A crowded event at Chabad at UC Berkeley (Chabad Jewish Student Center at Berkeley)
A crowded event at Chabad at UC Berkeley (Chabad Jewish Student Center at Berkeley)

UC Berkeley Chabad set to expand — upstairs

Chabad of UC Berkeley is expanding — upstairs. Right now, the popular campus center, run by Rabbi Gil Leeds and Rebbetzin Bracha Leeds, hosts services in their living space, which can hold up to 160 students.

Rabbi Leeds said he loves it, but he admits it’s getting crowded.

“If there’s room in the heart, there’s room in the home,” he said. “But we want to have even more space in the home.”

Currently, the Leeds live and host students downstairs, while the top half of the house is rented out to student tenants in order to help pay the mortgage. Now the Leeds hope to make more room by raising enough money to pay off the mortgage, which stands at $720,000. The Leeds, including their six children, will move upstairs, leaving the downstairs areas for Chabad and student functions.

“Were still going to be on site,” he said. “We’re just giving the students more space.”

About half of the money was raised last year and this is the center’s final push to “burn the mortgage,” as they put it. According to Leeds, mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities cost around $15,000 each month. The center is supported by donations.

“Chabad is not funded by any central organization,” the rabbi said.

The campaign to raise the mortgage money will also enlist the student community in a crowdfunding campaign called “720 by 2020.”

“That’s the goal,” Leeds said. “The goal is to utilize the power of social media and crowdfunding to really get the word out

That year, 2020, is also the campus center’s “bar mitzvah” year. The Leeds, themselves UC Berkeley graduates, opened their Chabad center in 2007 and bought the house, which was designed by Julia Morgan, in 2010. Money was raised in 2018 for a renovation, as well.

Leeds said he’s well aware that one of the challenges of the Bay Area is the price of housing, especially compared to Chabad colleagues in other parts of the country, but he said that it’s worth it to create community for the thousands of Jewish students on campus.

“The success of the Chabad model at campus is it’s a home away from home,” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.