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‘A Jewish home away from home’: Chabad House opens this week after renovations

A three-story building with beige walls and green shutters stands at the corner of two streets.
The renovated Scharf Family Chabad House is 8,400 square feet and includes a Great Hall, sanctuary, library, guest rooms, and family apartment, among other features.
Elisabeth Stewart / The Daily Princetonian

On Friday nights, Chabad’s Princeton community makes the walk to 128 Nassau Street and descends to the carpeted basement room where they host Shabbat dinners. Chabad has occupied this space for the past two years while renovating their typical residence at 15 Edwards Place. Finally, after two years of renovations and expansion to the property, Chabad will host its first Shabbat dinner in the new residence — an 8,400 square foot space that Rabbi Eitan Webb hopes will be a space of joy and community on campus.

During Friday dinners, the two long dining tables in the current location are always crowded, as laughing students bump elbows, chat, and pass plates of food. The large number of attendees is a reflection of the growth of the Jewish community at Princeton in the past 20 years. 

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Rabbi Webb and his wife and co-director of Chabad, Gitty Webb, sought to expand the Chabad House at 15 Edwards Place and create a home for Jewish students on campus. 

“For years and years, we asked students what they wanted, and the same thing kept on coming up again and again and again: a home,” Rabbi Webb told The Daily Princetonian while admiring the view of University Place from the now-renovated house’s second floor deck. “There are a lot of spaces at Princeton. Hundreds of spaces. But that’s our motto: a Jewish home away from home.”

In 2002, Rabbi Webb and Gitty began Princeton’s Chabad Lubavitch in a narrow apartment near Nassau Street. Princeton Chabad is a chapter of the campus outreach branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which began as a Chassidic movement 250 years ago and has since evolved into a network of programs and services. It is self-described as a “dynamic force in Jewish life today.” The Princeton Chabad provides opportunities to “explore and experience Judaism in rich, vibrant, and exciting ways,” through the study of Jewish texts, holidays celebrations, mentorship, and weekly Shabbat dinners.

With donations from Michael Scharf ’64, the Webbs purchased 15 Edwards Place in 2006 and moved in during 2007. That property formed a duplex with the adjacent building, 17 Edwards Place. A bearing wall — since removed as part of the renovations — ran down the center of the house, from attic to basement, and separated the two homes on each side. 

The Webbs “squeezed as many people as possible” into the 400 square foot dining room for Shabbat dinners, according to Rabbi Webb.  

“I vividly remember President Eisgruber sitting over here,” Webb said, gesturing to an area in the now-enlarged dining space. He recalled when one of his children had to climb over Eisgruber when he needed to step away from the table. “We’ve outgrown this space a long, long time ago.”

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In 2015, the Webbs erected tents in the backyard of Edwards Place for his eldest son’s bar mitzvah. “That tent stayed up seven years,” Webb said, until the tent, too, began to overflow. 

Ellie Naider ’25, the president of Princeton Chabad’s student board, fondly remembers the outdoor setup with long tables and fairy lights during her freshman year in 2021-22 as “so communal and welcoming and warm.”

“The students loved it,” Webb said. But severe temperatures, weather, and logistical issues occasionally made setting up for Shabbat a “chaotic mess,” he joked. 

In the spring of 2020, Princeton Chabad purchased the adjacent 17 Edwards Place. Princeton Chabad worked with Princeton’s Historic Preservation Committee, Knight Architects LLC, and Elrath Construction to merge the properties, creating a modern, welcoming space for students while preserving the buildings’ historic “character.” 

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Documents from the Princeton Historic Preservation Committee describes the residences on Edwards Place as “row house[s],” which “abound in industrial cities such as Trenton” but are “unusual in Princeton.” 

Cathy Knight, the principal of Knight Architects, LLC, told the ‘Prince’ that she wanted the new house to be a “functional but beautiful space.” As part of renovations, Knight and Elrath Construction consolidated the two houses into one property by removing the bearing wall and reframing the entire structure. They expanded the attic and basement space, and created a single front entrance. Additionally, there is a second-floor deck and an accessible access ramp. 

Renovations were in full swing by 2022, and Princeton Chabad relocated to the basement of a building on Nassau Street with help from David Mandelbaum ’57, who also contributed a gift to help expand the Center for Jewish Life’s dining room. Webb told the ‘Prince’ that 96 percent of the renovation’s funding came from Princeton Chabad alumni and parents. 

Naider said that students are most excited about the resources and community spaces that will “enable the Jewish community on campus to flourish.”

Key features include a sanctuary, great hall for Shabbat dinners, coffee bar, commercial-quality kitchen, large basement game room, expanded library, several study rooms, an office for Princeton Chabad leadership, and two guest rooms for alumni and parent visitors. Additionally, the Webb family will have an apartment on the second and third floors. Webb’s personal favorite feature is the outside deck overlooking University Place.

“I hope that we’ve created a space [where people] can come and hang out with friends. A space that lends itself to learning and to joy,” he said. 

Princeton Chabad has already hosted a Parsha study and a hamantaschen baking this week but will introduce the house to the broader Princeton community at the “Mega Shabbat” on Friday. 

“We’re trying to get as many people as possible in the house,” Eliyahu Yablon ’27, the Chabad Events Chair, told the ‘Prince.’ “Everyone in the Chabad community, everyone on the Chabad Board, is texting and emailing as many people as they know to come and join in the opening of the new house and celebrating Shabbat for the first time in the new house.”

Per an email sent to the Princeton community this week, Shabbat dinner begins at 7:45 p.m., and Princeton Chabad welcomes both longtime members and newcomers alike — including those who are not Jewish. 

“In Judaism, there’s a notion that whenever you do something good, do it big,” Webb said. “When you’re doing something good on a community level, do it big, because why shouldn’t more people benefit from it?”

Elisabeth Stewart is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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