Summer Break: Students Leave, But Ties Remain Strong


by E.J. Tansky - ONTARIO, CA

May 4, 2006

As American college students swig cans of energy drinks to caffeinate themselves for all-nighter study sessions, their Ontarian counterparts have already turned in their blue books and dragged out their beaten up futons out of the dorm. Summer break has arrived at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, but Chabad representatives Rabbi Mordechai and Nechamie Silberberg are doing anything but taking it easy.

Rabbi Silberberg will be officiating at seven weddings during summer break for UWO alumni he had come to know during their university years. Snatching a statistical point from the intermarriage bogeyman is a triumph for all Jews, and a personal ‘nachas’--moment of satisfaction --for Chabad representatives. It signifies that all those years of Shabbat dinners, all the hours spent over pizza and Torah classes, the Purim blowouts made an impact, and the fallout is no less than a brighter future for the Jewish people.

Arriving at the point when one young Jew decides in favor of a Jewish future is a point in a journey that continues long after diplomas are framed. “In the years just after university, students make really important decisions,” said Rabbi Silberberg. “Ultimately, you want to hold their hand through the next stage in life, as they move from being students to the real world.”

Chabad on Campus representatives have devised their own ways of not saying ‘goodbye’ to graduates as summer rolls around, keeping cherished connections strong.

For the past three years, Binghamton University graduates have received invitations to the Chabad’s elegant Wine and Cheese party. “We no longer relate to them as students but as future leaders of the Jewish community,” said Chabad representative Rivkah Slonim. She and her husband Rabbi Aaron Slonim have been ushering students out the ‘in utero’ state of college for over two decades. Saying goodbye has gotten harder and harder. “I have moved from being their peer in age to being old enough to be their parents, and now I have a parent’s sensibility,” said Slonim. Instead of concentrating on the particulars of an event, such as the good-bye Shabbat dinner that will include more than 300 students, Slonim has a heightened “sensitivity to how difficult the transition is, how vulnerable a time it is.”

At Tulane University, goodbye meals are kept smaller. Chabad representatives Rabbi Yochanon and Sarah Rivkin invite an intimate group of 30 students for a senior appreciation lunch on the Friday before graduation. Beforehand the Rivkins carefully choose just the right book, with a personalized inscription, to give to each senior. A book on Jewish philosophy, Chasidic thought, practical guides to Shabbat and kosher.

One volume will be going to Alexis Kaplan, who is graduating Tulane with a dual degree in Judaic Studies and Asian Studies. The Rivkins “have been a huge part of my life for the past four years. They’ve done so much always there helping and giving and doing everything for everyone,” said Kaplan. With plans to spend next year studying in Israel, Kaplan’s realistic about the challenges of staying in touch long distance. Calling from Israel would be prohibitively expensive; she’ll email. But there will be no keeping Kaplan from visiting the Rivkins once the new Rohr Student Center is completed.

Hurricane Katrina left a foot and half of water in the Rivkins’ house. She also turned their plans for renovating an existing home to accommodate a student center into a complete demolish-and-rebuild job. New flood codes have delayed the building, again, as all structures must be at least three feet above ground level. Construction should be completed in the middle of the fall semester. “I have to come back and see it,” said Kaplan. “It is really something I was looking forward to.”

Like Kaplan, Evan Goldenthal, a Biology major at UWO, will be spending time in Israel after graduation. He discovered Chabad in his last year on campus and calls it “the best thing I’ve done in university in terms of things for me and my personal growth.” Goldenthal has shared in the Friday night dinners at Chabad with 200 students each week. “Experiencing Friday night dinners at Chabad is unlike anything. Even the prayer services, I love them,” said Goldenthal. “Chabad has definitely impacted me for rest of life.”

At University of California, San Diego, Rabbi Yehuda and Esther Chana Hadjadj are using avenues new and old to establish and maintain contact with Jewish students. Among the newest Chabad on Campus representatives, the Hadjadjs set up a kosher hot dog stand on library walk in the heart of campus. Eat a kosher hotdog, leave a Facebook.com contact info. Junior Gabe Rosenthal, a pre-dental school student, has received invitations to Chabad at UCSD events and classes through his Facebook address. “Facebook plays a huge role in Rabbi Yehuda’s success in reaching everyone,” said Rosenthal. Rabbi Hadjadj is making UCSD “A place to find your own way to be a good Jew.”

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