Many college students yearn for the comfort of a home-cooked meal and the time with family that they miss out on after they move away for school.
Every week, nearly 200 students who gather on Fridays for Shabbat dinner experience just that.
Nestled in between campus and downtown, Chabad of Madison is a center for educating and celebrating Jewish community in Dane County. It serves to promote Jewish heritage and community for all attendees, no matter their background and affiliation.
Rabbi Mendel Matusof started Chabad of Madison in 2005 with the aim to create a “more homey and welcoming Jewish environment.”
“We're creating a community of college students who are overwhelmingly away from their families, and a lot of people associate religion and religious community with family, so we feel like we can sort of help bridge that for them while they're in college by providing them a family experience,” Matusof said. “Everything is family oriented.”
What started as several students gathered in an apartment, expanded and turned into a large-scale operation with hundreds of students coming for holidays, cultural learning engagements, worship opportunities, trips and meals.
Sophomore Olivia Hirshorn regularly attends Friday night Shabbat dinners, Kosher cooking club, Jewish education courses and late-night breakfasts.
“Chabad has played a central role in my college experience, and as cheesy and it sounds, I consider it a home away from home,” Hirshorn said. “It is so comforting to know I have a place to practice my Judaism and continue to grow with it as I navigate college and beyond.”
She values building a relationship with this community and with Rabbi Mendel and his family.
“I feel super lucky to have a warm and welcoming place to connect with Jewish people, share experiences, and of course eat amazing food,” Hirshorn said. “In terms of my life, Chabad is a place where I can expand on my Judaism and continue to explore what it looks like in my life.”
Gina Musso is a Senior Staff Writer at The Daily Cardinal. She previously served as College News Editor and Features Editor, focusing coverage around student government, campus COVID updates and in-depth reporting. Follow her on Twitter @gina__musso.