Featured Ads

Chabad at KU was my home away from home

KU Chabad Co-Director Nechama Tiethtel and Megen Pener.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to instantly connect with Jews of all ages and religious backgrounds. Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel and his wife Nechama are special. They have been role models, spiritual guides and friends to hundreds of students over the past 10 years, including myself.

My first encounter with Chabad at KU was not a traditional one. My friend and I were hungry one night and didn’t feel like pizza. He suggested that we call Rabbi Zalman to see if we could eat the leftovers from the previous night’s midnight breakfast program. Rabbi Zalman said to come over, and within the short time it took us to walk from Naismith across the street to the Chabad house, Rabbi Zalman had put trays of food out for us. 

I had never met Rabbi Zalman before that evening, but I felt like I had a new friend by the time we finished eating. After that night, Rabbi Zalman remembered my name, where I was from, what I was interested in and invited me to several future programs. I was hooked on Chabad very quickly.

Chabad at KU was my new home away from home. The warm and welcoming atmosphere was contagious and Rabbi Zalman and Nechama made everybody feel like family. The delicious, made-from-scratch meals, Shabbat blessings and songs and seeing my friends became a weekly retreat from the stress of school. My friends and I loved to help cook for Shabbat with Nechama, while also bonding and learning together. 

Rabbi Zalman and Nechama welcomed students wherever they were at with their Judaism. They wanted students to feel like they had a connection to Jewish life and a family away from home, whether it was through food, prayer, learning or just being around other Jewish students. Besides Shabbat dinners, I participated in the Sinai Scholars Program, Purim celebrations in downtown Lawrence, Hanukkah Bowls, Passover meals and more throughout my four years of college. 

Rabbi Zalman and Nechama are not only the Chabad emissaries at KU, but my friends. I could (and can) talk to them about anything. Their example of a beautiful marriage was inspiring to me. When I first met my future husband Sam, I couldn’t wait to tell Rabbi Zalman and Nechama about him. I felt their excitement through the phone. 

After spending time with Rabbi Zalman, Sam felt the connection, too. Rabbi Zalman ended up performing part of our wedding ceremony and both he and Nechama spent time with us before our wedding day, teaching us about our treasured traditions. 

We continue to check in with each other, catch up and learn together. Our connection has gone beyond college and I know I have forever friends and advisers. Our connection has also expanded over the years. My entire immediate family interacts with Rabbi Zalman regularly. They enjoy his passionate and inspirational approach and support his efforts financially because they see something that really works. 

I am so glad my path has crossed with Chabad while I was in college, as that early connection as a young freshman has truly blossomed into a life long friendship and relationship, leading to a tremendous positive impact on my life.

Megan Pener is a 2011 graduate of the University of Kansas and serves as alumni coordinator at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. She and her husband Sam Pener were married in 2013 and have a 10-month-old daughter.