Olmert said. “But it seems that the hatred of Jews and Israelis is what spurs these horrible deeds.

Jewish news agencies and blogs have been all over the attack. Here’s a smattering of what they’re talking about: Continue reading

New Voices goes Inside Chabad

Chabad, the ubiquitous Jewish movement best known among American Jews for its outreach on college campuses, is in many ways a mystery. Why, unlike most ultra-Orthodox, do the Lubavitch reach out to rather than reject secular Jews? What do they get when you put on t’fillin? Are they Zionist or anti-Zionist? What do they think of mainstream Jewish movements and what do those movements think of them? Do all Lubavitchers even share the same views on these issues?

A new issue of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, addresses these questions, exploring the less known—and often troubling—aspects of Chabad. “As one JTA staffer noted,” writes Ben Harris of the JTA, “it’s pretty ‘ballsy’ of NV to take on Lubavitch, though takedown is probably a more accurate description.”

Takedown or not, New Voices has done what no other serious Jewish publication has dared do: subject Chabad to the same journalistic scrutiny every powerful, religious movement deserves. Here’s their preview:

So, who are these bearded men with their bewigged wives? In the following pages, you will find the story of a Chabad rabbi’s struggle with Hillel at Princeton , the story of a Chabad House in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank , and the story of an ex-Chabadnik who fought in Iraq before joining the anti-war movement . We have coverage of the scandal that rocked the world of Kosher meat this summer, an interview with a Reform rabbi about the place of Chabad in the religious life of secular Jews, a critique of non-Orthodox support for Chabad, and an exploration of the contemporary meaning of 770 Eastern Parkway. Plus, book reviews , music reviews , and a comic . Enjoy.

—Jeremy Gillick
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