In his greeting to benefactors and rabbis at the opening of the new Chabad House at this historic campus, Yale University’s President, Peter Salovey pointed out that the new building once housed the Beta fraternity.
“Now that the celebrations will be overseen by a rabbi and rebbetzin, I’m much more comfortable knowing what goes on here,” he said, evoking laughter. Once a house “mostly of partying and a little bit of studying this has now been transformed to a house mostly of studying and a little bit of partying.”
More than 350 showed up on a grey October Sunday afternoon for the ribbon cutting of the new facility. Named the Alice Bender Chabad House and Berger Family Building, it will bring Chabad’s activities on campus to a “whole new level” said Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, director of Chabad at Yale.
Measuring 11,500 square feet, it is ten times the size of the old Chabad House, which has, since opening its doors in 2002, served as home to many of Yale’s 2500 Jewish students—roughly 25% of Yale’s student body.
Square footage, bricks and mortar, are important, explained Sara Rosenstein, but only insofar as they serve to enhance the vision. “Chabad at Yale is a home, and the Yale Jewish community is a family. We are celebrating today to honor this great family of future Jewish leaders that finally has a beautiful place to call home.”
Featuring a large synagogue, a dining room, a study, offices, guest suites, a student lounge and a library, the Chabad House “now allows us to offer a host of activities and opportunities that we were not able to offer before because of space constraints.”
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy spoke warmly of Chabad and its successful efforts to bring people, “to understand their cultural religious ties to their past and to their future in this nation.
“I can’t think of any other organization that has done more in that regard than this movement,” the Governor said.
In 2010, Chabad purchased a building adjacent to the campus and soon launched a $6 million capital campaign with $4 million focused on renovating and expanding the facility. The remaining $2 million was set aside as an endowment for future activities.
Brad Berger, Yale ‘77, who dedicated the building in honor of his father Martin, was at first surprised at the enormity of Rosenstein’s undertaking. “I thought he was crazy when he wanted to raise all this money,” Berger recalled. Still, Berger was willing to get involved, volunteering countless hours, many coast-to-coast flights, and contributing generously to Chabad at Yale.
It was an involvement that did not go unrewarded.
“When one gives of oneself, one gains even more,” he told the guests. “I now have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped build a world class Jewish home away from home for the Yale community.”
But there was more he gained from his generosity, he told a riveted audience. Two years ago, he hosted a party at his home in LA to kick off the capital campaign for the new Chabad building.
“At this event I met a fellow Yale graduate, and am delighted to announce that, G-d willing, we are planning on getting married by this coming summer.”
Benefactor Norman L. Bender, class of ‘68, dedicated the Chabad House to his late mother, Alice Lewin Bender, herself a 1934 graduate of Yale’s Music school.
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Chabad-Lubavitch educational and social services divisions, offered greetings and blessings to the Chabad representatives and the Yale community:
“This edifice that we have come together to dedicate and consecrate today is a veritable sanctuary. Any student will be welcome to come here to pray, study Torah, seek counsel, find the kindness that is needed in the kaleidoscopic life of a college student,” he said.
Gratified by this enormous milestone and the wide support it earned, and cognizant of how far Yale has come since the 1960s, when Jewish enrollment was subject to a quota, the Rosensteins are looking ahead.
“This will serve as a warm and comfortable home where Jews can celebrate their heritage,” Rabbi Rosenstein said. “Maximizing its impact for the future of Jewish life at Yale is the next step. We expect to see more activity at every level, including the Rohr Learning Center Jewish studies programs at the Chabad House,” which are funded by philanthropist George Rohr, in honor of his parents, Sami and Charlotte Rohr.
“The building is only a beginning.”