By Liz Williamson, The Pitt News
Shmuel and Sara Weinstein spend about $1,000 on groceries each week — though not to feed their family of 12. They feed a family of 100 on Friday nights.
“The family meal is the bread and butter of Chabad House,” said Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein, the director of Chabad House.
When the Weinsteins bought their North Oakland, PA, home 20 years ago, it became the birthplace of and home to Chabad House, a Jewish student organization at Pitt.
Shmuel and Sara Weinstein now serve as the director and co-director, respectively.
On the first Friday night, one Pitt student sat at their table. Now, the Weinsteins stretch their dining table through the first floor of their home to accommodate up to 150 students from Pitt and the surrounding universities for Shabbat dinner, a traditional Jewish Sabbath meal.
“We’re all a family — a big family,” said Ari Miller, Pitt student and president of Chabad House. “It’s a unique experience to be a part of something that big.”
Distinguishing itself from the other Jewish student groups on campus, Chabad House is an Orthodox Jewish group, said Miller, but the group doesn’t discriminate.
“We welcome everyone,” Miller said. “We don’t care about affiliation. We only care that you are Jewish.”
Many Jewish members bring friends to Chabad House events.
“Anybody can come,” said Sara Weinstein. “It is an opportunity to see what a Jewish life is like.”
Throughout the past 20 years, Sara Weinstein has noticed a growing trend among college students to appreciate family values.
“Many students come from divorced families or never had complete families, and they appreciate it when they find it down the road,” she said. “The world is crazier, and people gravitate toward family life.”
He saw an increase in interest in Chabad House after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Many people turned inward to question when the attacks occurred, he said.
“Chabad House offers a venue to grow, to investigate, to help sort out the questions,” he said.
When the attacks occurred seven years ago, Chabad House hung a sign outside of the William Pitt Union that read, “Let’s defeat terrorism with acts of kindness.”
Now, Chabad House holds an annual Sept. 11 Mitzvah Marathon event at the WPU to remember the victims. Each student takes a picture of a victim and pledges to perform a simple good deed or “mitzvah.”
Chabad House hosts numerous other events throughout the year, such as the fall Welcome Barbeque, services during holidays, speakers and classes. During one workshop, students make real shofars, a horn used for Jewish religious purposes and incorporated in services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This Friday, Chabad House will host Nonie Darwish, the founder of Arabs for Israel. A promoter of peace, Darwish is the daughter of a deceased Egyptian Army lieutenant general and the founder of an anti-Israeli terrorist group. She will tell her story in the Kurtzman Room of the William Pitt Union at noon. The event is free and open to the public.
However, to support so many events is financially challenging, said Sara Weinstein.
The group receives funding from private donations and the University. Shmuel Weinstein left his job as a research scientist at Westinghouse and now fundraises full-time for the Chabad House.
“Chabad House is where my passion is,” said Shmuel Weinstein.
However, the Student Government Board recently deferred funding for the group, now placing events like Shabbat 1,000 in jeopardy.
The goal of Shabbat 1,000 is to bring together 1,000 people for a Shabbat dinner. In 2006, 770 students from the surrounding universities came together for the event and just more than 1,000 attended in 2007.
Though the possibility of the feat remains uncertain, the Chabad House still plans to hold Shabbat 1,000 in the spring.
However, no matter the financial situation, the Chabad House will never put a price on Shabbat dinners, said Sara Weinstein.
“It is unbelievable to see how much happens before your eyes,” she said. “We celebrate life together. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we live here and raise our children here.”