Chabad House offers family atmosphere for students
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 09:09
Rabbi Tzvi and Chanie Backman of the Rohr Chabad House at Tufts work furiously to act as the Jewish role models that students on campus may be missing. Attending college is the first time many students spend away from the comfort of their home communities. To fill that void for Jewish students on the Hill, the Chabad House claims to offer a home away from home.
The Chabad House seeks to create a strong and vibrant Jewish community, and does so with a family style approach, according to its website. Rabbi Tzvi and Chanie Backman live in the Chabad House adjacent to campus at 21 Chetwynd Road in Somerville along with their children.
Backman said that he and his wife started the Chabad House at Tufts after a recommendation from Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of the Chabad House at Harvard. Zarchi observed many Tufts students attending the Harvard Chabad services.
“Tufts students actually started going over to Chabad at Harvard when it first opened up [there], and so the rabbi there thought Tufts might like to have its own chapter,” Backman said. “We’re related, actually, me and him, and he knew Chanie and I were interested in starting a Chabad house, so he thought of me.”
The two said that their desire to run a Chabad house comes from their passionate commitment to the Chabad mission. The house is affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch Chasidim sect of Judaism, whose core ethos is to “love thy fellow as thyself.”
“Judaism is like a big family that should meet for festive occasions. Sometimes we fight or bicker,” Tzvi Backman said. “We’re like any family; we don’t always get along. But we always put it aside, and come together to celebrate. We welcome everyone, and we ultimately want Chabad House to be a place where every Jew knows they belong.”
According to the Chabad House’s website, Jews of all backgrounds are welcome in the house. That being said, the Backmans said that they also welcome students of all religions. On Friday nights, they welcome Jews and non-Jews alike into their home for home-cooked Shabbat meals.
“We have students of all religions come eat with us,” he said. “They have great times. They feel very touched. One student — she wasn’t Jewish — sent us a card afterward, thanking us. And we feel great when something like that happens, too.”
The couple’s children attend the celebrations as well, adding to the homely atmosphere. Senior Arielle Evans, a student leader at the Chabad House, was enthusiastic about her experiences there throughout her time at Tufts.
“There’s nothing like home-cooked food and kids running around to give you the taste of home,” Evans said.
“When you come to a house, it really feels like family,” Tzvi Backman said. “The setting provides a welcome break from campus life, and it’s healthy, too, to get away from a campus and come back into a home.”
The Chabad House is not the only outlet for Jewish students at Tufts, but Backman said he sees the relationship between Chabad and Tufts Hillel as positive. A marked difference between the two is the number of students making use of the two organizations’ programming, as Hillel runs much larger programs.
Backman estimated that around 40 students come to Chabad for Shabbat on an average Friday night, for example, whereas Rabbi Jeffrey Summit at Tufts Hillel expects about 150 kids for each Shabbat dinner. While Backman saw about 50 students for the High Holiday dinners while Summit welcomed upwards of 370 at Hillel.
Summit explained that Hillel’s larger programs extend beyond Shabbat services, as well.
“Hillel looks to broadly connect people to all aspects of Jewish life — the cultural, educational, religious and social. We run about 17 or 18 different student groups, many with an emphasis on community service and social justice,” he said.
Backman said that the smaller events at Chabad House distinguish its events from those run through Hillel, which allows the two to complement each other nicely. Chabad House also offers a more personal experience outside of religious events, according to the Backmans.
“Students will come here to study, sometimes they come for counsel, sometimes just to chat. We can form very close relationships,” Rabbi Tzvi said.
The Backmans said that they readily give advice on relationships, friendships and family. The Chabad House’s website makes the claim that they are there 24 hours a day to offer an ear or helping hand. Evans said that she considered the Backmans to be like close family.
Although there are differences between the types of programming at Chabad and Hillel, Summit said that he and Backman have worked together to maintain smooth relations between the two.
“It is a real plus for students to experience as many aspects of the Jewish community as possible,” Summit said.
For example, the two organizations recently hosted a joint Sukkot Oneg, a celebration in honor of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Tufts Hillel President Jordan Dashow said the shared event between the two organizations was a great success.