A stately red brick residence across from East Campus will soon be transformed into an enclave for Jewish undergraduate students at Duke and renamed the Fleishman House.
Formerly the King’s Daughters Inn, the century-old residence features three floors, 17 bedrooms and a 2,100 square-foot rooftop deck. When the property first appeared on the housing market in August 2020, the student leadership board of Chabad along with Nossen Fellig, rabbi and co-director of Chabad Jewish Student Center at Duke, sprang into action.
With the assistance of Sarah Bloom Raskin, a visiting professor of the practice of law at Duke, along with various benefactors and alumni, Chabad raised enough money to purchase the four-star boutique hotel.
Chabad is an orthodox movement within the Jewish tradition. There are more than 3,500 Chabad centers around the world.
For decades, Chabad at Duke University Undergrads had been searching for an official sanctuary for its community members. In the early 1990s, Jewish students lacked communal spaces in which to celebrate Shabbat and the High Holidays. However, that changed in the mid-90s when Joel Fleishman, professor of law and founding director of the Sanford School of Public Policy, began hosting Jewish students at his home for holiday celebrations and sessions of prayer.
Always a figure at the forefront of Jewish life on Duke’s campus, Fleishman has forged profound connections with the members of the Duke Chabad community.
“I am so honored to be one of the disciples of Joel Fleishman,” said his close colleague, Imam Abdullah Antepi, associate professor of the practice at Sanford. “Everybody knows him. If you go to St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, and Joel and the Pope are standing next to each other, people will say, ‘I know that’s Joel, but who’s the other guy?’”
In 2015, as a new member of the Duke community, Nossen followed Fleishman’s lead, providing hospitality to Chabad’s Jewish students by cooking kosher meals and leading prayer services in his home.
As of 2019, around 20 to 30 students were attending Shabbat dinners at Nossen’s home. That soon increased to 100 to 150 Jewish students each week until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The purchase of the Inn presented itself as a true “nes,” or “miracle” in Hebrew.
“We were very cramped in the old house, so it was always very tight for Shabbat holidays,” Nossen recalled. “Now, the new Fleishman Center has a lot of space that can fit everyone inside.”
Senior Olivia Levine, student vice president of Chabad, said that the old center experienced “amazing turnout” but was “very squished.”
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“We were definitely in tight quarters, and now it’s going to be great because this new house can fit 200, maybe 300 people,” Levine said.
Fleishman has been involved with the Jewish community at Duke for 50 years and has made enormous contributions to the community, Nossen said.
“I’m sure there wouldn’t be a greater tribute to him than to have a beautiful center with his name on it, after all that he's done for the Jewish community here,” Nossen said.
Senior Josh Berman, president of Duke Chabad, reflected on the significance of the new space. A few months ago, a high school senior who was choosing between Duke and another school had spoken with Nossen and discussed the Fleishman Center.
“The student told me that he ended up choosing Duke, in large part, because of his discussion with the Rabbi and after witnessing the vibrant Jewish community at Duke,” Berman said.
In the new space, Nossen envisions constructing a commercial kitchen, a dining room, an office space, a lounge for students, classrooms and Shabbat suites for parents visiting their children on campus. The rooftop space will serve as an optimal outdoor dining area, and the student board and staff plan to host a variety of events, including Challah baking events, Hamantaschen-making classes and Sinai Scholars academic courses.
Fleishman was humbled by the tribute and never ceases to be impressed with the work of students like Berman and Levine.
“I was touched by what [members of Duke Chabad wanted to do and I’ve long been an admirer of Rabbi Nossen and Rabbi [Zalman] Bluming,” Fleishman said. “I know a number of people in Chabad, and I think they’re doing great work. It’s been really wonderful firing up Duke undergraduates and inspiring them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Sarah Bloom Raskin's name as "Sara" and referred to Zalman Bluming as Sara Bloom Raskin. The Chronicle regrets the errors.