LAWRENCE, Kan. — You’d have to count the work of Rabbi Zalman and Nechama Teichtel as a success. They came from New York to Kansas in the spring of 2006 to establish the Chabad Jewish Center serving the University of Kansas and the Capital District Communities (i.e., Topeka).
Now, as they embark upon their fourth school year, Chabad at KU is well established and growing, physically and programmatically.
As an emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Teichtel is not only responsible for educational and outreach work (which can be boiled down to the promotion of mitzvot from a fervently Orthodox yet welcoming point of view), he has to raise all the money he needs.
In terms of outreach, the 28-year-old Rabbi Teichtel takes a modern approach.
“I think facebook was invented for Chabad rabbis,” he said. “How are you going to find Jews except through other Jews?”
Rabbi Teichtel has raised enough money to buy the duplex his family initially rented at 1203 W. 19th St. — a stone’s throw from Naismith Hall and the KU campus — and remodel it. The first couple of years, the Teichtels lived in one half of the duplex and used the other half for meetings, classes, Shabbat dinners, etc.
Last spring, the Teichtels moved into another rented home, knocked out some interior walls in the former duplex and wound up with a much more commodious Chabad House.
That allows more people to come to Shabbat dinner, etc., which translates into more mitzvot and greater financial support. In theory, anyway, this is the upward spiral that many a Chabad emissary has followed.
Surge in participation
The formula works best with charismatic people at the helm, and the locals say Rabbi and Mrs. Teichtel fit the bill.
“The rabbi and his wife are available to any student who needs counseling of any sort,” said fifth-year senior Charles Goldberg of Chicago. “They helped me with the cornerstone of my Jewish studies minor. They have totally revolutionized Jewish life in Lawrence, Kansas.”
Neil Salkind, a retired KU faculty member, is also impressed. When the Teichtels arrived, he and his wife, Leni Salkind, helped to introduce them around the community, Neil Salkind said.
“They have done a lot,” he said of the Teichtels. “They provide alternative services for community members, as well as students. He’s a very creative, personable young man.”
Rabbi Teichtel is proud of the participation he’s been getting.
“Our weekly Shabbat dinners have grown from a mere six students a week to an average of 35-50 each and every Friday night, along with a tremendous surge in participation in our many programs and events on campus and around town,” he wrote The Chronicle in a recent e-mail.
Rabbi Teichtel said he thinks the 19th Street property can support an even bigger, better structure, which he hopes to erect if and when if he raises another $300,000.