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Celebrating Hanukkah, building for the future
by Jacob Kamaras, The Jewish State

While Chabad of Central New Jersey held an annual dinner on its own premises for the first time in the organization's 31 years this Hanukkah, Chabad officials hope next year's event will showcase its 55,000-square-foot expansion on College Avenue in New Brunswick.

Kim Guadagno, lt. governor-elect of New Jersey, and several other dignitaries were on hand for Chabad's Dec. 17 dinner at the Rutgers University Chabad House that served as both a Hanukkah celebration and a fundraiser for the $10 million expansion, which is scheduled for completion by the start of the school year in September 2010.

The expansion will include a dining hall with a capacity of over 700, dormitory rooms with 72 new beds, two kosher kitchens, a Sephardic synagogue, and an exercise room. One dorm wing will be dedicated in memory of Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries who were killed in last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

Chabad of Central New Jersey says the expansion will make its building the largest Jewish student center in the world. The scope of the project wasn't lost on Guadagno.

"It's not only [a message] to the Jewish community, to enhance their education on the religious side of the [Chabad] House at Rutgers, but also to the whole community, to show the whole community what a valuable asset the Jewish faith is," Guadagno told The Jewish State.

Since the expansion is modeled after Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, two replicas of what is known in short form as "770" sat on each table at Chabad's dinner surrounded by golden dollar coins. Carlebach asked each person in attendance to pick up two coins and place one in the replicas, which were tzedakah boxes, and give the other to the person sitting next to them. That gave everyone two mitzvot for the night: charity and giving Hanukkah gelt.

"How many times do you come to a fundraiser and get money?" Carlebach joked.

Carlebach recounted a story of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries, to illustrate the warm environment of Rutgers Chabad. After a young man was kidnapped by Russians who demanded 1,000 rubles for his ransom, the Rebbe said he would reach out to every wealthy man in town, including a notorious miser named Moishele. When poor men came to Moishele, Carlebach said, he gave them the same copper penny, which they threw back at him. Moishele proceeded to put the penny back in his safe, and it turned green over the years.

When the Rebbe approached Moishele, he also received the penny but thanked Moishele for it, Carlebach said. Moishele ran out to the Rebbe's wagon and asked to hear about the kidnapped boy again, after which he gave the Rebbe a nickel. The process was repeated until the Rebbe got the 1,000 rubles he needed, showing how all that needed to be done was to open Moishele's heart once -- and it was bound to open more.

"Every night of the week, literally, hearts are being opened," Carlebach said of Rutgers Chabad House.

Rabbi Baruch Goodman, campus director at Rutgers Chabad House, recalled that when Chabad's current facility opened in 1996, there was an "explosion" of enthusiasm from students of all walks of Jewish life.

"I think it will be a greater attraction for more and more students from every background to feel more welcome, to feel more excited, to get involved Jewishly," Goodman said of the expansion in an interview with The Jewish State.

Currently, Chabad needs to open up its shul and put tables there, in addition to seating people in the dining hall, to accommodate the crowd of about 300 people that come to Friday night dinner each week, said Michael Schaier, Chabad student co-president. That won't be necessary with the expansive dining hall planned for the new building.

"This way we will have more than enough (room) to occupy everybody," Schaier told The Jewish State.

Sharon Tompa, also a Chabad student co-president, told the crowd how Chabad is her home away from home, allowing her to be herself and learn about her heritage through challah baking, helping to run Friday night dinners, and festive farbrengen gatherings.

One by one, either Carlebach or one of the attendees themselves approached the microphone to announce donations. Carlebach announced a $125,000 pledge from Donald Hecht, honorary president of Rutgers Chabad House, and one of $25,000 from Roger Fine, who he said is his jogging partner. Gerry Marks of Holmdel came up to announce a $25,000 pledge from himself and his wife Wendy, and Monmouth County philanthropist Ruth Hyman (namesake of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Monmouth County in Deal Park) announced she would be adding $5,000 to the $25,000 she already donated to the Chabad's expansion project.

Benjamin Krasna, deputy consul general of the Consulate General of Israel in New York, spoke about the importance of the state's New Jersey-Israel Commission, and noted that whenever the consulate tries to explain the size of Israel, they say it's about the size of New Jersey. Krasna, who graduated Rutgers in 1986, said that when he was a student Chabad had a much smaller building, but already had the spirit that is present today.

Guadagno, the outgoing Monmouth County sheriff who will serve in the dual role of lt. governor and New Jersey secretary of state, said that a highlight for her on the campaign trail with Gov.-elect Chris Christie was visiting The Goddard School For Early Childhood Development in Ocean County, which focuses its curriculum on activities that build each child's emotional, social, cognitive, and physical skills.

"They worked very hard to ensure that all children of every talent and school got the attention each individual child needed," Guadagno told The Jewish State.

During the recession, with unemployment still hovering around 10 percent in New Jersey, "we need things like the Chabad, and the kind of work the school is doing here, to give us hope and to give us light," Guadagno told the crowd.



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