In 2008, Friday night Shabbat dinners consisted of only one dining room table that comfortably sat about 20 Lehigh students. Eight years later, the Chabad community has grown immensely, and the new house can host more than 350 students, close to half of the Jewish population at Lehigh.
Lehigh’s Chabad celebrated the grand opening of the Joachim Schaufeld Center for Jewish Life on Wyandotte Street last Sunday. The house holds the only synagogue on Bethlehem’s South Side — the Miller Shul.
Students came to celebrate the occasion, and alumni also traveled to be at the event. Attendees were welcomed with sushi and bagels at the reception.
Following the reception came speeches from Rabbi Zalman Greenberg, his co-coordinator and wife Dit Greenberg, donors and every past Chabad president, as well as current president Darcy Horn, ’17. Zalman Greenberg thanked the lead donors, Fred and Karen Schaufeld, for their generosity, as well as the hundreds of other donors who contributed to the new home.
Members of the Chabad community said the house will play an important role in ensuring the community’s future. As the community grew, members were experiencing less elbow room during dinners at the previous Chabad house on Evans Street, and demand for a larger house became apparent.
“At the old house on Evans Street, we were using the neighbor’s backyard and renting tents (for events),” Zalman Greenberg said. “This beautiful new place is 10,500 square feet, which enables us to house the students and have Friday nights with 100 or even 200 students for the high holidays.”
At the old Chabad house, the Greenberg family cooked food for Lehigh students using only four stove burners. Now that the new Chabad house has a state-of-the-art kitchen, it will be easier to provide bigger and better meals for the community.
In the old house, every room had to be multipurpose: one minute a synagogue and the next, a student lounge. Now, there are more rooms and Chabad is able to designate separate rooms for such functions.
“There is something about going into an area that is designated for a specific purpose,” Dit Greenberg said. “People treat it differently and concentrate on what that area is meant for.”
Zalman Greenberg said he is excited to be able to fit all the students who come and partake in various events. Dit Greenberg said they want students to feel comfortable and to make Chabad their home.
“I started going to Chabad when I was a freshman, so I can tell you that in the past years, Shabbat dinners have gone from 10 to 20 people to now 60 to 100 every single time,” public relations chair Colby Berman, ’17, said.
Horn said the community has grown from students seeing others involved. She said they have a board for community outreach but that most of their growth has come from word of mouth.
Berman said a change in perception has also contributed to the community’s growth.
“I think that people are more willing (to come) now that they have heard good things about Chabad because there is a better perception of it,” Berman said. “People now know that they won’t be sitting there for hours reading prayers, it is more of a family dinner. So I think that has helped the community grow a lot.”
The new house has allowed the community a bigger space, enabling greater participation and further growth for future communities.
“Chabad is a place where you can escape, it’s where you can run away from stress and spend Friday with your family,” Joseph Gabbay, ’16, said. “Chabad is very inclusive, everyone has a good time always.”