With its narrow cobblestone alleys and boutique shops, Manhattan’s West Village is known for its colorful, artistic residents and the alternative culture they propagated.
What was once an upscale neighborhood in the 19th century gave way to successive generations of communists, beatniks, hippies, artists, musicians and philosophers, who have long made their homes in its walk-up tenements, sipped coffee (and pontificated) in its crowded cafes, and explored a world of ideas within its charming streets.
Now the West Village will be home to a new Chabad center, headed and co-directed by Rabbi Berel and Chana Gurevitch, working under the auspices of Tzeirei Agudas Chabad (Lubavitch Youth Organization). “We have a large Jewish community in the area, along with many tourists from Israel, who would love to see a Jewish center in the neighborhood,” attests designer Vidal, whose shop has been located in the area for nearly a year. “I believe it will be a great gathering spot for the community. The Gurevitches have already awoken my faith, and for this alone I am only grateful.”
For the Gurevitches, both natives of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., the move with their 1-year-old daughter, Risha, across the East River is more than just a ride on the No. 3 train. It is a lifetime commitment to Jewish life in the neighborhood they will soon call home.
“Walking around the quaint streets, we have bumped into lots of people who look forward to a new center, where they can connect and explore Judaism more deeply,” says Chana Gurevitch, who has previously taught Judaism to beginners in Machon Alta in Safed, Israel. “The West Village is an enclave for the artistic and the soulful; the people there are spiritually sensitive, and will no doubt be attuned to the wisdom of Torah and Chassidism.”
“I have always wished to open a Chabad center somewhere where it was truly needed,” says the rabbi, who has previously served communities in Hawaii, Lithuania, Germany, Argentina, Peru and Nigeria. “I imagined the demand in a far-away place, perhaps overseas, but the truth is that Chabad is needed right here in Manhattan. The West Village may be geographically close, but it is its own world with a unique character and spirit.”
Long associated with free spirits and thinkers, the West Village was awarded the moniker “Little Bohemia” more than 100 years ago. But the mood has morphed in recent years, as the neighborhood has attracted thousands of business people, professionals and other residents.
“This was one of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan where there was no official Chabad presence,” says Rabbi Chaim Meir Lieberman, a member of the board of Lubavitch Youth Organization. “The Gurevitches are the right couple, thank G‑d. We are pleased that as this year of 5779 begins, Chabad activities and presence in a new area of Manhattan are already underway.”