The Rohr Chabad House at 471 10th St. in Midtown will officially celebrate its opening Sunday, Aug. 30, starting at noon.
“We’re doing an open-house kind of event,” Rabbi Shlomo Sharfstein, the co-director of Chabad of Downtown Universities, said in a phone interview. “We’ve invited parents of students and alumni to come and participate and celebrate the fact there’s now a permanent Jewish space that serves both the Georgia Tech and Georgia State campuses. It’s technically on the campus of Tech, but we serve both.”
Rabbi Sharfstein’s co-director is his wife, Shifra. The couple moved to Atlanta from New York four years ago with the goal of creating this space, but it took a while to come to fruition. They started out using a small house several blocks away, and their first event attracted only a handful of students.
“Now we’ve done a Shabbat dinner at the new location, even though we’re not officially open yet, and we had close to 70 people,” Rabbi Sharfstein said.
“I was told that last year Georgia Tech had the largest freshmen class it has ever had. And from personal experience, it’s also the largest Jewish freshmen class ever,” he said. “It’s constantly growing. There are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 Jewish students (at Georgia Tech) and probably a similar number at Georgia State as well, so that’s somewhere between 1,550 and 2,000 out of a total student body of 50,000.”
A statement from Chabad in New York said the center acts as “a home-away-from-home, providing educational, social, spiritual and holiday programming for Jewish students.”
Spokesman Chaim Landa said Chabad aims for students to graduate as stronger and more empowered Jews than when they entered college.
A grant from the Rohr Family Foundation, which has funded hundreds of Chabad centers on campuses, enabled the Sharfsteins to buy the property and launch the project. “It’s been a work in progress,” the rabbi said. “It actually took about two years. It’s a completely refurbished building. They literally transformed it into something really beautiful.”
He added that a lot of students’ parents got involved to make the Chabad center happen, contributing time, money and ideas.
The 10th Street building is a vast improvement over the old location, where some visitors had to meet outside on the front porch because there wasn’t room for everyone inside the tiny structure. “Now they have a nice, home-cooked meal with a fairly Jewish atmosphere,” Rabbi Sharfstein said. “That’s very comforting for students.”
In the new house, the main activities will take place in a ground-floor area. The building also includes a large kosher kitchen and master dining room, a living room, a library, and a lounge.
“For the Jewish community it’s a real sense of pride; we really exist,” Shifra Sharfstein said. “Now we have a legitimate place on campus, a place where we can go and feel proud to be Jewish. That’s not an outwardly spoken thing on campus. They come here and say, ‘This is where I belong,’ so it must be a cool place to be.”
She added: “They’re making friends too. Dates are happening.