Hillary Feeney – The Orion
While many students prepare to go out on Friday night, some Jewish students gather for a Shabbat dinner downtown.
The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center and the Chico Hillel Center provide Jewish students places to share their culture and religion while building a stronger Jewish community in Chico.
“A Jew is a Jew is a Jew,” said Rabbi Mendy Zwiebel of the Chabad center. “No matter what background they come from, we will accept them and make them feel comfortable.”
Mendy Zwiebel and his wife Chana Zwiebel want to bring students together for activities such as a Shabbat dinner and Torah study at the Chabad center on the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets.
Many Jewish students think they are the only Jews in town, Chana Zwiebel said.
When senior Kaylee Volpert started college at Chico State three years ago, she missed her traditional Jewish home and going to temple regularly, she said. After meeting Mendy Zwiebel on campus, she started attending Chabad events, became president of its student branch and helped build the Jewish student community.
“Every community wants to have a gathering place or a niche,” Volpert said.
Chabad brings Jewish students together and focuses on the similarities between Jews. As a culture, Jews are social and have many common interests, Mendy Zwiebel said.
“Jewish followers have different approaches even though they all serve God in a way,” he said. “We want people to use their minds. It’s not just something you believe in. You need to understand it.”
While the Chabad center offers many opportunities for students to become involved in the Chico Jewish community, the Chico Hillel Center also provides a meeting place where Jewish students can socialize and learn about their religion.
At Wednesday night meetings, Hillel brings students together to share their religious and cultural experiences, said junior Courtney Silver, an intern for Hillel. Attending on a weekly basis is a way to make friends and get free dinner, she said.
“When I first started coming, I was scared I would be too bombarded with Judaism,” Silver said. “But now I’m extremely comfortable here. It’s important for people to know they don’t have to be super religious or uber-Jewish to come.”
To broaden his Jewish community, junior Noah Snyder, president of the Chabad student group, started attending Hillel this semester. Although he was raised Orthodox, Noah enjoys being a part of both organizations, he said.
While Hillel is not a traditional Jewish atmosphere, it does give members, such as sophomore Alex Epstein, a place to discuss their religion, Epstein said.
“It’s a place to grow together and not be surrounded by the outside,” Epstein said.
Junior Cory Bowdach thinks of the Hillel Center as a home away from home, partially because it is open daily during the school week as a place for students to congregate, take naps or do homework, he said.
Silver also enjoys using the Hillel Center as a getaway during the school day, she said. The familiar atmosphere gives her a place to relax with her Jewish friends.
“Because I come from far away in LA, it was nice to meet people with the same type of upbringing,” Silver said. “Hillel gives you people you can go to — like an extended family.”