A new addition to Jewish life at Muhlenberg is fast approaching as students begin plans to establish a Chabad organization directly affiliated with the College. Students involved in Chabad are taking the lead in protecting an association that has not only provided them with a space to embrace their religious traditions, but also to foster a tight-knit community.
Muhlenberg students interested in Chabad previously relied on the services of an organization unaffiliated with the College known as Chabad Serving Muhlenberg. “Chabad focuses on being a warm home environment that generates intimate one-on-one connections with students. Learning sessions, helping students grow in their religious practice, helping students navigate their lives, providing meals for students and hosting services on major holidays, are all the charges of Chabad Serving Muhlenberg,” says Sam Nulman ‘24, one of the students working to establish a Chabad club affiliated with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life on campus.
Led by the family of Rabbi Boruch and Rivka Greenberg, Chabad Serves Muhlenberg funded its programs solely from fundraisers and donations, leading to an unpredictable budget that caused changing conditions for the organization. The main challenge Chabad students are facing is the loss of their meeting space. Nulman went on to explain how the group originally met in the home of the organization’s leaders, then most recently in a restaurant, and now “everything is up in the air again.”
Uncertainty began during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Greenbergs could no longer hold meetings in their home. As a result, the family began holding outdoor events in their backyard, but were soon shut down once again when neighbors took notice and prohibited them from hosting communal events in a residential-zoned area. Chabad Serving Muhlenberg then began holding meetings at the former Greenhouse & Enoteca Restaurant in November of 2022, when they took out a large loan in hopes of raising funds for their purposes. They revealed in an email sent out on Aug. 20, 2023 that they were unable to repay the loan due to an insufficient amount of funds raised and were required to sell the property. In the email, the family recounted their memories with Chabad Serving Muhlenberg, stating “At this time we are putting in every effort into finding new opportunities and optimal space for Chabad at Muhlenberg.”
Another organization serving the Jewish population at Muhlenberg is Hillel at the Leffell Center for Jewish Life, which offers a range of various Jewish services that focus more on pluralism and thereby are inclusive of many Jewish beliefs.“Hillel has always been a place where all Jewish students can practice their Judaism as they please. We have previously offered two types of student-led services: a reform musical Shabbat service and a traditional egalitarian service,” stated Hillel President Eitan Gitlin ‘24. He continues, “In conversations with orthodox students, we decided that we would have a traditional orthodox service running at Hillel for all students to come to. Our current plan is to hear from students and see what they are looking for to ensure that Hillel has what they are looking for and continues to be a place for all Jews.”
Nonetheless, having a space that they can call their own is very important to Chabad given that they are more of a tight-knit group that follows more stringent customs of Judaism. While Hillel International is designed to be an on-campus organization that serves the College’s entire Jewish population, Chabad focuses itself on a more niche group who desire specialized services. Chabad chapters will often situate themselves near college campuses so more observant students can have access to their services. Nulman says, “Chabad has always been known as a home where you can sit on a Friday night, have a bowl of warm soup, sing jewish songs and connect with other students on campus. We are trying our best to get back to that vision.”
“Chabad has always been known as a home where you can sit on a Friday night, have a bowl of warm soup, sing jewish songs and connect with other students on campus. We are trying our best to get back to that vision.”Sam Nulman ’24
Hillel Engagement Intern, Ariana Handelman ‘25, began with Chabad during her freshman year, and the experience immediately set the tone for the Jewish community she would find at Muhlenberg. Although Chabad did not always align with her individual beliefs, she expresses how integral of a resource Chabad was for her, “Chabad does provide a very welcoming space for a student who is new to college and creates that feeling of Shabbat. I’m very grateful for the community that they provided for me. It was nice to know that that was a stable place that I could always rely on, but not having that is hard and scary, and it’s hard being away from home for the Jewish holidays.”
“Chabad does provide a very welcoming space for a student who is new to college and creates that feeling of Shabbat.”Ariana Handelman ’25
Nulman and other students involved in Chabad are already taking action to continue their traditions and preserve their community, including working with the Student Life and Religious & Spiritual Life Offices. Having already solidified a student-led Orthodox Sabbath service Friday night in The Leffell Center for Jewish Life, they plan to add a Saturday service as well as seeking approval to become an official club from the Student Government Association. Nulman says, “I hope that as Chabad brings its warm touch back to campus, and leads wonderfully effectual events, students, families and alumni will support its future by donating what they can to help Chabad keep making an impact on students’ lives.”