COLLEGE STATION, TX — The freedom that college offers is exhilarating. Despite the occasional laundry mishaps, such as when that pesky red sock made a load of whites look like Barbie’s spring wardrobe. College is not for the faint of heart: sometimes that hint of homesickness is far from unfamiliar. When a little cough turns into a debilitating flu, it is cause for even the most independent students to cry for mommy.
Fortunately, the Chabad Jewish Student Center is there to provide a home-like environment. The program even delivers homemade chicken soup to students feeling under the weather.
“The center is a home away from home,” said Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, founder of the Texas A&M Chabad Jewish. “It’s a relaxing place to hang out, study and gather for Jewish Aggies and anyone interested in the center.”
Yossi and his wife Manya Lazaroff founded the A&M chapter of the Chabad Jewish Center in the summer from their home. With a surprisingly large interest from students, Yossi said they moved the Chabad Jewish Center to its location on Live Oak Street.
“We opened up in July 2007 and were operating out of our house where we would host around 40 students at a time,” Yossi said. “Fortunately, we were able to expand and move into the old Grapevine building.”
Chabad is a Hasidic division of Orthodox Judaism that was founded in the late 1700s. It is a system, much like a large university with sister schools, with branches at national, state and local levels. Chabad is an acronym for the Hebrew words Chochmah, Binah and Da’at – meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
“Chabad is a philosophy of exploring heritage and understanding the psychology,” Lazaroff said. “The idea is to truly hone in on the person to understand the wisdom of the heritage of a religious group that welcomes all Jews.”
The principle idea of Chabad is that everything and everyone has a purpose and importance in life. It is a philosophy that focuses on a true understanding of people and developing strong relationships with others, one person at a time.
“I mean, we are all living here, let’s get along. There’s a lot of issues and we can all make a difference,” Manya Lazaroff said. “It sounds grandiose, but it’s true. Nothing happens for no reason, and there’s a tremendous value in everyone.”
Yossi said he and his wife were living in New Jersey when they decided to move to Aggieland to serve those in need of a home away from home. He said there was a great need for a Chabad center for Jewish Aggies.
“At A&M, there’s definitely a considerable number of Jewish students, but their choices are very limited,” Yossi said. “We want to provide a more family-like connection for the students.”
Though Chabad is part of Judaism, the center is open for students of any denomination who need a welcoming place where they can feel at home. The Chabad Jewish Center offers voluntary events and services, which are open to anyone. The center celebrates the Sabbath every Friday and Saturday night, offers lessons from the Torah, online study sessions for finals, barbeques and other activities such as how to make kosher pickles.
“We are available 24 hours,” Yossi said. “I take care of people who need to speak to me as a rabbi or a just a friend. We have been able to help a lot of students with whatever they need.”
During Hanukkah, the center was responsible for the 13-foot menorah, which was two feet taller than t.u.’s, and was lit in Rudder Plaza each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
“We’ve always enjoyed working with people,” Manya said. “We love it, it enriches our lives. It’s been so wonderful. We love it, there’s no other way to say it.”
Yossi and Manya have a tremendous impact on the students who participate at the Chabad Jewish Student Center. Jodi Martin, a junior communication major, said she learned about the center through Facebook and later became the center’s social chairwoman.
“[Yossi and Manya] sent me a message and invited me to dinner,” Martin said. “They were just so nice and welcoming. They’re some of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met, and I fell in love with the center.”
The Chabad Jewish Student Center is a place where anyone is welcome to relax, socialize and seek help or counseling, whether it’s of a religious nature or not. During finals in the fall, a student at the center was worried about his exam and the rabbi stayed up with him until 4 a.m. to help in whatever way he could. Yossi explained that all people, no matter their religion, are all a part of the same creation and that people should help one another.
“The idea of ‘the chosen people,’ is the idea that being chosen is about a standard,” Yossi said. “That standard is a responsibility of doing what’s right. Whether studying or socializing, we instill an idea of responsibility.”
Even though Chabad is based on religious belief, everyone is welcome at the Chabad Jewish Student Center. Martin explained that no one at the center would be judged, therefore, the religion aspect of Chabad shouldn’t scare people of other denominations away from the center.
“It has given me a support group for when I’m stressed out,” Martin said. “It’s really given me a sense of belonging, and it’s showed me that you don’t need to go around and party all the time. Everyone’s welcome; Jewish, Christian, whatever. You can call us day or night, we’re always there.”