The independent news organization of Duke University

Campus Jewish life sees change

As the Jewish High Holidays fast approach, an established center and a new organization are preparing to cater to Jewish students.

The Freeman Center for Jewish Life has experienced the arrival of both a new executive director and an interim rabbi, as well as the creation of a Kosher dining plan offered to all students on campus. Meanwhile, Chabad, an international Jewish organization, has established itself at the University.

"These past two months have been very exciting," said Jonathan Gerstl, the new executive director of the FCJL. "Now that the students are back, the work really begins."

Gerstl said his focus since taking over the position July 1 has been getting the new Kosher dining plan--which offers five meals a week to any student--off the ground.

Twenty-four students have signed up for the plan so far, and Gerstl said he thinks more students will soon come on board.

"We're really pushing that this is a place to eat on campus that just happens to be Kosher. We have Chinese food, Indian food and Mexican food, and it's all-you-can-eat," Gerstl added.

Another major change at the FCJL is the hiring of Rachel Nussbaum, Trinity '97, a third-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Nussbaum will serve as an interim replacement for Rabbi Bruce Seltzer, who left the center last spring. The center is not currently looking for another full-time rabbi, however.

Nussbaum traveled to Durham for orientation, and plans to return for the High Holidays and major holidays and more than ten other times throughout the year. She is also reachable at anytime on a hotline.

"We will always be evaluating what our needs are," Gerstl said. "The question is, do we need a rabbi all the time? This might be a great model."

Hillel President Jenny Bell said Nussbaum has been a terrific addition to the Center.

"She is very familiar with the Duke campus, and she is very knowledgeable," Bell, a junior, said. "She seems to be great with interacting with students."

Neither Nussbaum nor Seltzer could be reached for comment.

The arrival of Chabad, a Lubavitch group that comprises over 3,000 affiliated centers around the world as well as centers at over 60 universities in the United States, will serve to complement the FCJL and create a greater sense of Jewish community at Duke, Chabad's Rabbi Zalman Bluming said.

"There will be many programs that Chabad and FCJL will work with each other on," Bluming said. "Our goal is to reach out to every single Jew and promote Jewish awareness and give them the ability to explore the richness and depths of their heritage in an academic setting."

The group will host a welcome Shabbos Aug. 30 and Rosh Hashanah services Sept. 6 to 8 in Von Canon Hall in the Bryan Center.

Jared Dinkes, a second-year graduate student in political science and the first president of the Duke chapter of Chabad, said the organization brings a unique approach to Judaism, as it emphasizes spirituality and academics. Chabad will also hold an orthodox minyan Friday nights.

"I'm a very big supporter of the Freeman Center... and of [the local synagogue] Beth El," said Dinkes, who participated in Chabad as an undergraduate at Bingington University. "I had a fear that sometimes when organizations start up anew the transition isn't smooth. I wanted to make sure that Chabad got off on the right foot."


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