Nearly half a million Jews call Brooklyn, New York their home. To some the image of Brooklyn Jewry is young Yeshiva boys hurrying to school in groups, or hundreds of Kosher restaurants and cafés crowding Flatbush street corners. But to many Brooklyn Jews who do not affiliate with a specific community, Jewish community was never an active part of their lives.
That changed when Chabad of Kings Highway opened its doors in 2006 offering an alternative to the area’s Jews who were not part of the mainstream traditional Jewish communities. And it will change even more with the purchase of an adjoining property, doubling the size of its center.
Currently operating a plethora of Jewish programming out of a single house centrally located in the heart of Flatbush, Chabad offers holiday events, classes for all ages, user-friendly prayer services, teen events, Shabbat dinners and social programming to the thousands of unaffiliated Jews inthe area.
“I can’t believe they have this in the neighborhood,” Howard Hazan said. “I didn’t grow up with a Yeshiva education. I was always stuck between two communities and there was never anything real for us.”
Dr. Arye Kremer agrees “When I first moved to Brooklyn, I looked into the various synagogues in my area. My wife and I come from very different backgrounds with different levels of observance. At Chabad we found a beginner-friendly congregation that is non-judgmental”
Rabbi Zalmen Drizin, director of Chabad of Kings Highway, explains: “The Jewish community in Flatbush consists of a very diverse Sephardic and Ashkenazic population.” Though there are “many flourishing Synagogues in Flatbush serving many Jews, thousands are still yearning to fit in, searching for a sense of community. The need for a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their background, past, and current level of Jewish observance, is greater than ever.”
Chabad has recently contracted the adjoining house to expand its center. Randal and Sheila Gindi, Jeffrey and Agnes Shemia of HCS Homecare and other local business owners are helping fund the ambitious two-phase building project that will enlarge the center to 4,200 sq ft by 2012. In a later, second phase of the project, the two structures will be demolished, a new state-of-the-art Chabad Jewish Community Center will be built in its place. It will include a preschool, Hebrew school, sanctuary and many multi-purposes rooms for the varied programming the center offers.
“Everything has a body and soul. Our community’s soul is already gorgeous; we have excited, inspired constituents actively engaging in their Judaism. Now we need a body, a building, to match. People love coming to abeautiful place, it will draw others in and inspire them to explore their Judaism as well.”
Alice Gorenstein, a resident of Flatbush on Ocean Parkway for many decades, observed Chabad’s growth and was inspired by the dedication and warmth she saw. Acting on her inspiration, Gorenstein commissioned a brand-new Torah scroll to be written in a specialized elegant script by a scribe in Israel of Drizin’s choosing. The dedication ceremony of the Torah scroll, which Gorenstein will also sponsor, will take place just before Shavuot, the Jewish holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah, this May.
The building committee is currently in talks with the city municipality to arrange zoning permits and an architect is working on finalizing blueprints for the new Chabad center. Brooklyn’s unaffiliated Jews just might find their niche here.