By Joshua Runyan, Chabad.edu
Hundreds of Binghamton University students, alumni, faculty members and administrators are gearing up to dedicate one of the nation’s largest Jewish student centers.
The Sept. 14 grand opening of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, a 24,000-square-foot structure boasting a great room that can accommodate 450 people, a fitness center, synagogue and cafeteria, has also garnered the support of university president Lois DeFleur. Located just a five minute walk from campus, the center is the largest Jewish student center in the entire State University of New York system.
“This is a momentous event in the history of our university,” states Rabbi Aaron Slonim, executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Binghamton. “Binghamton has achieved prominence as a school of choice for students and parents looking for a strong and vibrant Jewish community. With the opening of this center, our community can continue to grow and flourish far into the future.”
Begun with a May 2007 groundbreaking, the latest project – which saw 18,000 square feet of new construction and the addition of a Holocaust memorial – represents the fourth capital campaign of a center that began with the arrival of Aaron and Rivkah Slonim in 1985. The last expansion occurred in 2000. It is one of 135 Chabad-Lubavitch centers serving university campuses around the world.
A prominent part of the $3.5 million project was the establishment of the Holocaust memorial. Students who are the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors will take part in the dedication ceremony.
“Chabad is about our future, about giving Jewish kids a strong sense of identity and Jewish pride,” explains Barry Newman, a local developer who had the memorial erected in memory of his late wife Cecil, a Holocaust survivor. “It is the best response to those who wished to see the Jewish people vanish.”
Tobey Lass, a junior studying human development at the university, says that the expansion has generated a buzz on campus.
“It’s unbelievable,” says Lass, who serves as vice president of the center’s student board and wants to be a special education teacher after finishing her degree. “We always knew that there were a lot of students who had the potential to come if we just had more space, but our numbers are going through the roof. People are here at all times of the week, whether they’re getting a bite of pizza to eat, hanging out in the game room, or studying in the library.
“Every inch of space is being used,” continues Lass, who first visited the Chabad House the first weekend of her freshman year. “It’s great to have classrooms, so that study groups are not interrupted by people coming in to grab a book in the library.”
“This is a building with cutting edge amenities and all kinds of exciting spaces,” agrees Slonim. “But it hasn’t lost the warmth of home. The hallmark of Chabad remains the personal relationships developed with each student.”
Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, president of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and executive director of the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania, says that Binghamton serves as an example of the growth of Jewish life on campus.
“Rabbi Aaron and Rivkah Slonim are pioneers in strengthening students’ Jewish pride,” he explains. “This expansion is an inspiration to all of us. The new facility will raise the bar for all Jewish organizations on campus.”
Local board president Michael Wright says that the new center is a welcome addition to the Binghamton community.
“What began as a vision and a hope for the future has became a wonderful reality,” he says. “Thanks to the hard work, dedication and generosity of the many people that have stepped forward to make a financial commitment, we have come a long way toward raising the funds necessary to constructing and equipping this magnificent center.”