It’s an oasis at GW.
That’s how Rabbi Yudi Steiner describes the newest and third location of Chabad GW. The Jewish student group recently moved into a new home in Columbia Plaza to open its doors to as many students as possible, spreading faith and sharing meals.
Although Chabad GW initially moved to Columbia Plaza in 2008, it was still too small to accommodate the group’s rapidly growing numbers. The room was cozy and furnished with bookshelves of Jewish texts.
But this semester, Chabad GW moved from its small apartment to a lounge in the same location that can hold up to 200 people.
“Chabad GW outgrew the apartment a long time ago and really needed a landmark. [The new center] is one place that is recognizable. It’s a break from the hustle and bustle of GW life,” Sean Burstyn, junior and president Chabad GW, said. “It’s central, it’s accessible, you have to leave campus, but it isn’t too far.”
In 2008, Steiner was contacted by what he describes as an enthusiastic group of students from GW about the need for a Jewish student center on campus.
“It was an interest of students, the organization Chabad and my own personal passion of mine for it to come to GW,” Steiner said. “In the beginning, five to ten students appealed directly to Chabad. Now 100 to 300 students want to make sure Chabad stays at GW.”
Within two weeks of getting the call, Steiner and his family moved from New York City to a small apartment in D.C. on N Street to start a Chabad branch at GW. Before the move to the larger Columbia Plaza location, the search for a home at GW has been a long struggle for the rabbi and his family.
“It’s supposed to be a home. We call it the Chabad lounge because we want students to feel that once a week they have this home. Real tablecloths, home-cooked food, we never cater,” Steiner said. “We want it to feel like mama is cooking. It’s not an institution, it’s not a business, it’s not even a student organization. It’s a home for Jewish students at GW.”
The administration of Columbia Plaza played a large role in Chabad GW’s change of location. Taking notice of the its work, the administration reached out to the Jewish organization and offered the members an unfinished basement as a new space.
The group hosts many events such as weekly Torah study and pizza, arts and crafts activities and celebrations of holidays. However, Shabbat – the Jewish sabbath – is the focal activity of the new Jewish student center.
The Shabbat dinner is a way for Jewish students to take part in the Friday night dinner they would traditionally have at home.
“There’s no where else in D.C. where you could find 200 students never feeling the urge to touch their phone. They come here and they feel immersed. The feeling is no different from going from your bedroom to going to your dining room at home,” Burstyn said.