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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

New Chabad house opens

Published: September 14, 2012
Section: Featured, News

With nearly 2,000 Jewish students on campus, and an active Hillel and lively Chabad house, Brandeis is already a hotbed of Jewish life. Chabad, however, seeks to expand and enrich its presence even further by opening a second house.
This new program marks the beginning of the “Bat Mitzvah Year” for Chabad at Brandeis. They have many programs and surprises planned to celebrate their success in the twelve years since Rabbi Peretz and Chanie Chein became the leaders of Chabad at Brandeis. Their home at 57 Turner Street is open to anyone as “a home for Jews of all denominations to learn, thrive and most importantly, to connect” and to establish “a deep connection to one another and to Judaism.”
The second house on 132 South Street will be run by a new couple, Rabbi Ilan Fuchs and Sarah Slone Fuchs ’05. They plan to begin hosting their own events after the Rosh Hashanah break. They have two children, Dina, 4, and Asher, 1.
Ilan received his rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and holds a PhD in Jewish law. He has taught Jewish and Israel studies courses at Tulane University and the University of Calgary, according to Chabad’s email to the community.
Sarah is a Brandeis alumna who served as the first president of the Chabad Student Club during her time on campus.
The new house is not a separate entity, but an extension of Chabad at Brandeis. It will be located on South Street, near the Ninety Nine restaurant. This location is geographically more convenient for those who live on upper campus, or off-campus in the Dartmouth Street area.
It does not seek to compete with or replace the Chabad house on Turner Street, Rabbi Peretz Chein says.  Rather, it is a “satellite campus” that will provide students with a choice between the main house or a smaller, closer-knit place to celebrate holidays and engage in Jewish learning.
As many as 150 students attend popular Friday night Shabbat dinners or major holiday celebrations on Turner Street, still a small number compared to Hillel dinners that host hundreds of students. This creates a vibrant community, but may be overwhelming to new students who arrive knowing only a handful of people.
“Chabad, as an organization, is about finding personal direction in an intimate environment. That is somewhat lost in our much larger Turner Street environment,” Chein said. “This new house is a chance to reclaim that intimacy.”
Reclaiming an intimate environment is Chabad’s mission at Brandeis this year. Their iLearn program, a semester-long focused exploration of topics from Jewish texts to “Judaism in a Semester,” will offer a “boutique” option. Boutique classes will be limited to only 10-15 students, rather than unlimited participants.
Specifically, Shabbat dinners will be limited to 20-30 people, to foster relationships between students and their Jewish mentors.
“We look forward to offering a more intimate Shabbat experience where we can really get to know the students around our table, and where they can get to know us. Developing close relationships with students is such a rewarding thing, and at our smaller meals we’ll be able to focus on the people in our home rather than “the program” that we’re orchestrating,” Fuchs said.
Student reactions have been positive, as many people are excited about new opportunities.
“This is a fantastic idea. I personally enjoy dinners with a smaller group of people because it makes me feel like I am at home, sitting around a table with family members,” student board member Ralph Azrak ’15 said.  “That is not to say that the present Chabad doesn’t give me that feeling, but a smaller setting is a bit more home-like. I also think that people who are shy or intimidated to come to the present one may feel more comfortable in a smaller setting.”
Ariel Barnehama ’13, another board member, says “Chabad has been an integral part of my years here at Brandeis, offering me a home away from home. So my hope is that all Brandeis students get to experience the energy and excitement that exists within Chabad, whether it is on Turner Street or South Street!”
Fuchs approaches Chabad from the dual perspectives of a leader and a former student, and her warm undergraduate experience at Brandeis influences what qualities she wants to see this year.
“Reflecting on my time as a student, I remember my friends being passionate and engaged. I remember students who really cared about creating a vibrant Jewish community on campus. I also remember how nice it was to have a home-cooked meal once a week. I’m excited to give back to this community now; to open my home to students who want to talk about life, about Judaism. And of course, to ladle out bowls of hot soup on cold, Shabbat nights,” she said.
“I think that our presence at Brandeis can help students understand that there are so many legitimate paths to finding meaning in Jewish life,” Fuchs added.