Study of Chabad Houses Finds Jews Seeking Spiritual Growth

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The New York Sun

The Lubavitcher Chasidim are touting their rapidly expanding outreach programs on college campuses with a new study by a Hebrew University professor.

Many young American Jews are seeking authentic and meaningful Jewish experiences, and are not, as “common myth” would have it, defiantly breaking away from their heritage, said the year-long study, conducted by Barry Chazan and unveiled at the New York office of George Rohr, a businessman who has given tens of millions of dollars to Chabad over the years.

This was the first effort by researchers to examine the inner workings of the campus Chabad house – the Lubavitch movement’s Jewish outreach site. The study, “A Home Away From Home,” focused on Jewish students who had joined the Chabad rabbi and his wife for Sabbath dinner several times, and recorded observations of the dinners and the students’ impressions. Altogether researchers observed 22 dinners on five campuses and interviewed 33 students.


The study did not track the students over time to see if the experience would have a long-term impact. Nevertheless, said Mr. Chazan in an interview with The New York Sun, it demonstrates that “young Jews can be reached, and that authentic Jewish experiences can reach them.”

“This study shows that young Jews are hungry, thirsty, and yearning for something authentic and meaningful,” said Mr. Chazan.

Jewish philanthropists have focused more intensively on fostering Jewish identity among young Jews since a 1990 population study found about half of Jews were marrying outside the faith, raising concerns that the Jewish population in America would decline because of assimilation, in addition to low birth rates.


The study suggests that young Jews will seize opportunities for spiritual growth. “This age group is not a lost tribe but a seeking generation,” the study says. “They aren’t lost; we lost them.”

The national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, Steven Bayme, said that while he praises the efforts Chabad makes to reach out to unaffiliated Jews, he “never understood why Chabad couldn’t be part of the larger Hillel framework.”

Rabbi Hirsch Zarchi – the rabbi of the Harvard Chabad house, one of the focuses of the study – said, “Chabad is a full and comprehensive experience with its own unique approach and philosophy.”


Hillel has over 250 facilities serving over 500 campuses. There are 112 campus Chabad Houses, serving 179 campuses. More than 40 new campus Chabad houses opened since 2002, including ones at Stanford, Princeton, and Dartmouth.

Although at times particular Hillel and Chabad houses have quarreled, lately the two organizations have been making efforts to cooperate. “We have learned a lot from Chabad,” the executive vice president of Hillel’s international division, Jay Rubin, said, “and I’m sure that they would say the same.”

Mr. Rubin said that Friday night Sabbath dinners, the focus of the study released yesterday, are “not the only way to get Jews in the door.” He said that some Jewish students may not be interested in the religious dimensions of Judaism, but in arts and culture or community service.

The New York Sun

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