Chabad at Yale, a Jewish organization that hosts Shabbat dinners and services open to people of all faiths, prides itself on being a tight-knit community. But its current house is a bit too tight.
The group kicked off a $1.5 to $2 million renovation of the new building it purchased last September with a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday. The new house, located at 36 Lynwood Place, is roughly eight times larger than Chabad’s current space at 37 Edgewood Ave., which measures 1,100 square feet. Construction begins next month and is slated to finish by 2013.
Members of the Chabad community all said that they were thrilled about the new, more spacious, building.
“There were 120 people at Shabbat dinner [Friday] night — standing room only,” said Brad Berger ’77, a major donor and member of the board of directors. “We bought this new building because we needed to expand.”
Rabbi Shua Rosenstein and his wife Sara, the Chabad at Yale coordinators, stood outside the new building with alumni donors and Yale, New Haven and Connecticut officials including Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Mayor John DeStefano and Provost Peter Salovey to celebrate the groundbreaking with speeches and dedications.
As of Sunday, the organization will be known as the Bender Chabad House at Yale in honor of an $1.8 million gift from Norman Bender ’67, given in memory of his parents. Bender, the Chabad at Yale Chairman, said he believes Chabad serves an essential function, especially at an academic institution like Yale.
“These people will go back to their various walks of life with a certain feeling of hospitality and hominess that might be especially needed, especially during the first year on a college campus,” he said.
The new house itself will be called the Berger Family Building. At Sunday’s event, Berger dedicated the building to his father, Martin Berger, who passed away last Monday. Brad Berger’s brother Greg Berger read a speech that their father had prepared for the occasion.
The new building will hold a library, a conference room, a synagogue, a kitchen, a dining room, a student lounge and guest suites. DeLauro said the new building, formerly known as the Palmer House and home to the Yale men’s swim team, will be a “social center” and “a nexus of Jewish culture on campus.”
Berger said Chabad at Yale has already raised about $4.2 million — 70 percent of the funds necessary to cover building expenses and start an endowment.
Lian Zucker ’13, President of Chabad at Yale, said the existing Chabad House isn’t big enough to accommodate all the people who want to be part of the Chabad community.
“It’s really quaint and really sweet, but it gets so full that you have to climb under the tables just to cross the room,” she said.
Sara Rosenstein said there is no workable kitchen in the current Chabad House, so she prepares all the food for the Shabbat dinners at home beforehand. It will be far easier to host events in the new space, she added.
Chabad at Yale began in 2003 with four people — two undergraduates and two rabbinical students, including Shua Rosenstein. They met in a one-bedroom apartment on College Street for weekly Shabbat dinners until the apartment could no longer accommodate all the people who wanted to participate. Chabad moved to its current premises on Edgewood in 2005.
Berger said Yale’s Jewish community has flourished since he was a student.
“Campus was probably 20 percent Jewish,” he said. “But there was little evidence of that other than the occasional matzah in the dining halls over Passover.”
Today, Chabad at Yale draws people from many parts of Yale and New Haven. Bender said attendees are not asked to bring money — only themselves, their opinions and perhaps a clever l’chaim toast.
Chabad houses are religious and community centers, informally affiliated with the larger organization, and are active on more than 140 college campuses worldwide.
The word “Chabad” is an acronym for the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding and knowledge.