You really couldn’t blame the leaders of Rutgers-Chabad if they saw their 40th anniversary dinner, on Monday, March 18, as a great opportunity to celebrate all they’ve accomplished in the past four decades, extol their enviable record and take a bow.
After all, look at what Rutgers-Chabad has built since the late 1970s:
A Chabad building in New Brunswick that (according to Rabbi Yosef Carlebach’s research) is the largest Jewish student center in the world, with the most robust annual Jewish student programming series. The Rutgers-Chabad dorms house 91 students, the building serves 600-700 kosher meals a day, and their Shabbat services and meals regularly attract between 300-500 students each week;
A vibrant Chabad presence in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, with centers in Colts Neck, East Brunswick, Elberon, Manalapan-Marlboro, Monroe, New Brunswick and Wayside; a well-regarded summer camp, Gan Israel, attracting over 200 children each year; and creative Jewish holiday programing in different towns that regularly draw hundreds of attendees;
Rutgers-Chabad leaders have forged strong bonds with political leaders across the state, including every New Jersey governor from Jim Florio to Phil Murphy. Rutgers-Chabad leaders accompanied then-Governor Chris Christie on his April 2012 trip to Israel, helping to arrange a meeting between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rutgers Chabad leaders regularly consult with top New Jersey law enforcement officials and provide cultural sensitivity training and counsel; these connections have enabled Rutgers-Chabad leaders to be uniquely supportive to Jewish residents in New Jersey in a wide range of unusual circumstances and crises.
Rutgers-Chabad’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable when you learn that each Chabad House receives no seed money or subsidy from the parent organization in Crown Heights. As Rabbi Carlebach explained, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wanted each Chabad House to be completely independent and self-sustaining. And, as Rabbi Carlebach surmised, the Rebbe understood that when local community members give from their hard-earned funds, they forge a connection with an organization that goes a long, long way.
Knowing this, and seeing what Rutgers-Chabad has become, who would criticize them if they held a lovely 40th anniversary dinner, met their annual fundraising budget and called it a great day?
For Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, founder and director of Rutgers-Chabad, resting on your laurels is out of the question—especially when there’s so much more work to be done, so many unaffiliated or religiously uninspired Jewish students to reach, and so many disconnected Jews in New Jersey to reach.
Seeing the 40th anniversary as an unparalleled opportunity to rally supporters, reach further and reinforce Chabad’s fiscal standing, Rabbi Carlebach has initiated a fundraising campaign to eliminate the $4 million mortgage on the large Rutgers-Chabad house on the College Ave campus. He is poised to formally announce the campaign at the dinner and reveal that over $1 million of the funds has already been raised. And then he plans to raise another $500,000 to $1 million more at the dinner itself!
Rabbi Carlebach sees this fundraising drive to eliminate the mortgage as essential to the potential growth of Rutgers-Chabad. He points out that the monthly payments of $45,000 on the mortgage are a “constant drag on Chabad, which hinder our growth.” He envisions a much broader outreach effort on the Rutgers campuses, and in the communities of New Jersey, once the mortgage is completely paid off.
He referenced a passage from one of Moshe Rabbeinu’s departing speeches in Devarim (Deuteronomy 29:3), “Hashem did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day… I’ve led you these 40 years…” Rabbi Carlebach explained that only after 40 years, with the unparalleled record it has built, and the wonderful band of supporters it has attracted, could Rutgers-Chabad undertake a campaign such as this. And he is confident that donors will see this campaign as the smart strategic move it is.
Rabbi Carlebach’s confidence appears to be well placed. Jeffries Schein, a resident of Long Branch, real estate executive and investor and long-time supporter, gladly agreed to become one of the initial supporters of this campaign. He stated, “This is a wonderful initiative and I’m happy to endorse it. I told Rabbi Carlebach that it’s a very viable plan and makes lots of sense.”
Schein elaborated, “What they’ve done at Rutgers-Chabad is truly amazing. They began with nothing, became a powerhouse, and now they do an absolutely wonderful job in meeting so many needs at Rutgers. They also provide a vast number of activities across New Jersey: services for Jews with disabilities, Hebrew Schools, preschools, Challah-baking events and so much tremendous outreach in local communities. They need more resources and can accomplish so much more with this mortgage eliminated.”
Lest someone think that Schein’s enthusiasm for Rutgers-Chabad or confidence in Rabbi Carlebach is unique, there are many other supporters who would offer similar endorsements. One particularly pithy endorsement came from Roger Fine, former general counsel of Johnson and Johnson, three years ago (in Rutgers-Chabad’s 37th anniversary dinner journal); he paraphrased the famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams” (“if you build it, they will come”) and said that Rabbi Carlebach’s mantra is: “If you build it, Hakadosh Baruch Hu will provide.” He added, “[Rabbi Carlebach’s] dedication, courage, optimism and profound belief in his goal of providing a wholesome, Jewish home for Rutgers students inspires others to support his efforts.”