Dit Greenberg fosters family experience to many through Chabad

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Lehigh Chabad Rabbi Zalman Greenberg and his wife Dit stand with their children. The Greenbergs open their home to all Lehigh students each Shabbat, as well as for other holidays and education programs. (Courtesy of Dit Greenberg)

Dit Greenberg stands at the head of her dining room table at the Lehigh Chabad house.

She clinks her glass to get everyone’s attention, then wishes the crowd a “Shabbat Shalom” and welcomes them to her home.

The room is filled with nearly 100 mouths, ready to eat. Dit excuses herself to begin serving the food, followed by a handful of students eager to help. High-pitched giggles and screeches can be heard throughout the room as her children frolic around, hoping to gain the attention of the “big kids” they admire.

Dit walks around the room, catching up with students and making sure her children and guests have enough to eat. Her maternal energy is welcoming to both new and returning guests.

That is Dit’s goal.

Lehigh Chabad is both a home and a place of learning open to all students and faculty. Although it is a Jewish organization, Chabad opens its doors to all members of the Lehigh community. Dit and her husband, Rabbi Zalman Greenberg, host weekly Shabbat services and dinners in addition to High Holidays services, social events and education programs.

Since the day she and her husband came to Lehigh in 2008 and created the campus’s Chabad, Dit has made it her goal to make her home a welcoming place for all.

In Mequon, Wisconsin, where she grew up, Dit and her parents were active members of their Chabad house. Chabad encouraged Dit to become more observant of Judaism.

While he and Dit were still dating, Zalman came up with the idea to start their own Chabad house at a university.

Dit was enthusiastic about the idea and after they got married, they began the search for a Chabad house location. After visiting many schools, Dit fell in love with Lehigh for her new endeavor. She felt a strong connection to the student body and faculty and thought it would be the perfect place for a Chabad program.

In July 2008, Dit and Zalman moved to Bethlehem. They have been at Lehigh for nine years and have expanded the Chabad program during that time. In 2016, due to the wide success of the program, the Greenberg family moved to a larger house to accommodate the number of students involved.

“One of the beautiful things about Chabad on campus specifically is that the family usually lives in the center, so it creates a very warm, homey environment,” Dit said.

As anyone who attends Chabad knows, family creates the experience. The Greenbergs have five children all aged 10 and younger, the fifth just born on Oct. 17. Their children are a large part of Chabad, as they attend all program activities and are members of the Chabad board.

“There have been many instances where my kids actually taught students Jewish lessons and I could never portray it the same way a little kid could,” Dit said.

Her children love having students around the house. They look up to the students, calling many of them “aunt” or “uncle” and even maintaining relationships with students past graduation.

Chabad’s motto is that it’s “a home away from home,” and Dit plays the important role of being a mother, not only for her children, but also for many of the students involved.

Zalman admires that his wife can play a maternal role for so many students while also directing the Chabad program.

“It’s the Jewish community house here on campus, and there’s nothing more that a person wants when they come home than to be greeted by a mom, by a loving mother,” Zalman said.

He said many students feel comfortable confiding in his wife and going to her for advice, and those are shoes he could never fill.

In particular, Dit has been a maternal influence for Chabad president, Josh Heisler, ’18.

“She’s just been a fantastic individual to talk to when I have issues with my family, and I don’t really feel comfortable talking with other members in my own family,” Heisler said. “She just really cares about everyone and she’s very easy to talk to, which really makes (Chabad) great.”

And although being a motherly figure is an important part of Dit’s role, she plays other vital roles in the Chabad house.

Heisler said she is “the brains behind a lot of logistics and a huge amount of day-to-day things that happen at Chabad.”

Dit and her Shabbat meals always attract a large crowd of students. Heisler said last year on the Friday of the first Shabbat of the semester, the Chabad student executive board arrived early to help set up dinner. Zalman warned them they weren’t sure how many people to expect, but it probably wouldn’t be that many.

Dit immediately turned to her husband and told him there would easily be more than 100 people in attendance, but he laughed this off.

Shabbat services were halfway through, and only 20 students had shown up. Then, all of the sudden, about 50 more arrived.

“It was just insanity — people are running everywhere, running up and down stairs. Everything is going nuts,” Heisler said. “And in the middle of this, the funniest thing was I saw Dit and Rabbi (Zalman), and I just saw Dit mouth the words ‘I told you so.’ That was it.”

It is this strong belief in both the foundation and the power of Chabad that has attracted a steady stream of students to Dit’s home. That, and her love for what she does, create the perfect recipe for success.

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