Since you are considering UAlbany for college, we want to be sure you know all there’s to know about Jewish life here on campus. There’s something very unique about Jewish life at UAlbany (see “Unique” Tab) and there’s lots of Jewish infrastructure in place for you to maximize Jewish opportunities and experiences. Many alumni consider Shabbos House to be one of the most memorable and beloved aspects of their college experience. Please contact us with any questions or to schedule a visit, whether while you are up here looking at the campus, for orientation or for a Shabbat when you can get the full experience. And browse this website to get a feel.
Please remember: UAlbany may not the ideal Jewish spot for everyone. For some more religiously observant they may be much better off in a stronger Jewish atmosphere, or commuting from home to a Metro NY area college. Some students need a larger dating pool of like-minded Jews, as our campus community is very diverse with a lot of varying levels of observance all hanging out together. Others may be seeking a much more liberal campus community where Chabad is not at the heart of things together with Hillel, as it is here. And of course there are those seeking a warmer climate, and Albany has those 3-4 months when it gets quite cold. But we do try to keep it warm within!
The University at Albany is a major research campus in the SUNY system, and has made huge capital investments in the past decade and continues to do so. There’s a new classy business building (which is an important major here), a state-of-the-art life-sciences building with labs, the new Liberty apartment dorm complex near Indian Lake, an outdoor football stadium, and now underway a greatly expanded and renovated Campus Center. The growing Nanotech facility, while no longer technically part of UAlbany is just across the street, and offers some students amazing opportunities. Some of the individual UAlbany schools, departments or graduate schools have excellent regional or national reputations and rankings. The brand-new Information Sciences building and Data Center is right on the corner next to Shabbos House. School spirit is much more of a thing here now than in years past, where’s your purple?
For in-state students the price is right. UAlbany tuition is very reasonable. You get a lot of bang for your buck here. Believe it or not, its even reasonable for some out-of-state students as well. A significent percentage of our involved student body is from NJ, and from some other states, too. The economy has worked in our favor as well, many students who might otherwise have chosen a private college are now choosing UAlbany.
Location-wise, Albany is just 3-hours drive from most Metro NY areas, so its close enough to go home and far enough to be going away for college. There are plenty of bus and train routes going that way. And being the State Capital and a mid-size region with an array of work and cultural offerings offers some special opportunities, too.
Others reasons people choose Albany? Great business school, highly regarded Criminal Justice Department, of course the Rockefeller College (Public Policy and Public Administration), a host of other majors and programs, we have an understanding and helpful Disability Resource Center, while it may not be the prettiest campus (lots of concrete) it is scalable and accessible and compact for its size. Believe it or not, for not a few students Shabbos House and UAlbany Jewish life are an important factors as well.
And like our Jewish campus community, UAlbany is large enough, to offer many majors and areas of study, a broadly diverse student body, and yet small enough (yes, it is a big school, but not huge, and it’s physically centralized) to know a lot of people and make a difference in some of the many niche clubs, associations and communities on campus.
Of course, see the Albany.edu website for more reasons to consider UAlbany…
Yes, there’s always Shabbat Dinner and Lunch and prayers (on Friday Nights there are at least two sometimes 3 denominatons) every weekend that the University at Albany campus is in session, and even occasionally during academic breaks in winter and summer. Jewish Holidays, especially the week of Sukkot culminating in Simchat Torah are quite warm and memorable here, with festive meals and Minyans and lots of atmosphere. Same energy on Chanukah, Purim, Passover… We do have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, Sukkot, Passover – you name it (as long as its during the academic calendar season – we usually away for Shavuot for example which usually falls after graduation). There’s weekly Torah study on Tuesdays at Shabbos House, going strong since 2000.
There’s been a change to Kosher Dining on campus that happened over Covid and some broader campus changes. The changes are being figured out and addressed over the Summer of 2021, but the University is committed to providing Kosher meals for students who sign up for the Kosher plan, and stay tuned for how that will work in the Fall of 2021.
Between Shabbos House Chabad and UAlbany Hillel there are numerous weekday programs, including social events, study opportunities, Israel-related events and Jewish awareness on campus. We have a wonderfully diverse, warm and friendly core group of students, from varying backgrounds and levels of Jewish observance who feel close as a tight-knit Jewish community that’s spirited and welcoming, filled with liveliness, meaning and creativity. We are very proud of our students and our student leadership over the years. We have great involved students here!
SHABBOS HOUSE CHABAD has been serving UAlbany since 1976, and Mendel and Raizy have been here since 1997. The little house that could at 316 Fuller Rd, corner of Great Dane Drive, served us well and left us with many magical memories, but we’re thankful for the new, bigger and better Shabbos House that was built at 320 Fuller Road, two doors down from Great Dane Drive, in 2009. Rabbi Mendel and Raizy and family live upstairs, on-site, to create and foster a home away from home atmosphere, and try to be as available and accessible to students both for formal and informal programming and experiences. For anyone even semi-active in Jewish life you will find Shabbos House Chabad to be a second home, there’s a lot happening here, many of your key Jewish needs and experiences will be here. L’chaim Student Group (funded by the UAlbany Student Association) works with Shabbos House on a wide range of meaningful, fun, and memorable events and programs from holiday celebrations to social-action, to tabling awareness.
UALBANY HILLEL has offices and meeting space on the 3rd floor of the Campus Center. Hillel Shabbat dinner are held in rented space in the Campus Center, usually 3rd floor, and programming is either on campus in the Hillel office (such as their Tuesday-Shmoozeday), or nearby rooms, or off-site locations (especially for social events like Apple-picking, laser-tag, karaoke at a downtown place etc). Rabbi Nomi Manon is the executive director of Hillel and there’s usually a programming staff, too, or an Israel Fellow. Hillel offers a range of cultural, religious, social and social-action programming, coordinated/sponsored either by Hillel Staff or Hillel Student Board or both.
JUDAIC STUDIES DEPARTMENT at UAlbany offers many classes in Holocaust, Israel, Hebrew and Jewish History and Literature. Although smaller staffed than in past years, and no longer offering a Judaic Studies major, there are still many classes offered and the professors and adjuncts are very invested. Warning: A good deal of these classes are not a good idea for an easy-A in a subject that you may feel familiar just because you are Jewish. These are serious courses, with readings and required work and academic expectations. For some Yeshiva or day-school students the classes may be different than they are accustomed to, as they are taught from an academic secular perspective, but many come to terms and understand the context, and have enjoyed and learned from the experience.
WHAT MAKES OUR COMMUNITY UNIQUE?
The most distinctive and unique feature of our Jewish campus community has to be the decades-long cooperative relationship between Shabbos House Chabad and UAlbany Hillel. We alternate Friday Nights, and carefully coordinate programming calendars, with a sense of a unified campus community. This is a unique blessing that you are unlikely to find at any other campus, especially one this size. Many students and alumni have told us repeatedly how meaningful this is to them.
Students interested in Kosher need to sign up for Kosher dining as one of the meal options – stay tuned for some changes and developments post-Covid, but Kosher will be available!
We are probably somewhere on the high-end of mid-size active Jewish life on campus, we’d probably get a B+ in that ranking. We have a large enough active Jewish campus community to have this strong infrastructure with nicely attended programs and services, but we’re significantly smaller than some of the more active Jewish campuses (certainly less than Binghamton, Maryland, etc). On the other hand, in one way – for some people – that’s a blessing, too. Our involved campus community is small enough for all students to feel valued, needed and appreciated, with ample leadership opportunities for those eager to step up and make a difference. There’s more of a family feel, but not too small that we’re all at one table. Friday Nights can have many tables (as many as 15-20+), though we try to join them to the extent possible (both physically and emotionally).
Another subtle difference at our campus is due to the unique relationship between Chabad and Hillel, is that there is on one hand more mixed diversity in all aspects of Jewish campus life, and at the same time a sense of traditional Judaism and observance that’s accessible in a great deal of it.
see also our UAlbany Jewish Life Page…
BY THE NUMBERS
Numbers don’t tell the story, and we focus on each student rather than the crowd (as the Rebbe taught to never lose sight of the individual in the crowd) but the approximate numbers below may give you a sense of the levels of Jewish involvement and how UAlbany may compare with elsewhere or how it can fit your needs and expectations.
Friday Night – usually between 100-150 (pre-Covid. Post-Covid remain to be seen). Our flagship event, best well-attended event on a regular basis. About 2/3 of the crowd leaves at the end of dinner, while some linger on to shmooze, sing, have a fabrengen/oneg.
Shabbat Minyan – we used to be tight, hovering around 10-15 people, but in recent years has become more stable with 15-25 regularly attending, though not everyone comes on time, of course. We always get a Minyan but in earlier years, there was a built-in wait-time even though we call it for 10am, which is considered the crack of dawn on Saturdays on a college campus.
Shabbat Lunch – used to be the kept-secret, with only Minyaneers and close friends attending, but since the new house was built the secret is out of the bag, and a wider circle of students come regularly, of course depending on the weekend, but usually between 30-50 students attend. Sometimes we have something special for Shabbos Lunch, like a Cholent Cookoff or Dessert Bake-off, occasionally a short guest speaker, and students are more likely to get up and share stories, thoughts, experiences…
Shalosh Seudos, or Seudah Shlishit – this used to only be a handful of people, and only when the days get longer. More recently, it can be 2 or 3 tables full of people, and in the Pirkei Avot season we do a little “call-in show” called the Dingaling Hotline where people “call in” with a Mishna that speaks to them or jumps off the page…
Torah-Tuesday – We have been doing this study group since 2000. Originally not more than 2-3 students attended but it picked up in 2003 or 2004 and has had consistently good attendance since. The classes are accessible and interesting, original creative material with handouts and text. We do the same class 2 or 3 times each evening to accommodate student schedules, and most weeks we get 25+ students total, sometimes over 40. Dairy dinner is served with each class but there are no incentives or pay-to-study, no attendance taken and no commitment necessary. Some students won’t miss a class, other students come a few times a semester. Some come only for the classes that especially interest them.
Social Events – purely social events are usually run by Hillel, as Shabbos House tends to stick to more traditional-type programming (although all of our programs, have a strong social component, it’s all about creating and fostering community and friendships). Attendance at social events varies from about 10 people at some events, to upwards of 50 people at others. It all depends.
Does this give you some idea? The best thing is to give us a visit.
To really get a sense, your best best is to come up for a Shabbat and spend the weekend here with students, and get a feel for the community. Contact us or Hillel so we can set you up with a student to get the dorm feel, or you can stay with us at Shabbos House, as you wish. Remember that the college academic calendar is shorter than High Schools, mid-May is already too late for a Shabbos visit, and winter break Dec 19 thru Jan20-ish, also isn’t a good idea.
If you can’t come for a Shabbos, be sure to be in touch with any questions and stop by to see us with your parents at Shabbos House when you are up here looking at the school, here for orientation or whatever.
Hillel also hosts “dessert receptions” down in the NY area, usually in early August or late July, for incoming students and parents to meet current students and get a sense of what to expect and what to look forward to. Contact Hillel for more info on dates and locations.
And for a virtual visit, browse this website to get a virtual sense of what its like here!
FYI – GOOD TO KNOW
Here are a few things that prospective/incoming students ought to know:
Most Jewish Life is on the south-western side of campus. Shabbos House is just off Great Dane Drive near the Information Sciences building, Hillel is located on the south side of the Podium on the 3rd floor of the Campus Center. Most of campus is a close-walk to Shabbos House, but State Quad is the furthest. Yet being a compact campus layout, State Quad is still much closer than the distance between furthest dorms and Chabad Houses at many campuses. And Alumni Quad (where most transfer students are assigned) is about 3+ miles downtown from here.
Res-Life will accommodate most sincere religious housing preferences i.e. not on the 17th floor of a Tower where Shabbat can be an issue and uptown main campus vs. downtown for proximity to Kosher dining and Shabbat and Holidays at Shabbos House. But the earlier they get this request the better, once all housing is assigned it becomes very difficult for them to move things around, and its best if you are in touch with Rabbi Mendel for guidance on this and a letter attesting to this need.
Also – if the “Jewish Learning and Living Community” is a housing option, consider that. Freshmen usually are assigned random roomates, but students who choose to take a class or two in a specific subject can dorm together in one of the many LLC (Living and Learning Communities) and there is one (during some years) that is connected with the Judaic Studies Department and Hillel. The two years that we had this program was a great benefit to the participating students as well as to our Jewish campus community. But this will not be available if there isn’t enough, and early enough, sign-ups.
Yes, all the doors open with your electronic card, so much of your college life is bound up with that card. But the University will give you a “religious-key” for Shabbos if requested, again ask Rabbi Mendel for any assistance with this matter.
Once you know you are coming, please give your contact info to BOTH Shabbos House and Hillel, so we can both be in touch with you about upcoming events and opportunities.