Friday night dinners continue at Chabad House despite disaffiliation with Northwestern

Photo courtesy of Chabad.org

Rabbi Hillel Klein, wearing his uniform as an chaplain of the Evanston Police Department, speaks at an event. Klein has been at the center of an ongoing controversy regarding Northwestern’s disaffiliation with the Chabad House.

Cat Zakrzewski, Assistant Campus Editor
November 5, 2012 •

Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding Tannenbaum Chabad House's disaffiliation from Northwestern, there has been no apparent drop in the number of students at Friday night Shabbat dinners.

Northwestern formally disassociated with Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein and Chabad House on Sept. 11 due to concerns about alcohol being served to students there.

No alcohol was present at Friday’s dinner. Instead, students sipped sparkling grape juice and Coca Cola from plastic cups at Shabbat, a weekly religious meal where some students at Chabad House used to drink hard liquor, Klein told The Daily in September.

Students in attendance Friday confirmed no alcohol had been served at any of the weekly dinners this school year.

Matthew Renick, a Communication senior who is president of the Chabad House Student Executive Board, said about 75 people continue to attend Shabbat dinners, about the same number as last year. Renick said the University’s decision to disaffiliate with Chabad has resulted in “strong connections.”

“We feel a lot of rallying of support from the students and community,” he said. “It’s brought people closer together from all those areas.”

Even more students attended dinner Friday, when the organization hosted an Israel-themed Shabbat and invited students who attended Birthright  trips to return for a reunion. Extra tables had to be set up to accommodate the unanticipated influx of guests.

Prior to the meal, Klein spoke to the attendees about the importance of hospitality. He explained to the room that fulfillment comes in serving others, and he quoted from a commencement address Bill Cosby gave at NU about the philosophy of whether the glass is half empty or half full.

“If you are drinking, the center of reality is yourself,” said Klein, quoting Cosby. “If you are pouring for others, then you are half full.”

Klein said hearing Cosby's speech changed his life. At the dinner, he walked around the room, hugging many of the students as they walked in.

Renick said the decision has not impacted the organization’s ability to recruit freshmen. Communication freshman Sarah Schwartz said she first learned about Chabad House from a mailing she received over the summer and attended her first dinner when many of the students she was with at the Hillel Shabbat decided to visit the Chabad House.

Renick said although the disaffiliation has had little notable effect on programming at Chabad House, Klein’s influence on campus has been missed. He said there were not kosher options in the dining hall for several days during Wildcat Welcome Week, when the program Klein founded and directed came under new leadership. He explained that many freshmen found out about Chabad House when they came to the organization for kosher food options at that time.

Klein’s influence on campus was not just removed from the dining halls. In an email announcing the University’s disaffiliation from Chabad House, Patricia Telles-Irvin, the vice president for student affairs, wrote, “Tannenbaum Chabad House and Rabbi Klein are no longer welcome to participate in any programs, services or events associated with University students, staff or faculty on University property.”

The disaffiliation has prohibited Klein from participating in campus life in his former roles as a University chaplain, fireside speaker and fellow at the Communications Residential College. Klein will now host his “famous” fireside talk about being a ghostbuster at Chabad House on Monday.

So far, about 800 people have signed an online petition supporting Klein and calling for further investigation of the reasons the University cited for disaffiliation, Renick said. The Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois filed a lawsuit against the University that stated the disaffiliation occurred without due process and that NU was discriminating against the Jewish faith.

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