This post was written by assistant news editors Jacqueline Thomsen and Eva Palmer.
More than 850 students, alumni and parents have signed an online petition to keep Rabbi Yehuda Steiner and his wife, Rivky, on campus after they were fired earlier this year.
The petition, which was launched Tuesday by the L’Chaim Jewish Student Group and alumni who had participated in GW Chabad, advocates for Steiner and his wife to continue organizing events, claiming that they strengthened the bonds of the Jewish community.
A judge decided this week that the Steiners, who have worked with GW Chabad since 2008, were banned from operating within a one-mile radius of campus. They refused to leave GW after Rabbi Levi Shemtov fired them in August, according to court documents.
A panel of rabbis found in early August that Steiner was in violation of his contract for not providing Shemtov with information about the services offered at GW in a timely manner and not sending Shemtov donations he and his wife had received.
Emily Holland, vice president of L’Chaim Jewish Student Group, which often collaborates with GW Chabad, said she found it “shocking” that Steiner had been removed from his position. She said the relationships that he and his wife had cultivated in the community would take years to rebuild.
“I would venture to say that they have had some sort of interaction with 98, 99 percent of the Jewish community on campus,” she said. “The reality is, if students in our organization want to keep our leader, there’s no reason that should not happen.”
Chabad is one of the largest Hasidic organizations in the world. Rabbis who are affiliated with Chabad draw Jewish communities together by holding Shabbat dinners, offering seders and hosting other events.
“An urgent matter is currently plaguing the Washington D.C Jewish community, and in fact the larger community of Jews all over the world who benefit from and value Jewish outreach,” the online petition reads. “It is our belief that GWU is not the property of Rabbi Shemtov or Chabad, and therefore neither can determine the fate of its Jewish Community.”
On Monday, a D.C. Superior Court judge responded to an October complaint filed by the American Friends of Lubavitch and Shemtov, the Chabad emissary for D.C., and approved the request to ban Steiner and his wife from working on or around campus, the Jewish Times reported.
Shemtov claimed that Steiner was in breach of his contract with the American Friends of Lubavitch after he was fired but continued to lead Chabad GW events on campus, according to court documents.
Steiner’s contract with Shemtov says that he must leave his job “peacefully” within 30 days after being fired, according to the documents.