Shabbos House All Week Long

by S. Olidort - ALBANY, NY

October 2, 2002

Jason Kirsch, a sophomore psychology major, loves jamming nights at Shabbos House on campus. Jason is one of seventy students who bring their musical instruments and play the night away over a kosher pizza dinner, doing improvisations and Jewish adaptations of old and new numbers.

The Shabbos House on campus at SUNY, Albany, is something of a miracle. A room designed to seat 30, which it did when the Rabbi Mendel Rubin and his wife came to the Shabbos House in 1997, has stretched to accommodate more than 100 on Friday night Shabbat dinners during the last four years. Sofas and furniture are removed to accommodate the ever-growing number of students who participate at Chabad’s activities for Jewish students on campus.

Preparing lavish meals for more than a hundred in one’s own home kitchen is daunting; doing so in a kitchen where the workspace is only a few feet long is downright difficult, a challenge Raizy Rubin has met time and again, but one that becomes more difficult as programs are added and attendance grows. Unwilling to resort to membership fees or limited seating, in 1999, Chabad purchased two adjacent lots right off campus.

It wouldn’t be long before Norman Massry and Jack Rosenblum came into the picture. Both long-time members of the Albany Jewish community and affiliated with Chabad of the Capital district, they soon noticed the need for new, expanded facilities after attending several Chabad functions at SUNY, where the house was bursting at the seams.

“I am impressed by the Rubins’ dedication and commitment to helping students on campus,” says Mr. Rosenblum, President of the Rosenblum Development Corporation. “The time and energy they devote to bringing Jewish awareness to the campus is incredible, and I want to support their efforts.” Together, Rosenblum and Massry developed a plan where they would match the number of funds raised by Chabad to facilitate the building of a new, expanded Shabbos House.

Now in full swing, The Shabbos House Building Campaign has won the interest and commitment of students and alumni who are working with the Rubins, raising funds that will allow them to expand their programs and incorporate even more functions into an already packed schedule. The new Shabbos House will include a large kitchen, a student lounge and computer and library facilities. The building will be big and spacious, but will maintain a cozy, homey atmosphere.

The original Shabbos House established in 1975 by senior Rabbi Rubin, Yisroel, director of Chabad of the capital district, continues to function on overload. Twenty students get together twice a week where a dinner of meatballs and spaghetti can serve as the launching point for a lesson by Rabbi Rubin on the mystical significance of the two foods, based on their respective shapes—linear and round. Twenty-five students join Raizy for Challah baking, and it seems that rarely an hour passes where either of the Rubins are not engaged in individual study sessions with students.

In an unusual determination to seize every moment, Rabbi Rubin conducts 5 minute one-on-one learning sessions with dozens of students at the university’s cafeteria. “It's amazing how much you can teach or learn in five concentrated minutes,” says Rabbi Rubin.

Students at Albany are especially responsive because of the genuine openness and warmth the Rubins exude. One student confessed that throughout his four years in college Rabbi Rubin was the only adult who knew his first name. Jason Kirsch recalls the feelings of uncertainty that accompanied him during his first few days of college, last year, until he met the Rubins and began to see Shabbos House as “my second home.”

Many alumni stay in touch with Chabad on campus with the help of an interactive website:

Alumnus Shaun Zeitlin says that spending a Friday night dinner at Shabbos House was an experience that taught him more than all his years studying Talmud in Yeshiva. “Seeing the love and self-sacrifice that the Rubins practice gave me a deeper understanding of what Judaism really is all about--the feeling and meaning that is the very basis of everything I had ever learned,” says Shaun.

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