UT Chabad House connects students to Judaism

For University of Texas at Austin students away from home for holiday time, or those who just want a place to hang out and enjoy a Shabbat dinner, Chabad House is the place to go.
The Johnson family has been celebrating its 10th anniversary running the UT Chabad House. The combination of this 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 Zev Johnson, the rabbi of the UT Chabad House.
The new energy has resulted in some historically high turnout at Chabad last semester. For the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Chabad hosted 220 students, the most ever. 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.
“I enjoyed celebrating the New Year with the Johnson family, along with my new sisters and friends at Rosh Hashanah services and meals,” 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 are often involved with planning Shabbat dinners, giving them opportunities to be leaders in the community. For example, Alpha Epsilon Phi members organize Pink Shabbat, which brings awareness to breast cancer.
“(Pink Shabbat) helps me feel like I’m not alone and that everyone is supportive of one another,” said Morgan Chapman, a junior AEPhi member from Dallas.
Students can also connect to their Judaism by learning more about it through the Sinai Scholars Society. Every week, students attend a class, where they study a different topic.
One senior student from Dallas, Adam Steinbrecher, said he joined to learn more about Jewish law.
“My impression thus far is the forum has served as a platform to deal with real world issues and understand different viewpoints,” Steinbrecher said. “Rabbi Zev’s leadership is instrumental to the learning process because he challenges the class to engage and debate the issues with each other, rather than immediately supplying the textbook answer.”
For students who want tikkun olam opportunities, Chabad offers volunteer programs. 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.
Last semester, Chabad 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.”

— Submitted by
Saelah Maya Zighelboim

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