At least a decade ago, maybe more, Shabbos House was involved in a national study of Jewish life on campus (this isn’t the study from 2005, that’s another story). A faculty member named Fern from the host University near Boston came down to do interviews here and we spent quite some time preparing the data she needed and doing the interview itself. They were trying to match up home and family demographics and affiliations with actual student observance on campus (I think) and one thing that kept coming up in our interview was how we don’t track that stuff so much, and how students surprise us, souls are so interesting, life has so many twists and turns, you never know who will end up being more involved and dedicated to Jewish life.
That “you never know” theme got her to tell this personal story. Turns out that Fern herself went to UAlbany, and graduated in the mid 1970’s. During her senior year a young, bearded Rabbi, had a table in the campus center where he offered to teach women the art of lighting the Shabbos candles. (This was not long after the Rebbe began the Shabbat candle lighting campaign for Jewish women and girls). All year she passed him, and never stopped at the table. Was it college peer pressure, was it his beard? She doesn’t remember. Towards the end of her senior year she went over to the table for some reason, and learned how to light the candles. And she continues to light them to this day.
That young Rabbi was my father Rabbi Israel Rubin, who came to Albany NY on the Rebbe’s Shlichus in 1974, and founded the Shabbos House Chabad Student Center at SUNY Albany in late 1975, early 1976. And whatever he might have thought of the young woman who passed his table so many times, she is a proud and involved Jewish woman today, still lighting the candles.
Never underestimate the lasting power of one single, small choice. Going over to that table at the end of her senior year left her with something beautiful that will last a lifetime.
Don’t underestimate the effect you have on people. My father may have felt frustrated sitting there week after week with people deliberately avoiding the table. But it pays off, it’s so worth it.