by Ashira Weiss – Lubavitch.com
Art studios and trendy eateries vie for space among authentic Polish bakeries and converted warehouses in Greenpoint. Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline just across the East River, is gentrifying. High-rises are going up along its waterfront, and now the eclectic neighborhood has got its own Greenpoint Chabad House—Jewish Center.
Rabbi Yisroel and Raizel Nissim have been serving the Greenpoint community for five years from just as many rented apartments and even the occasional AirBNB. “We’re excited to have reached this milestone so we can cater to a larger number of people, entertain more and add more programming from our own event space,” Rabbi Yisroel shared with Lubavitch.com.
Chabad of Greenpoint have purchased a 3,500 square foot, three-family home on India street. Close to the G subway, a block away from the new waterfront developments, on the B43 city bus line, a short walk from the New York water ferry, and within a two-block radius of three CitiBike stations, their location is perfectly suited. “We’re in a place that is uniquely accessible and we’re here to help people access their Judaism,” Raizel said.
The community is made up primarily of business owners who have resided or worked there for decades, and young people priced out of neighboring Williamsburg. Chabad of Greenpoint caters to both groups. The Chabad Business Network hosts holiday and networking events for the business community. (Last fall, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and members of NYPD 94th precinct attended Chabad’s ‘Sukkot-Open for Business’ event with local Jewish business owners.) And for the young professionals, Chabad of Greenpoint is a member of the Chabad Young Professionals International network and the Nissims host classes, holiday events and Shabbat dinners.
Rebecca Hecht is one of those younger people. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and moved to Greenpoint three years ago when her friend offered her an apartment share. She enjoys the slower pace of this “older neighborhood that hasn’t yet been overrun by change,” due to the lack of a direct train route to the city. When Rebecca became interested in learning more about Judaism a year-and-a-half ago, she remembered her positive experiences at Chabad of Dartmouth, so she did a Google search to see if there was a Chabad in her new locale. “I started attending Raizel’s weekly class and since then, the Nissims have become true friends and teachers to me. I turn to them for Jewish and personal guidance and although we’re not so far apart in age, they’ve become pseudo parents to me,” she says.
She is just one of the hundreds of millenials who have been touched by the Nissims’ authenticity and hospitality. Their events attract anywhere from fifteen attendees for a Torah class to 200 for a holiday party. When their home had a capacity for twenty-five guests, they squeezed in a twenty-sixth and for bigger events were forced to rent event space.
Rebecca calls the new Chabad House—Jewish Center a “game changer.” Growing up in Manhattan she was used to being surrounded by Jewish people and institutions. In Greenpoint, where Jewish infrastructure is scant, she says she felt the void. “You think it’s easy to find Jewish things in New York whenever you need them, but in Greenpoint it’s not. Now we have a permanent presence, a place where we can have all our Jewish needs met, and we are all so grateful.”
The Nissims have done basic renovations on the center, converting the first floor into a home and event space. They will rent out the upper floor until they can raise the $3 million needed to convert the entire property. The finished center will include a mikvah, commercial kosher kitchen, library and study lounge, hospitality suite and an art gallery for local Jewish artists to exhibit their work. Their outdoor space also needs renovating and will incorporate a meditation garden and sukkah plaza.
In the meantime, they are canvassing local talent for their input and ideas on designing what they call “a Jewish oasis of warmth and lively spiritual nourishment for all.”
The Nissims work in conjunction with Rabbi Shmuly and Devorah Leah Lein and Rabbi Kuti and Esti Feldman of Chabad of North Brooklyn based in Williamsburg.