Shortly after our wedding, my husband Shua and I set up an office area in our small newlywed apartment. Quickly surveying the programs on Shua’s old computer from college, I came across an album of pictures, and one from four years earlier appeared on the screen. It was a picture of a large group of students at a Chabad on Campus National Student Shabbaton in New York, and despite the fact that I had yet to meet my future husband, I was in it.
We realized then that, years before we actually met, my husband and I had attended the same convention with 50 other college students. Shua and I were on similar paths at that time, but the moment had not yet arrived for our roads to cross.
And yet, even though our lives have come full circle – not only did we meet and eventually marry, but we also serve the Pittsburgh college community as Chabad shluchim – that I would become a shlucha and work for a Chabad House was certainly not a given when we got married. After all, I was working in the field of education with thoughts of building on my degree in psychology, and Shua had been a software engineer in a large company in Washington, D.C.
But life can be funny, or at least very interesting, can’t it?
As a college student, I attended the Chabad House on my campus, the University of Pittsburgh, and loved the experience. The highlight of my week was Friday night at Chabad: the delicious five-course Shabbat dinner, the adorable Weinstein children, the new people I met each week, the interesting discussions that were held. Never missing a Friday night, I also attended classes and other activities, and got involved as a student leader.
Around the same time, Shua was checking out the Chabad House at his campus, the University of Delaware. He soon became a regular there, and later at Chabad at the University of Maryland. The hours that he spent discussing, celebrating, and learning at Chabad House turned into years. We are forever grateful to the shluchim – the Weinsteins, the Sneidermans, and the Backmans – for the love, time and education that they gave us and continue to offer.
It was those early experiences that made us want to be involved in a deeper way, to give something back. When Shua concluded his post-baccalaureate studies at the Rabbinical College of America, Rabbi Shmuel and Sara Weinstein invited us back to Pennsylvania to join their staff at the Chabad House in Pittsburgh, and we excitedly accepted. I would work full-time as a Program Director, and Shua would work part-time developing educational and graduate student programming while also working as a software engineer in a local company. Our sons Mendel, now four years old, and Leibel, all of six months, would be our “program assistants.”
Now, four years later, we are concluding our “senior” year as Chabad House staff and feel privileged and invigorated by our involvement with Jewish students. Campus life is always exciting, after all. Our programs and ideas are diverse and continually evolving, according to the current trends and the interests of the students.
In the past few years, for instance, we have taken students on a ski trip; this semester, we’re going paint-balling. We bake challah at Chabad House, hamentashen at Jewish fraternity and sorority houses, and make sushi on campus. We’re even producing YouTube videos to advertise.
At the same time, our work is constant and sometimes exhausting between late-night discussions with students and preparing for classes or events. We work on a college student schedule, but also love having friends whom we can call after 11 p.m.
Through it all, what we do is inspiring, and we are grateful that we and our children are involved in something so meaningful. We see students taking steps at a crucial moment in their lives: trying out a class, attending a Birthright Israel trip or coming regularly for a Shabbat experience. I will never forget one Jewish student who casually mentioned as he was leaving a Chabad House Shabbat meal, “I hear people saying ‘Shabbat Shalom’ and was wondering what those words mean.” It wasn’t just the Hebrew combination of words; he did not know what Shabbat was.
These moments, among so many others, constantly remind us why we are here: to reach out to Jewish students of all backgrounds, through fun and meaningful Jewish experiences.
Today, Shua and I bring students from our Chabad House to New York for the International Student Shabbaton, which has grown from 50 to more 500 students in recent years, just as we were once brought. We tell them our story on the way, and mention, with a smile, that they never know whom they might meet there.