UT Chabad House Connects Students to Judaism
By Selah Maya Zighelboim
For University of Texas at Austin students away from home for the first time, or those who just want a place to hang out and enjoy a Shabbat dinner, Chabad House is the place to go.
This year is the Johnson family’s 10th anniversary running the UT Chabad House. This, along with the relaunch of several student boards, an expanded staff and an influx of new students interested in Chabad’s program, has brought an exciting energy to Chabad.
“Despite how large the organization is, people really connect with it as their home,” said UT Chabad House’s Rabbi Zev Johnson.
New energy has resulted in some historically high turnout at Chabad this year. For the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Chabad hosted a record 220 students. Chabad also made sure another 360 heard the shofar blasts in various dorms, Greek houses and in the streets of Austin. In total, Chabad created about 755 holiday experiences.
UT freshman Nikki Nissan said, “It was truly impactful when those around me shared their perspectives on what Rosh Hashanah is all about and their wishes for the new year.”
Chabad also offers students a place to come for Shabbat. Student organizations such as Alpha Epsilon Phi, are often involved with planning Shabbat dinners such as Pink Shabbat, an event that raises awareness for breast cancer.
“[Pink Shabbat] helps me feel like I’m not alone and that everyone is supportive of one another,” organizer Morgan Chapman said.
Students can also connect to their Judaism through the Sinai Scholars Society. Every week, students in the group attend a class and study a different topic.
“The forum has served as a platform to deal with real world issues and understand different viewpoints,” said UT senior Adam Steinbrecher.
Chabad offers volunteer programs for students who want tikkun olam opportunities. This includes the TLC program, where students can help deliver matzah ball soup to sick students, as well as Loaves of Love, where students bake challah for senior citizens in the Austin community.
At the beginning of this semester, Chabad also gave students a chance to help with hurricane relief in Houston. On Sept. 3, Chabad took nearly 60 students and recent alumni to Houston, where they cleared out destroyed homes and organized supplies at shelters.
“I went because one of my friends (involved in ZBT and Chabad) told me about it, and it sounded like a good way to give back to the community,” freshman Alex Herschmann said. “What was most meaningful was seeing the sense of community even in times of tragedy.” ■