Penn Lubavitch House Dedicates New Building

The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania will host a dedication ceremony for the newly renovated building on June 16.

Out with the old, in with the new.
The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania will host a dedication ceremony for the newly renovated building on June 16.
Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., also a Penn trustee, will deliver the keynote address, along with event co-chairs David Magerman, Ilan Kaufthal and Eric Gribetz. 
Rabbi Ephraim Levin, the co-director at Lubavitch House at Penn alongside his wife, Flora, started working there in the ’90s, planning a lot of Shabbat and holiday meals for students.
The more than 100-year-old building has always been at 4032 Spruce St., and Levin said it has functioned as the Lubavitch House since the ’80s.
Levin explained that a man named John McGarry, who was affiliated with the real estate department at Penn, always had a strong love for Jewish studies and Chasidic Jewry, though he himself was not Jewish.
He just cared about the atmosphere for students of all religions; he embraced his own religion but had a special interest in Judaism.
“He’d say, ‘Rabbi, you need a stronger physical presence at Penn, we can’t see where you are, you need something special,’” Levin laughed.
Though McGarry passed away in 2009, they started to think about enlarging and renewing the facility prior to that.
Wanting to stay in the same place, they bought the building next door and combined the two, which has since made more room for Shabbat dinners and other programming.
The now 25,000-square-foot facility has several levels. The first encompasses a large social hall for dinner and holiday meals, a library and the Beit Yaakov Synagogue, which was dedicated by Penn alumni the Safra family.
There’s a student lounge in the basement, which they’re trying to develop into a cafe/study area. Offices and conference rooms also fill the space, such as the headquarters for the Steinhardt Jewish Heritage Programs.
And on the top floor are student dormitories — eight studio apartments and one three-bedroom, mainly occupied by graduate students.
The new building officially opened around April 2015, but “for the dedication, we wanted to have something special, some special program,” Levin said.
“We didn’t really have a moment to kind of give recognition to all the people who were involved with the project,” he added. “It was a long time coming. It took a little longer than we expected.”
Seven years to be exact. The renovations happened in stages  and, along the way, Perelman agreed to name the building, which is the ninth campus Chabad House in the country.
Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, founder and executive director at Lubavitch House at Penn, said things have certainly changed since then.
“The world looked a lot different then in a lot of different ways,” he said. They mainly had events at Penn but would often extend to Temple, Drexel and Haverford.
Now, their students have a beautiful space to enjoy — and they definitely do.
Schmidt said they hold a senior send-off event at the end of each school year. Because the building was not completed last year, he suggested to his students that they have the send-off ceremony at a nice restaurant or art gallery.
“But all the students said, ‘No, we want to have it in the Chabad House.’ And, in general, it’s been a great facility for them,” he said.
“[McGarry] really encouraged us to grow the center and create a larger physical space, and that’s really created a lot of excitement.
“It was a long process with a lot of twists and turns to get the building finally built, but a lot of people along the way really helped us, so this dedication is really the end of that whole process — or I guess you could say the beginning of a new process.”
At the dedication ceremony, people can tour the new building and share their experiences with Lubavitch House.
Levin said they’ve done their best to keep the house looking like a home for the students rather than becoming a too-institutionalized atmosphere. 
The event will give people a “chance to learn about the programs that we’re doing and hear from some of the student leaders.”
“It’s kind of an opportunity to celebrate with donors and give recognition to the supporters, celebrate some of the students leaders, and kind of mark the specialness of the new center for everyone,” Levin said.
“The goal is celebration — to celebrate the opportunity and be thankful for what we have with the new center and what’s going on so far with the students and what we’re planning to grow and do in the future.” 
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