The Kennesaw Chabad Jewish Center has found a piece of property adjacent to Kennesaw State University, giving it a chance to establish the first permanent home for a Jewish congregation in metro Atlanta west of Interstate 75.
“To know that there is a permanent home for Jewish people right in the heart of Kennesaw is a huge milestone for the community and the university. It means a lot to everyone,” said Nechami Charytan, who directs the decade-old Chabad center with her husband, Rabbi Zalman Charytan.
They have maxed out the space available in their home for Friday night meals and other events serving the growing Jewish student body and faculty at Georgia’s third-largest university, as well as the surrounding Jewish population.
Since the Charytans arrived, KSU has nearly doubled in size to 35,000 students, including those at the Marietta campus of what was Southern Polytechnic University.
“In the last 12 years we have gone from being a commuter campus with a majority of transfer students to a destination campus with a majority of freshman students. Students who come now can have the full campus experience,” said Ken Harmon, KSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Being a destination school means offering students a full array of engagement opportunities, including arts programs, student groups and religious organizations, Harmon said.
“We have approximately 300 organizations to support our students. Few accomplish as much as Chabad,” KSU President Sam Olens said. “The rabbi and his wife are very supportive of the students and the Jewish life.”
The Charytans aren’t revealing the property’s location until the deal closes. They expect it to cost $600,000, half of which an anonymous donor has pledged to give them as long as they raise the other $300,000.
Donations can be made by visiting www.ChabadKennesaw.org/Partner or calling 770-870-4447.
“Having a property and a building will increase students’ sense of Jewish identity and give them a safe place to explore who they are, allowing them to grow and learn and become more aware of their Judaism and create more Jewish growth in Kennesaw,” said Erick Mulicandov, Chabad’s student president. “The Jewish people are all one big family, and this will bring us all together.”
The new Chabad House will make it easier for Jewish students such as Sasha Avchhukov to connect with one another.
Avchhukov, a 20-year-old rising junior, attended Hebrew school, participated in a Jewish youth group and went to Jewish summer camps when she was growing up. But she found that connecting Jewishly was more difficult in college. “Luckily, I had one Jewish friend at Kennesaw State University who brought me to Shabbat dinner at Chabad, and I realized there is a community here, too.”
The new building’s location will make Chabad more visible to students and faculty, Nechami Charytan said. “New students will be able to see that there is a Jewish center right here on campus.”
While the Charytans have held many activities at their home, they also have used space on campus for weekly kosher lunch-and-learns, a 9-foot Chanukah menorah lighting, a shofar service on Rosh Hashanah and Israel advocacy programs.
Carol Holtz, a nursing professor, said the Jewish presence on campus was nonexistent when she arrived in the area more than 30 years ago, to the extent that she couldn’t even tell if there were other Jewish faculty members or students. “All that changed when the Charytans arrived,” said Holtz, a Chabad faculty adviser. “The rabbi and the rebbetzin and their children are like family, and students who may just get lost in a crowd have a place to connect with Jewish kids their own age.”
Jan Feehley said her twin daughters, Annie and Abigail, now 21, were on campus just a few days as freshmen when they attended a barbecue at Chabad.
“Going to that first program changed their entire experience at Kennesaw State. It was just magic,” the mother said. “They were at home at Chabad and have loved it ever since.”