Rabbi Zalman Charytan and his wife, Nechami, are providing Jewish experiences for students at Kennesaw State University through the Chabad house.
The Charytans, who serve as the directors of the Chabad house, regularly conduct special events for students with the mission to provide “a home away from home and an authentic Jewish experience for students while at college.”
The Chabad house hosts homemade dinners each Shabbat, combining eating with learning and discussion. The dinners often have themes, such as Italian or the Super Bowl. Current events are often discussed; after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, Chabad hosted a French-themed Shabbat dinner and had an open discussion about what happened.
Themed or not, the dinners provide engaging conversation and a friendly, open atmosphere.
“We want to provide an authentic Jewish experience to Jewish student so they can see how a Jewish family lives,” Rabbi Charytan said. “We also want them to have a place where they feel like they can go to be around other Jewish students and feel comfortable.”
The Chabad house provides a mezuzah to any student who wants one for a dorm room. The mezuzot are provided free to students under a loan program. After the school year, a student may purchase the mezuzah for $18, a discount from the usual $50 cost.
The Chabad house received seven of the mezuzot free through sponsors.
“We feel that it is important to have a sense of Jewish identity and pride while at college,” Rabbi Charytan said of the mezuzah project. “We want to do whatever we can to help a Jewish student feel at home.”
His wife, the master chef behind the dinners, hosts a kosher cooking club every Thursday. The club aims to teach students how to cook delicious kosher meals for themselves and their families.
Chabad provides an opportunity for students to travel to New York for a Shabbaton weekend, subsidized by Chabad on Campus International, for $36 plus the cost of airfare. More than 1,000 students from across North America and a few colleges in Europe usually attend the Shabbaton weekend.
“The way we are able to do what we do is largely due to the generosity of Jewish philanthropists who care about our cause,” Rabbi Charytan said. “They are the lifeblood of our organization, and we are beyond thankful for them.”
Students who participate in Shabbaton get to visit sites such as the Jewish Children’s Museum and the Chabad headquarters and to take a walking tour of the Jewish parts of Brooklyn.
A few students from Kennesaw also participated in Israel Trac, through which they visited the Israeli Consulate and met with staff from Israel’s mission to the United Nations. Those meetings inspire students to become active advocates for Israel.
The highlight of the New York trip for many students is the Shabbat celebration itself, which culminates with a Havdalah concert.
“When I think of Chabad, I think of a warm, welcoming Jewish atmosphere where we all feel at home,” said Jake Lipsiner, a student at Kennesaw State. “Chabad was my first place where I felt at home meeting Jewish students from all over the state of Georgia during my sophomore year. Chabad has enriched my Jewish pride and makes me proud to call myself a member of the tribe.”
Nechami Charytan often speaks of how rewarding her involvement with the Kennesaw State Chabad house is. “One of our students wrote to us and told them how Zalman and I are like a home away from home for them,” she said. “I’m so happy to be making an impact in the lives of students at KSU. We want students to know that they can come to us for anything they need, whether spiritually or emotionally.”