Breaking Ground

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Groundbreaking for the new Chabad Student Center is the first step in a $3 million building that will include a synagogue and guest suites. (Provided)

On Sunday, June 1, the Chabad Jewish Student Center at Towson and Goucher celebrated the official groundbreaking for the organization’s new building. The new location will allow the expansion of programs at a time when both Towson University’s and Goucher College’s Jewish student populations are growing, according to Rabbi Mendy and Sheiny Rivkin, who currently operate the center from their two-story home in Towson.

The Rivkins, who moved to the area in 2008 to offer a welcoming Jewish experience for college students, have always felt strongly about Jewish youth and the need to strengthen their Jewish ties.

“We want to give students the opportunity to explore, to figure out who they are as Jews,” said Mendy Rivkin. “It’s their journey of self-discovery, and we want them to own it.”

At the decidedly rustic and airy outdoor ceremony, a video documented student and alumni reflections of the Chabad House. Speakers included academic and political officials and donors, including Baltimore County Councilman David Marks and Towson University vice president Gary Rubin.

“It’s a wonderful development,” Rubin said of the expansion. “Towson is a very diverse and cultural campus. It’s very important to understand all religious beliefs.”

Sharing in the celebration was a longtime friend of Rivkin’s from rabbinical school, Rabbi Yudi Steiner of Chabad GW.

“Jewish life will grow in places that no one expects,” said the fellow campus rabbi. “All you have to do is answer the call.”

Towson alumna Danielle Gold, who was co-president for a year-and-a-half at Chabad House, spoke highly of the warm environment that the Rivkins cultivate. From Sheiny’s delicious Shabbat dinners to a menorah lighting in town, Gold learned that there was always room for one more at the center, she said.

Above all, “I learned how to be a leader and delegate,” she said. “Having never considered myself a religious person, I learned more about Judaism, what it meant and what it means to be a Jewish woman.”

She added that she has used her Judaic knowledge to lead the best and most informational Passover Seder her family has ever celebrated.

Parents also attended.

“[The Chabad House] is a place to go as a home away from home — that’s really how they make you feel,” said Robyn Barnett, whose daughter recently graduated.

Mendy Rivkin recalled that even from his first years in the area, Shabbat dinners routinely drew a crowd. It became so popular, he said, that students worried they would lose their seats if they stood up.

And with three young children and another on the way, the expansion, his wife noted, is coming at the right time for his own family.

“As our family is growing and with the new Chabad House, it will allow for more programs at varying times,” said Sheiny Rivkin. “We want to work very hard to keep the [student] family atmosphere.”

The new building will have three floors and will include a library and conference room for in-depth research and debates, a synagogue, a large dining room that can accommodate more than 120 students, a professional kitchen, a student lounge and guest suites for visitors and parents.

“I’m very happy to see this come to fruition,” said Rabbi Joshua Snyder, director of Hillel at Goucher College. “The more resources the better.”

Donors have covered 60 to 70 percent of the total cost for expansion, approximately $3 million, according to the Rivkins. Construction is expected to start as soon as possible and is estimated to take six to eight months.

The Chabad House offers a variety of programs, including inter-student education, social events, Birthright trips to Israel and a Shabbaton in New York City. Of the students he serves, Mendy Rivkin said, “We challenge them.”

For more information, visit jewishtowson.com or call 410-825-0779.

Lauren Root is a local freelance writer.

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