The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania celebrated the newly renovated building on June 16 with food, drinks and speeches from students, rabbis and co-chairs.
Surrounded by fraternity houses on the block, the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania celebrated the newly renovated building on June 16 with food, drinks and speeches from students, rabbis and co-chairs.
The century-old building at 4032 Spruce St. officially opened in April 2015, but the center was finally able to honor its donors and board members with this open house event.
Attendees were able to tour the 25,000-square-foot facility, which has several levels that include a large social hall, a library, a student lounge, offices and conference rooms, and student dormitories.
Hand-washing stations were readily accessible throughout the space underneath several pastel paintings spread across the walls.
New couches, modest chandeliers and flat-screen TVs gave the old foundation a fresh finish.
For co-chairs Ilan Kaufthal and Eric Gribetz, the open house was the first time they saw the renovations in person.
Kaufthal’s sons both went to Penn and were close with Rabbis Menachem Schmidt and Ephraim Levin.
Kaufthal started getting involved with the center and teaching students about his work experiences, particularly in investment banking.
“I talked about my experiences and answered questions and just generally give them some insight into the life I led, which was a combination of profession and Judaism — my personal life and my professional life — and eventually got involved with them trying to build this building,” he said.
Kaufthal added that when a building is this attractive, more students will come and learn.
“If a structure like this is attractive, which it is, hopefully more Jewish students will avail themselves opportunities to eat meals together, study together and get exposed to Judaism together from whatever stream of Judaism they come from or want to go to,” he said. “The physical shape and soundness and attractiveness of a facility has a lot to do with whether they’ll do that.
“It’s been a long road, but we got there.”
Eric Gribetz used to be a student at Penn and also was close to Rabbi Levin.
“He had a very strong impact on both my impact here and a lot of my friends and peers. This building creates an opportunity for him to perpetuate that going forward,” he said.
Gribetz is just glad to see it all come together.
“The building is a great platform for the rabbis to be able to continue the work that they’re doing. It’s very inviting, and my first time seeing it came out beautifully,” he laughed. “It’s a great atmosphere and a great platform for them to invite people to learn and experience different elements of Judaism. And on a college campus, a building and program like this is really important.”
Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. from Utah, also a Penn graduate and trustee, delivered the keynote address.
He received an invitation to the open house by Kaufthal, whom he’s known for about 30 years and who he described as “a second rabbi to me.”
He always had a great love for the campus and an affection for Chabad.
“I’m just a guy from Utah who was raised in the Mormon tradition, but I have great affection for the Jewish faith, and particularly the impact it has on students,” he added, adorned in a kippah during the event.
Even back in Utah, his sentiments did not change.
“I grew to become very close to one of the rabbis out in Utah while serving as governor,” specifically Rabbi Benny Zippel, he said, “and we became very close. He was a very inspirational person in my life.”
Zippel led prayers at his inauguration as governor, and they even went to Israel together.
“All the way around, he had a real impact on me and my family, and we grew closer to the Jewish faith through him,” he said.
And that’s what he hopes this new center will do.
“They’re able to create a community, which is the most important experience a student can have. It’s not necessarily in the classroom but in the classroom of life,” he said.
“In today’s world with so much uncertainty and anxiety, it’s a great blessing to have this kind of thing. And I hope that message goes out loud and clear.”
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