State College

Come and knock on their door

Miri Rabbi Hershy Gourarie laugh with their 3-month-old daughter, Mushka, in their home on Thursday.
Miri Rabbi Hershy Gourarie laugh with their 3-month-old daughter, Mushka, in their home on Thursday.

There is a giant hole in the middle of the living room.

As far as holes go, it’s actually quite pristine, a beautiful brown shade of hardwood flooring that sits level with the rest of the living room in the humble State College abode belonging to Rabbi Hershy Gourarie and his wife, Miri.

Closer to the dining room, a soft-looking couch has taken refuge from the gaping pool of negative space on the other side of the room and the rest of the furniture has followed suit, perhaps clinging futilely to a desperate belief that one day the right rug will come along and tie all of this together.

All of this worrying is a unnecessary, though.

In a few short weeks, the hardwood oasis will once again be occupied by twin tables long enough to accommodate the upward of 40 or so guests that long ago made this barren patch of land into their regular Saturday night hangout, a place that the rabbi, his wife and now many others would just as soon refer to as home.

Suddenly, it seems like a rug might just be in the way.

“We are looking for a bigger place,” Hershy Gourarie said.

That kind of upward mobility remains as sure and superficial a sign of success as it ever was, but here it takes on a different meaning, a clearer and much more accurate assessment of a job well done.

The pair is one of more than 235 ambassador couples who have been sent to universities across the globe by Chabad on Campus.

From the fog of London to the peaks of Happy Valley, the organization seeks to create a place where Jewish students of all backgrounds can feel like they can kickback and belong.

As far as the undergraduate community of Penn State is concerned, that designates the Gouraries as the area’s very own happy homemakers.

“Students know that this is a go-to address, where they can get anything that they need,” Miri Gourarie said.

Since August 2015, the Gouraries have done everything from campuswide holiday celebrations to home soup delivery.

Their regularly scheduled Saturday student dinners are literally eating their way through the stock of kosher chicken and meat that takes up three big freezers on the lower level of the couple’s home.

“The basic philosophy behind it is at Chabad, every Jew is family,” Hershy Gourarie said.

Family is important. Summer is sacred.

This holds especially true for the parents of a 3-month-old, perhaps the only in recorded history to rate quieter than a gaggle of college students.

“It’s been too quiet. We’re used to a packed house, students coming over, laughing, helping out,” Miri Gourarie said.

That the Gouraries hover on the lower end of the age spectrum — old enough to command authority, young enough to maintain it — has also been a boon.

These are, after all, students choosing actively to engage with their faith, perhaps for the first time without mom or dad standing over their shoulder.

“Whatever they’re doing, they’re choosing to do on their own,” Hershy Gourarie said.

From the sound of it, their number of choices will only continue to grow this year, including a trip to New York City to meet with Chabads from campuses across the globe.

Even as the size and scope of Chabad continues to grow, it continues to be the smaller, interpersonal connections that interest the rabbi most.

He seems just as happy lending a student a ride to the bus stop as he is planning a Birthright trip to Israel.

“A good deed is like lighting a flame. … Every good deed dispels a lot of darkness,” Hershy Gourarie said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready