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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 10, 2009

A bigger and better Shabbos House ready to welcome Jewish students

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — After three years of seeking zoning board approval, and one year of construction, the expanded Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, on the SUNY Albany campus, will officially open on Sept. 13.

The Shabbos House was established in 1976, and Rabbi Mendel Rubin and his wife, Raizy, have been there since 1997. A meeting place for Jewish students, the house holds a dinner and prayers on Friday nights, Torah Tuesday groups, and a Challah bread-baking session once weekly.

The old house is the place that Rabbi Rubin, his wife, and their children — there are now six — have called home for 12 years. It had one bathroom, two bedrooms, and a tiny kitchen, said Rubin. When there were only about 20 students attending the Friday-night programs, the house was crowded, but not unmanageable, he said.

A few years ago, the Shabbos House started attracting more students so that 100 to 150 people were crammed into the small house, Rubin said.

Zoning hurdles

After a year spent planning, the Rubins applied for zoning approval in 2004, for a 10,000-square-foot Shabbos House and synagogue.

“It was a frustrating process, and we felt there were a lot of obstacles,” said Rubin.

The family faced opposition from McKownville residents, who felt that such a large structure would not fit in with the residential neighborhood. The project was scaled down to 8,500 square feet.

 Stormwater problems also led to delay. Originally, the Rubins asked if they could hook into the Albany County municipal system, and then the University at Albany system, and were denied in both cases.

 Concern that the over-extended system in Albany County, which contributes to the flooding on Western Avenue in front of Stuyvesant Plaza, would not be able to handle the additional strain, led the zoning board to request that the Rubins find an alternative solution.

Finally, the zoning board approved a private water-retention system, which would hold runoff water in a basin and release it into the ground over a period of time.

The water-retention system was the first part of the construction to be completed, early in the fall of 2008, Rubin said. Now, roughly a year later, the project is 99 percent complete, he said.

The Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Peter Barber, said he was pleased to see the project moving forward.

“I like to see construction taking place in town, and from what I hear, all the requirements are being met for this project,” said Barber.

“Residential feel”

In addition to the synagogue, the new Shabbos House includes six bathrooms, four bedrooms, an office, a separate family area, a large kitchen, and a student preparation area.

“A residential feel was very important to us, not just on the outside, for the neighbors, but on the inside, for the students,” said Rubin. “We live here — they are coming to a family, not just a rabbi.”

According to Rubin, although the house is not in use yet, the students who regularly visited the old house are “thrilled to pieces” about the new facilities. His own children are “in seventh heaven” over the prospect of new space and privacy, he said.

The house serves as a central place where Jewish students can come for a spiritual or cultural experience, even if they aren’t overly religious, according to Rubin. He also feels it will be a drawing point for parents visiting the campus.

“It takes what we do to a whole new level,” he said.

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