Queens couple receives ‘special’ honor at 18th anniversary gala for Penn State’s Chabad house

Photo courtesy of Linda Spiegel

Longtime Queens residents Ted and Linda Spigel were honored at a gala in celebration of Penn State’s Chabad house’s 18th anniversary — a special milestone in Judaism.

Ted, a commercial real estate broker, and Linda, the public affairs director at Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, played an integral role in the inception of Penn State’s Chabad house after their daughter went off to begin her undergraduate studies at the prestigious university.

“The Chabad was started in Penn State’s main location in Happy Valley. My daughter was a student there and used to say, ‘You can be nothing but happy there because it’s Happy Valley,’” Linda said.

A Chabad house is a community center that provides a place for Jewish people to broaden and deepen their Jewish identity by hosting classes, workshops, religious services and Shabbat meals.

Ted and Linda — who were longtime Bayside residents until recently — were proud of their daughter, but knew that the “huge” campus could be intimidating for a “Queens kid.” Especially since, at the time, Penn State didn’t have a prominent Jewish organization, they said.

This inspired them to help a young couple, Rabbi Nosson and Rebbetzin Sarah Meretsky, establish the Chabad.

“We wanted to go to a campus and create a home away from home for Jewish students, connect them to their heritage and give them a choice as to what kind of journey they want to take in exploring their Jewish identity,” Sarah said.

After 18 years of providing thousands of Jewish students with a place where they could celebrate their Judaism, they decided to commemorate the important milestone with a gala at the Chabad House Bowery in Manhattan on Nov. 17.

“The Hebrew word for ‘life’ is ‘chai,’ and the Hebrew letters add up to 18, so it’s custom to give $18 of donation or $36,” Ted said while explaining the mystical significance of the number. “It’s a good luck number.”

They honored several people who donated time and money to the organization, and presented Ted and Linda with the Nittany Founder Award.

“We wanted to honor Ted and Lin because they were the original founders, and because of them thousands and thousands of students have benefitted from our work,” Sarah said. “Their intention was to help their daughter, but because they were the impetus to making this Chabad house in Penn State … we all came.”

For Ted and Linda, being able to witness the many students and families that the Chabad house has positively impacted throughout the years and help them fundraise is special enough — but the award is an even bigger honor.

“It’s difficult sometimes to receive recognition because you just want to do things because you feel like it’s the right thing to do,” Linda said. “So when they asked us, we were a little hesitant but then I felt like we were really helping them by doing what we’ve done and by supporting them. It’s an honor for them to have selected us and remembered 18 years later, that we helped them get started.”

Ted then added, “I’ll tell you how it makes me feel: It makes me feel like I’d like to do another good deed. That’s the work of Chabad.”

More from Around New York