Chabad House looks to maintain recruitment levels in first full year of disaffiliation

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Cat Zakrzewski/Daily Senior Staffer

Rabbi Klein greets students at the annual Chinese Welcome Week dinner. Fewer students attended this year’s event.

Cat Zakrzewski, Web Editor

As they do every Wildcat Welcome, students gathered Wednesday night at the Tannenbaum Chabad House for the Jewish organization’s annual Chinese dinner and student performances. But this year, freshmen were notably missing.

Northwestern officially disaffiliated from Chabad House on Sept. 11, 2012, following allegations that leader Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein served alcohol to students at weekly Shabbat dinners.  Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois responded by suing the University on grounds of religious discrimination. Initially, community support for the rabbi resulted in increased attendance at campus events.

But a year later, just 20 students came to the dinner that Klein said, in past years, was standing room only. Only one freshman attended the event, which was intended to introduce new students to the organization.

“There are more of you here than us,” Klein joked as he offered leftover food to the student performance groups who came to the house.

Some students said Wildcat Welcome programming may have interfered with freshman attendance at the Chabad House event.

“I texted a couple freshmen, and they all said they had a mandatory PA dinner,” Weinberg junior Ethan Ritz said.

Although students at Chabad House said they do not think the disaffiliation affected their recruitment efforts and didn’t even know if freshmen were aware of it, it has limited some of the tactics Klein formerly used.

For example, Klein said in past years he stood at The Arch on move-in day, greeting new students and their parents as they arrived. Per the terms of the disaffiliation, Klein is no longer allowed on campus. He also attended the Associated Student Government student activities fair, but the group has no plans for a booth this year. Klein said that two years ago, he even received a list from the University of incoming students who self-identified as Jewish on the Common Application.

However, Klein said Chabad House has added about 250 names of new students to its email list. Rabbis from other Chabad Houses across the country continue to send him the names of Jewish students they know are coming to NU, and he still fields about the same number of phone calls from parents of incoming students. He said none of them have mentioned the disaffiliation.

“I’m not sure they even knew,” he said.

As the January court date for the case nears, Klein said he continues to be open to reaching an agreement with the University that could bring Chabad House back to campus. He was deposed for the second time at the end of August.

Despite the ongoing litigation, Klein said he still prioritizes programming for students. Thursday evening, he offered an alcohol-free late night event where students could get hot cookie dough and ice cream from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. He said numbers for the Birthright trip he leads remain steady. Although he cannot physically be on campus, even the T-shirts he distributed to students are purple and say “Northwestern” in Hebrew.

Chabad House executive board president Joel Rabinowitz said the group is flyering for events around campus and using Facebook and texts to reach out to freshmen.

“A lot of what we’re doing is to try to maintain what we’ve been doing,” the Weinberg senior said. “We want to keep Chabad being that home away from home that it’s been for so many students.”

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Twitter: @Cat_Zakrzewski

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