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Student perspectives

We Are Lucky Enough to Be Jewish- Sammy Shabbat Speech

        For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Alec Reifer and I’m a junior in Sammy from Dallas, Texas. When Rabbi Zev asked me to speak tonight on the topic of what Judaism meant to the members of Sammy and college kids as a whole, I was hesitant on whether I was the right person to speak. Coming into college I was unsure if I was going to actively continue my relationship with Judaism. With all the hours in the library, the late nights at the Towers, and the hectic weekends, would I have time or the urge to pursue a future with Judaism?
            Flash forward to my junior year and I can proudly say I have not only continued my relationship with Judaism but have taken it to the next level. Last year I was able to have the lucky opportunity to go on Birthright and experience what all the talk about Israel was. While there, I took away more then I could have imagined, soaking up the experience and wishing I had listened to previous Birthrighters and extended my stay. One thing that I took away and will keep with me for the rest of my life is what Judaism meant to me. In Israel a Rabbi told me that Judaism is a religion, but its not just that. Judaism is special, Judaism is a relationship with God. While this might sound odd to most, he went on to explain his reasoning. You and I, Rabbi Zev, this Rabbi from Israel, all share one thing in common. We share what less than .2% of the world’s population share. We are lucky enough to be Jewish. How you are Jewish is up to you. If you are one who enjoys weekly Friday night services, you are strengthening your relationship with Judaism. If you are someone who actively advocates for Israel, you are strengthening your relationship with Judaism. If you joined a Jewish sorority, if you make an effort to come to services monthly, if you joined Sinai scholars, if you are proud to be Jewish, you are strengthening your relationship with Judaism. What I took from this conversation from this random Rabbi in Israel was that Judaism is what you want it to be. How you are Jewish is up to you and only you.
            The transition into college is unique to every person. For me, it wasn’t what fraternity did I want to join, it was what Jewish fraternity did I want to join. I knew that doing so, I would be strengthening my bond with Judaism. By coming to Chabad, going to Hillel, being apart of Jewish organizations, each and every one of us is taking our relationship with Judaism to the next level. No one can tell you what Judaism means to you because each and every one of us have our own relationship to God and who’s to judge how Jewish you want to be?

Shabbat Shalom, Thank you.

Alec is feature on the left in the picture above.

What do you like about Shabbat?

    Growing up I always sang a song titled “What do you like about
Shabbat?” People would have to fill the answer to this question and
sing everyone’s responses. People would usually say answers like “The
Challah” The Candles” The Wine” etc. All of these things are great,
but my favorite part about Shabbat has always been the traditions.
Being with family and friends, chanting prayers, hearing words of
Torah, and singing songs is what Shabbat is all about.

    Celebrating Shabbat at Chabad is always special. Walking into the warm atmosphere makes me feel like I am at home. One of my favorite traditions at
Chabad is singing Shalom Aleychem. As soon as Rabbi Zev begins to sing
these words I know that Shabbat is in full force! Sammy Shabbat is one
of my favorite nights of the year. Enjoying Shabbat with all of my
fraternities bothers is so special. This is a night where we can all
share our traditions, and make new ones too.


Joel is pictured on the left.

Chabad in College

    It is said that when people go to college, they generally lose touch with their religious beliefs and identity. For me, though, my goal is to not only prevent that from happening, but to also continue growing spiritually and remain strong in my Jewish beliefs. Through Chabad, I have been able to do so. Although it has been hard to go as often as I would like because of a demanding college schedule, I know that it is where I can go to feel comfortable and welcomed. I really enjoy the traditional services, and there is a great social aspect to it as well. Everyone is friendly and open to meeting others.

    As a younger sibling of two UT alum who were both active at Chabad, I have known Rabbi Johnson and his wife Ariela for a while now; however, it took attending this school to understand exactly why everyone loves them so much. I experience amazing hospitality from the both of them whenever I am there, and I truly enjoy listening to Rabbi Johnson’s stories and Midrashim during the service. I am very excited to attend Chabad throughout my years here in order to meet new people and build on my Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom
Ben Tillis

Sammy Shabbat

         Growing up going to Camp Young Judea for the past 11 years of my life Judaism, Zionism, and Israeli culture are very important to me. My favorite time at CYJ was always Friday night Shabbat dinner. Everyone goes to services together and then eats Shabbat dinner as one huge family. As much as I looked forward to and enjoyed Shabbat at camp that was the only time I really celebrated the holiday.

            In college I am very involved with my fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy). I noticed as a freshman that we were not as involved religiously as some of the other Jewish fraternities. Last semester we decided that we wanted to bring Judaism back into the culture of the fraternity and had meetings with Chabbad and Hillel in order to figure out how and increase this aspect. I was really excited to hear this news because Judaism is so important to me.

            A few weeks ago Sammy had a Shabbat dinner at our fraternity house and it was a great success. Sammy members, girls, and other students at the University of Texas all prayed together and had an amazing Shabbat dinner. It was similar to my experience at CYJ and something I am very excited about participating in again.

            This Friday Sammy is having a Shabbat at Chabbad, and I could not be more proud to be a member in this fraternity. Chabbad is a place where Jewish students from all over the University of Texas, regardless of their backgrounds, can come together and have a wonderful time celebrating Shabbat as one big משפחה (Mishpakha). Sammy is becoming more involved in Jewish organizations and having a Sammy Shabbat at Chabbad is an extremely important step.


Invocation and Installation of the 2012-2013 JCAA Board of Directors & Thoughts

 On Thursday night, OCTOBER the 18th, I had the privilege of installing the members of the JCAA Board of Directors for 2012-2013. 

The JCAA and Federation of Austin have joined UT Chabad as partners in our work to reach out and engage the Jewish Longhorn students of UT and beyond.  The students, as we know, are our future Jewish leaders. We are extremely grateful to the Allocations committee for their commitment to ensuring that our anchor program of Shabbat, which as many people note to me, is the largest most consistent Shabbat Program in perhaps all of Texas, continues to thrive and engage our future leaders.

In light of this new-found solid connection, I was pleased to have the opportunity to offer my blessings and talk about leadership.  I am pleased to share a brief highlight of my talk:

Noah, in this weeks Torah portion, walks with G-d, but fails to walk with mankind.  So much time and energy invested in building a grand ship, but who does he lead onto his ship? Only his family, leaving the rest of humanity behind.

While Noah excelled in goodness in his generation, we can not began to compare his greatness with the leadership and greatness of Avraham and Sara, the first Jews, who continue to influence our society to this very day.

You see Noah, was warm --- he figuratively wore a beautiful fur coat.  But that warmth was limited and perhaps on some level selfish.  Avraham on the other hand figuratively lit bonfires.  Avraham was a lamplighter, who was open to the entire community, including Arabs and even idolaters And with their tent, Avaraham and Sara, teamed up together, to establish values of goodness and empowerment.  He was the first to hold press conferences about Judaism and its values.

Without further delay, I am honored to represent the student community, where my wife and I spend the majority of our time running the Chabad STUDENT center, as well as with the permission of the wider community at large, to declare the incoming JCAA Board of Directors for 2012-2013 installed.  And I would like to thank and bless last year's board together with this year's board as well as all of us gathered here tonight on this important occasion, to continue leading in way that Avraham and Sara established for all of us...”

I spoke of a few more ideas with respect to Jewish unity and closed with a blessing of uniting for the common cause of Jewish engagement and leadership.

I want to take this moment to sincerely thank the JCAA and the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin, and particularly Susan Broockman (Chair-elect at JCAA Board of Directors), David Brenner (Chair at JCAA Board of Directors), Jay Rubin (CEO at Jewish Community Association of Austin), and all of those who are involved in their noble efforts.

Austin is leading the way in regards to diversity and partnership for a greater cause, making sure we unite and move forward together, allowing our diversity and unique contributions to come together to propel us further and successfully.

I am proud to be part of this amazing community. 

Rabbi Zev Johnson (Executive Director of the UT Chabad Student Center),  Rabbi David Komerofsky (Executive Director of Texas Hillel) and Margo Sack (Director of Jewish Student Life at Texas Hillel)  share a moment and and many smiles at the JCAA annual meeting

Facebook and a Shabbat Anniversery


September 2, 2011

Wednesday morning Sam Rosen posted on my facebook wall: “On this day In 2010 
that his status was: I really want Tina Melamed, Tanya Melamed, Alana Reifer, and Lauren Frankoff to sit with me this Shabbat." Which marked my first Shabbat at Chabad, making this Shabbat my one-year anniversary. I started to think about all of the things that I have experienced in just one short year of coming to the Chabad house every Friday night. First of all, its pretty obvious that the food alone is reason enough to keep coming back. But once you realize that this place has so much more to offer than just a delicious meal, you realize how incredible the family is that runs this place. Rabbi Zev is inspirational week after week. And well, after I fell in love with Ariela and her cooking it is no secret that I quickly fell in love with their amazing children as well. They are not only the most beautiful and best dressed children I’ve ever met, they are also very unique in the sense that they all have such amazing personalities even at such a young age.

In addition to having a place to spend my Friday evenings, Chabad has enabled me to develop new and strengthen old friendships that wouldn’t be the same today without the all of the memories we have made together each week over the Shabbos table.

Today, a year later, it is hard for me to imagine not having Shabbat to look forward to each week. I can’t believe I spent two years at this university without ever stepping foot into the Chabad house. I can’t describe the feeling I get when I’m here, the best way to sum it up is that I am just a happier person all around. The sense of community, family, and support that exists within these walls is unmatched to anything else I have experienced on this campus.

So, I’d like to take this time to thank Sam for bringing me here because without his simple facebook status nearly a year ago today, I would not be here. And a huge thank you to Rabbi Zev and Ariela for welcoming me in with open arms, you both are incredible people.
Thank you. Shabbat Shalom. 


This speech was written by UT Alumni and now dental student Alana Reifer a little over a year ago. I am pleased to share her words now on the Chabad blog for everyone to see.


Jaime Karakowsky: Sammy Shabbat

    When I transferred to UT, I barely knew anyone in Austin. And the experiences I have had with orthodox Rabbis in the past weren’t the best… perhaps because I come from an Orthodox community that has had a lot of difficult finding a Rabbi that fits our necessities. However, when Chabad at UT invited me to come spend a Shabbat with them, I didn't doubt it for a second.
            Rabbi Zev was the first one to open his doors to me to join a small but very strong Jewish family here in Austin. Since that first experience, I try to spend as much time as I can at Chabad. Whether this means attending Shabbat services, praying for Yom Kippur, celebrating Purim, or any event they might have, every single time I come, I feel like I’m at home. Rabbi Zev and his wife Ariela do a great job welcoming people and creating a strong Jewish family, where your background, ideology or your Greek life involvement doesn't really matter. For at least one hour a week, we all sit together and enjoy each other’s company as a big family! My goal for this year is to get as many people as I can to come to Chabad so they can enjoy this experience as much as I do.

            I am also a member of Sammy. Last semester, a couple of leaders at Sammy decided to meet and discuss the future for our fraternity, because we believe that as a Jewish Fraternity, we should be more involved on campus with Jewish organizations. Although many of us are involved on a personal level we are looking to help more members have a Jewish experience during college. Lead by Jake Dworkis and myself, the fraternity has started having Shabbat dinners at the house once a month. We have had a great turnout so far! Our last Shabbat was on September 28th; it was a date event and we were honored to have Rabbi Zev lead over one hundred people with a great Shabbat sermon and blessings before dinner. Those who attended had so much fun that as we were having dinner, numerous people asked us to continue hosting Shabbat dinners and any other events that would bring Judaism into the fraternity. Now, we are looking forward to our first Sammy Shabbat dinner at Chabad on October 26.



My Chabad Experience: Junior and Executive Board Member David Cleaner

     It has been two years since I first stepped foot in the Chabad house here at UT. Back then I was just looking for a quick service and a good meal. Now it is clear to me that Chabad is so much more than that. It’s a place where you can meet new people and see old friends. It’s a place where you learn new things. It’s a place where you can be yourself. Rabbi Zev and Ariela are the co-directors and yet, the descriptor “family” seems so much more appropriate. It truly is a home away from home for so many people.

      As a Californian, when I first got to this massive University I did not know a single person. I knew that I had to find the right organizations to join in order to meet people. It was under these circumstances that I first came to Chabad. My network grew by about 20 people from that first night alone. Ever since that first experience with Chabad, not a single day has gone by without me wishing it was Friday night already. I always look forward to spending time with all of my friends and Rabbi Zev, Ariela, and their adorable kids.

      It still amazes me that the reasons that first brought me to Chabad are now mere after-thoughts. It’s no longer a good meal that brings me to Chabad (although there of course always is one). The reason I continue to come back every week is the feeling you get when you walk through that door. The overwhelming sense of belonging and comfort is something that can’t be duplicated at many other venues. It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain but I have no doubt that it’s the reason why so many students pack the house every Friday night.

      My college experience wouldn’t have been the same without Chabad and I owe it all to Rabbi Zev and Ariela. Their sacrifices and selflessness are the reason so many students have a place to spend their Shabbat evenings every week. I am so glad that I have the opportunity to take part in such a great organization and I look forward to the next few years.


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