Spotlight: Chabad to open new downtown/Westside Binghamton building

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

The Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life will open a new satellite building in the downtown/Westside section of Binghamton. Rabbi Levi Slonim, who is in charge of downtown and development, noted that Chabad’s presence in that area is not new: programming began there in 2005. 

“At the time, I was working with my parents on various Chabad projects,” Slonim said in an e-mail interview. “Over time, Chabad was getting lots of requests from students living in the Westside for organized Shabbat meals and programming. Along with some student leaders, we arranged for monthly Shabbat dinners at a hotel on Front Street, which were a big success; they attracted anywhere from 50-80 students. We also hosted Shabbat lunches at the homes of students affiliated with various Greek groups.”

These programs led to the establishment of a satellite Chabad House on the Westside with permanent offerings of Shabbat meals and other events. With the new student housing complexes being built in downtown Binghamton, Chabad began receiving requests for programming and Shabbat meals in that area. In 2016, Shabbat meals began in the Printing House before moving to the current rented space at 60 Henry St. 

“Due to the large interest and demand for Shabbat dinners and other programming, and because our current space can only accommodate about 90 or so students, it became clear at the end of 2021 that we needed to find another location that can accommodate a larger volume of students,” Slonim said. “Our new center will provide us with 15,000 square feet to be used for a large social hall for Shabbat meals and events, a student lounge and study spaces, a commercial kitchen, a synagogue, programming areas, a library and more.”

Slonim noted that it will take a minimum of nine to 12 months before the building is open – that is, if there are no construction delays. However, he said that the first stage of the project is complete: Chabad has closed on the building. “What lies ahead includes finalizing the architectural plans for the center and the extensive gut rehab construction of the site and of course, a major capital campaign to raise the funds necessary (close to $3 million) for this project,” he added.

The main focus of the center will be undergraduate and graduate students, and young professionals, though Slonim notes that he anticipates that some local community members may join as well. The center will host weekly Shabbat services and meals, a variety of weekly classes, holiday programming, baking and cooking workshops, mental health workshops and training, study spaces and lounges.

Slonin sees the new center as another step in the local Chabad’s development. “This downtown Chabad center is part of the larger story of the development and growth of Chabad of Binghamton over the last 38 years,” he said. “Along with the development of the student complexes in the downtown area over the last 10-15 years came the growth of the Jewish student community downtown.”

According to Slonim, “This project is part of 1,210 centers and institutions being established and developed throughout this year marking 120 years since the birth of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. It was the Rebbe who sent Rabbi Aaron and Rivkah Slonim to establish the Chabad Lubavitch presence in Broome County. It is the Rebbe’s belief in the inherent potential of every Jew to materialize their purpose in this world and his teachings of boundless unadulterated love to every Jew, no matter their background, that guide our work each and every day, and continues to motivate us to work harder and reach deeper.”

Slonim also noted how members of the university and local community have supported them. “We feel humbled to have such special partners and supporters that have been at the side of Chabad over the years and particularly with this monumental project,” he said. “Those include alumni, parents, local community members and, of special note, the Board of Trustees of Chabad and its president Michael Wright.”