Lehigh’s Chabad House hosted two Seder dinners Friday and Saturday to give students a place to celebrate Passover with their peers.
Rabbi Zalman Greenberg and his wife Dit Greenberg, who are the co-directors of Chabad, had expected between 75 and 100 to attend this year’s Seder.
“In the years that Passover falls on during the week, we have had anywhere between 200 and 300 students attend,” Dit Greenberg said. “This year, because it is falling on a weekend, a lot of students are able to go home and celebrate with their families.”
In providing a “home away from home” for Jewish students at Lehigh, Chabad and the Greenbergs try to encourage students to be a part of their family.
In the eight years the Greenbergs have been at Lehigh, this year has seen the biggest participation in Chabad events, Zalman Greenberg said. Weekly Shabbat dinners average 75 students and the Shabbat 300 event last month drew nearly 340 students.
“I think a lot of our success is because of the environment that we create,” Zalman Greenberg said. “We have our Seders, in fact, all of our events, in our home. So we invite students into our homes and we try as much as possible to create a home environment, so the students feel like they are at a home Seder.”
They strive to provide an informal, warm and friendly environment where all students can come and go as they please, Zalman Greenberg said. He said students are more comfortable in a home-like setting. Having meals cooked by his wife, as well as other students, at their events helps create an engaging atmosphere.
Ross Karetsky, ’18, an executive board member for Chabad at Lehigh, said there is something unique and meaningful about sharing religious and cultural experiences that are typically shaped by family upbringing. Now, he said, these traditions are shared with classmates.
“My holidays at Chabad are nothing like my holidays at home,” Karetsky said. “Besides the fact that there often 50 to 150 (people) in attendance at Chabad, (Zalman Greenberg’s) family brings a level of energy unparalleled by any Seder or holiday dinner I’ve attended at home. From loud singing and dancing to lively philosophical and ethical discussions, Chabad at Lehigh is always an uplifting and educational experience.”
Seders at Chabad are expected to be interactive, insightful and show lessons that are learned through Passover and what it means in 2016, Dit Greenberg said.
“We go around the table and everyone gets a chance to read and to share memories from their own home from their parents and grandparents and great grandparents in some cases,” Zalman Greenberg said. “It’s a lot of English as well as Hebrew. Again very interactive, very engaging and I would say — most importantly — very relevant.”
The events are not restricted to Jewish students.
“Students of all religious backgrounds can come and take part in Jewish customs,” Karetsky said. “The energy that the Greenbergs bring to their dinner table is contagious. After a long week, it is the perfect place to relax, unwind and enjoy time spent with friends.”
He said Jewish students of all degrees of observance are welcome at Chabad because it is committed to maintaining an atmosphere that is comfortable for all to worship and enjoy cultural activities.
Dit Greenberg said the Greenbergs reach out to students and create a community where people who come regularly, or periodically, can invite their friends.
“What I always strive to do is to create an environment where students have a fun and exciting experience with great food,” Zalman Greenberg said, “as well as leaving with a great profound message and something they can take away to where they can actually implement in their life — the importance of the message of the Seder and how it relates to contemporary life in the 21st century.”