Monday, March 30, 2009

Chabad to offer new Orthodox services

The Jewish organization Chabad will begin holding Orthodox services at the University this Saturday, following their dedication of a new Torah last Sunday afternoon.
Though the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) offers a variety of services, the Chabad services will target a different audience, Chabad Rabbi Eitan Webb said in response to concerns of Orthodox students within the CJL that the new services will promote competition between the groups. Webb explained that the Chabad services will aim to provide students who are currently not very involved in Jewish life with an opportunity to learn more about how Orthodox services work.

“Over the years, we’ve been asked [by students] for a group … where they can learn how the services work,” Webb said, adding that Chabad’s new Torah provided the extra motivation and opportunity to start it.

The Torah scroll was given to Chabad by the Sandra Brand Torah Project, which refurbishes old Torahs and donates them to colleges for young people to learn and reconnect with their Jewish heritage.

“The gift was one to which you can’t say no, and when you receive a Torah, you must try your best to provide services, and since we don’t have to start another one, we thought a learner’s minyan [Jewish prayer service] would be the best idea,” Chabad on Campus student president Ethan Ludmir ’11 said.

Though the Yavneh House of Princeton, the CJL Orthodox student group, was initially worried that the new service would drive students away from the CJL services, these concerns have since been dispelled, Yavneh president Zahava Stadler ’11 said.

“I’ve spoken to Rabbi Webb and the student board president of Chabad and showed initial concern, but it is my understanding that they have an explicitly educational purpose,” Stadler said.

Hilana Lewkowitz-Shpuntoff ’10, co-chair of the Chabad Torah committee, said she does not foresee the new service detracting from ones already offered by the CJL.

“The purpose of the service is not designed to have any competition with the CJL,” she said. “The target audience is people who want to learn more, regardless of where they stand.”

Chabad on Campus contacted CJL representatives as soon as it received word of the Torah donation and was mindful of the CJL services when planning the new one, Stadler said.

“I didn’t have to make any agreements or stipulations because their plans were already addressing any concern I would have,” she explained.

The considerations included offering monthly services on Saturdays, which would not interfere with Yavneh’s Friday night services, and targeting students not currently involved in Jewish life.

Chabad’s efforts to not encroach on CJL service attendance have alleviated initial concerns of several CJL representatives about Chabad’s decision to offer the services, Webb said.

“I think they’ve been supportive. They understand that the goal is to create further Jewish learning at the University,” Webb said. “Anything to help the student body is a positive force, and everyone is willing to work and try to achieve that.”

Members of both Chabad and the CJL said they hope that once students learn more about the workings of the Orthodox services through Chabad services, they will feel more comfortable attending the more conventional services offered at the CJL.

“It is certainly possible that once people gain more understanding of how the Orthodox services work, they will want to attend [CJL services],” Stadler said.

Lewkowitz-Shpuntoff echoed those sentiments, saying there was “no conflict” between the Chabad services and those offered by the CJL. “If anything, [attendance at the CJL] will increase because people will feel more confident attending the services,” she said.

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