It may be old, but the Chabad House at Johns Hopkins University is still going strong.
Now in its 12th year, the Jewish center located on North Charles Street offers Shabbat dinners, High Holiday services and other enrichment activities to university students.
“We are a 24/7 Chabad,” said director Rabbi Zev Gopin. “Many of our students have never had an authentic, Jewish family experience until now. My family actually lives in the house, and we are always available for a warm bowl of chicken soup.”
While students have flocked to the Chabad House in recent years — Gopin describes growth as a constant process with each year’s activities bigger than those before — and a summer gala banquet drew Northrup Grumman president and CEO
Wesley Bush as its guest of honor, a dust-up with a local neighborhood association resulted in the filing of a lawsuit regarding the upkeep and maintenance of the Chabad House’s facility.
The Guilford Association’s lawsuit highlights necessary renovations, including, among others, leaks in the gutter system, old window glazing, peeling paint and rotting wooden railings.
Gopin maintains he is working hard to settle the problems.
“A house of this size and age requires repair,” said the rabbi,
emphasizing that he is committed to keeping the suit from necessitating a trial. “We are currently working to raise the funds in order to make the necessary repairs. It is something we look forward to achieve in the very near future.”
Despite the legal battle, the students are thrilled with the house. Former president of the organization’s board, Debra Schwitzer, loved spending time at the house during her four years of college.
“The house itself is absolutely gorgeous, and the rabbi and his wife, Chana, make you feel so at home. Chana is my second Jewish mother,” said Schwitzer. “It was my home away from home throughout college.”
Schwitzer says the Gopin family and Chabad were responsible for her pursuit of a Jewish studies minor.
“I joined some religious seminars and workshops at Chabad,” said Schwitzer. “It really opened my eyes to what Judaism can do for me. Soon, I started taking Judaic studies classes through Johns Hopkins. Before long, I achieved my minor without even trying.”
Sophomore Sam Sands looks forward to raising even more interest in the Chabad House for the upcoming year. Coming from a Chabad family, Sands entered the Hopkins Chabad House for the first time as a freshman and has never looked back.
“I am so excited to be acting as the board president this year,” he said. “We lost a lot of students due to graduation this year. My biggest focus is outreach to the community to increase overall involvement.
“From lighting a large menorah on Chanukah to apples and honey during Rosh Hashanah,” he added, “we are a strong, Jewish community on campus.”
Reminiscing on her past experiences with Chabad, Schwitzer realizes how influential the center was on her college career.
“There were many Jewish students who would not step into Hillel but kept coming back to Chabad,” said Schwitzer. “It was that kind of community.”
At the end of the day, students agree that it is not how the house looks, but what happens inside that counts.
“We are not your typical Chabad House,” said Gopin. “We do not have hours, and we definitely do not close. For the next four years, we are your neighborhood Jewish family.
“Even after you graduate, you are always welcome back,” he continued. “It is not my home, it is our home.”