Location, location, location. For Chabad of Morgantown, West Virginia, that was at the top of their wish list in their search for a new home. Last month when they moved into the recently purchased Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, students and professors noted the location, on the main road outside the campus, with ample parking and a large space for events. It was the first building purchased in five decades by any Jewish organization in West Virginia.
“With all their responsibilities, making the time to come to any event is difficult for students. So it helps that we are on the main road, close to the city’s nightlife, in walking distance from campus,” said Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz, the Chabad representative together with his wife Hindy.
Campuses in Jewish metropolitan areas have the benefit of many affiliated Jews, but WVU has few Jewish students, making it difficult for them to create a community. “Being on the main road makes us much more visible. Every day, students who never knew about us before walk in,” Gurevitz said.
When they set up shop in town seven years ago, they faced the challenge of catering to the small residential Jewish community, the college campus and Jewish inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI Morgantown). Although most of their focus is on the students, it is not unusual to find little kids learning about the High Holidays inside, an adult education class going on in another room, and students at a jam session in the large outdoor space.
“There is a very healthy balance of professors and students, giving the students a chance to discuss their issues with professors in an informal, unthreatening atmosphere,” said Gurevitz.
Micah Fierstein, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Studies is grateful for Chabad’s contribution to Jewish student life on campus. “This new building is a very important step in Chabad’s growth here. The Chabad house will be a gathering place for students to explore their Judaism, feeling the whole of Jewish life,” he said.
Fierstein says that the Chabad representatives on campus face a daunting task of bringing modern Jewish life to college students. “The rabbi and his wife express is the love, compassion, and intellectual curiosity of Judaism in their every day interactions with the students. That’s an incredible modeling aspect of what it is to be Jewish.”
It gives students the opportunity to see, he said, “what it is about Judaism that they could feel proud of.”