Rabbi Daniel Grodnitzky is the newest addition to the staff of the Kosher Kitchen, located in the Terraces Dining Hall, where he serves as the mashgiach, kosher supervisor, of the kitchen. Grodnitzky and his wife, Reuvena Leah, recently moved to Ithaca with their 1-year-old son. The couple hold weekly Shabbat dinners, host “Jewish Jam Nights” and run classes such as Women in Judaism and Kabbala 101 at their home in Ithaca. He said he hopes to establish an official Chabad Jewish Center at Ithaca College.
Contributing writer Lily Oberman spoke with Grodnitzky about adjusting to Ithaca and combining the religious communities of the college and Cornell University.
Lily Oberman: Did you and your wife always want to work with college students?
Daniel Grodnitzky: We really did. I was studying in Brooklyn to get my rabbinic ordination, and then it was like, “Well, what do you do next?” You have to go out in the world and make a difference. And we just felt that the greatest difference we can make is on a college campus because we really understand what the needs of the people are. We can relate to college students [because] we’re young. … We have this relationship of being somewhat of peers, but also being mentors.
LO: When did you move to Ithaca?
DG: We moved to Ithaca at the end of June. We were living in Brooklyn, and our lease ended. The first couple of months were like a summer getaway. It’s so beautiful up here. We were just getting to know the area and started to meet a couple of students who were around over the summer and were already involved with Chabad. I was hired by the head rabbi who oversees the kitchen, and that’s how [my wife and I] are providing for ourselves here. I’m also working at the Roitman Chabad Center at Cornell University, where Rabbi Eli Silberstein has been running a Jewish outreach organization for about 25 years. … I called him and said, “We’re looking to do some outreach,” and he said that Ithaca College was a place that could really use a young couple.
LO: How can students reach you or find out more about attending a Shabbat dinner?
DG: We have a Facebook group, which has about 78 members. Every event we are holding, we post it on Facebook. My phone number is on there, and my wife’s. We’re also trying to get student club recognition because we have a handful of students who are very dedicated to fostering Jewish community and to our organization. We hope once that happens we can officially have events and use college facilities. But for now it’s a great start.
LO: Have students from both colleges shown up to the events that you have held?
DG: [Combining the college’s and Cornell’s Jewish communities] is a large goal of ours. Once a month we want to bring Ithaca College students over to the Cornell Chabad House for a huge, festive meal and Shabbat service. … If you combine these two campuses, there’s something like 5,000 Jews. Five thousand Jews in such a small town. That’s just something that’s waiting to be tapped into.
LO: How have you adjusted to living in the Ithaca community so far?
DG: The true adjustment will come when the winter comes. [My wife and I] feel very comfortable here. It’s a very friendly community. College students in general are always looking to meet people. The college is an open place where people are looking to befriend and find things to do, so it makes it a lot easier for what we’re trying to do, which is cultivate relationships with people.