The University of Chicago, a bastion of the American academic elite since its founding in 1890, is displaying its first ever Chanukah menorah in the center of campus this Chanukah, thanks to the efforts of new Chabad representatives to U of C and the surrounding community of Hyde Park, Rabbi Yossi and Baila Brackman.
One of the top 10 American universities, the University of Chicago attracts thousands of graduate and undergraduate students from across the country, approximately 1100 of who are Jewish, estimates Rabbi Brackman. Well-known for its rigorous course loads and intense academic atmosphere, U of C leaves students little time for anything but their studies. “A student at another school may crash the night at a local hangout,” expains Rabbi Brackman. “Not here. Here the more likely place for pulling an all-nighter would be the campus library.” Ever mindful of this, Chabad offers students an enriching Jewish experience without conflicting with their academic schedules.
Ira Donne, an undergrad from Teaneck, New Jersey, says his involvement with the Brackmans has given him a new perspective on traditional Judaism and a great place to hang out. “The Brackmans really create an atmosphere where you feel completely comfortable whatever level you’re at, and where you can also ask any question about Jewish life and observance,” he says. Ira has spent several Shabbat dinners with the Brackmans and is “looking forward to many more. They’re a really amazing Jewish resource,” he says. Shabbat dinners, introductory classes on Judaism and holiday programs are open and flexible, and as an official chaplain on the campus staff, Rabbi Brackman spends hours studying with students individually.
Chabad’s menorah lighting, in a prominent central spot on campus this Wednesday night, drew more than 100 students and faculty members together to celebrate the holiday. “The students here are very academically motivated,” says Rabbi Brackman, “so it’s refreshing for many of them to discover Judaism in a way that is inspiring, both spiritually and intellectually.”