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Lehigh University Jewish Center Bursting at Seams
Meredith Levick
April 20th 2012

Rabbi Zalman and Dit Greenberg and their upstart Jewish student center have come a long way since opening its doors to the Lehigh University campus four years ago. Now converting a historic mansion and former fraternity house into a 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility, even they can’t believe how far they’ve come since an inaugural Sabbath dinner that drew two students.

 “We are bursting at the seams,” the rabbi recently told a reporter from the local student newspaper.

By their second Sabbath dinner, the Greenbergs hosted 12 students. The following week saw 20 guests. Their first Rosh Hashanah service and celebration included 35 students. Six months after arriving on campus, they needed a new space, and today, they boast a variety of programs, from one-on-one study sessions and weekly Torah classes to holiday services and free Birthright Israel tours of the Holy Land coordinated by Mayanot.

Each major event last year, noted Greenberg, had to be held outside in a large tent stretching across two neighbors’ backyards. So when the circa-1866 mansion just a five minute walk from campus became available, they jumped at the chance to purchase it with the help of the Rohr Family Foundation. By the time the renovation is complete later this year, the Rohr Jewish Student Center will include a social hall that can accommodate 250 people, student lounge, synagogue, recreation room, library, classrooms, guest suite and a residence for the Greenbergs and their three children.

Greenberg estimated the total cost of the project as $1.8 million and said he hopes everything will be fully operational in time for the High Holidays this fall. He was quick to characterize the effort as a collaborative one, thanking Rabbi Yaacov and Devora Halperin for playing “an integral role in supporting the development of this new property.”

Elie Vogel is a senior at Lehigh and the student programming chairman at the Chabad House. When the Greenbergs first came to campus, he was a freshman; since his historically Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, was liaising with the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, he developed his own connection with the local Chabad House. He’s found the experience to be nurturing.

The campus community tends to have a myopic view of studying,” explained Vogel. “You go to class, do your homework, and then you go party. Chabad, on the other hand, provides a nice meaningful experience at the end of the week.”

In the past month, he and his fellow student board members organized a Shabbat 150 event, essentially a massive Sabbath dinner celebrated in some form or another by Chabad Houses across the United States. Held in the new building, the dinner attracted over 120 students.

 “I’m very optimistic about the growth of Chabad on this campus,” said Vogel.

Jacklyn Temares is a sophomore and the center’s Israel Affairs chairwoman.

“Our objective is to get other students involved, to show them it’s a lot of fun to get in touch with your Judaism,” said Temares, who first met Greenberg on a Birthright Israel trip. “We all want other Jewish kids on campus to know there is a home there for them.”

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