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Friday, July 28, 2006

Shalom, Chabad

Bucktown’s first Jewish center opens with a Purim bash

By KATHARINE GRAYSON, Staff Writer

At first glance, the Moscowitzs’ home looks no different than any other of the town houses that line Bucktown’s quiet residential streets. But the home of Rabbi Yosef Moscowitz and his wife, Sara, is in its own way entirely distinct because it’s currently doubling as the neighborhood’s first Chabad center.

Chabad centers, says Mosco-witz, are geared toward serving Jews in communities where there may be few official places of worship. There are about 4,000 of them worldwide, but Moscowitz says his center will be the first in the West Town area, which, he says, most Jews often must leave to find a synagogue proper.

"There are lots of Jews, but there’s nothing much Jewish going on here," Moscowitz says, adding that many people in Bucktown and Wicker Park often head to Lakeview or the Gold Coast to worship, if not to the outer suburbs.

The Moscowitz family mov-ed into their home at 2134 Winchester just two months ago. But the Chabad center already held its first event this week, a celebration in honor of Purim, which Moscowitz describes as the most "joyous" of the Jewish holidays. Purim is based on the story of Haman and Queen Esther. In the story, Haman is the "bad guy," Moscowitz explains. He served as prime minister to the Persian emperor in 356 B.C. and devised a scheme to have all Jews killed until Queen Esther stepped in. Queen Esther, who is the heroine in the story, ultimately organized Haman’s downfall at a private wine party. In honor of the holiday, participants dress up in costumes, as "an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments," according to a written description of the tale offered by Moscowitz. And, as the plot to hang Haman was devised at a wine party, alcoholic beverages are also imbibed as part of the celebration.

At the party this week, roughly 20 people attended, a turnout that Moscowitz sees as a promising start to his fledgling center—which he ultimately hopes will offer study and prayer groups, and numerous other events for families.

Though Moscowitz is an Orthodox Jew, he adds that the center is open to any Jew, regardless of denomination.

"A Jew is a Jew, and we’re welcoming to everybody," he says. "Everyone’s looking to connect to something."

Most Chabad centers, he says, begin in individual homes. If successful, they may raise funds to build or move into an independent building. For instance, he says, a $10 million center is currently being constructed at Chestnut and Clark. For now, though, Moscowitz expects that Bucktown’s Chabad will operate out of his home for some time.

The Moscowitzs’ house is filled with books—both in Hebrew and English—ranging from philosophy, to the more traditionally studied Kabala, Talmud and Bible.

For Sara Moscowitz, starting the Chabad Center has been a near lifelong goal. Both Sara and Yusef Moscowitz grew up in predominately Orthodox neighborhoods; Sara in Brooklyn and Yusef in West Rogers Park. But, Sara says, opening a Chabad is something she’d always considered to be a "privilege."

Ultimately, Sara Moscowitz says she’s hoping to begin a women’s circle program, which she says would often begin with a lecture and follow with discussion, as well as a "Mom and Me" group. The Moscowitz’ have a 5-week-old baby.

"It’s great for kids and to share practical tips on parenting," she says.

To build up its membership, Yusef Moscowitz says he’s currently relying on word-of-mouth. And as for funding, the center will receive dollars from the national organization for about 18 months.

"After a year or two, financing stops," he says. "We’ll rely on the community finding a void and that we’ll be doing a good job filling it."

The Chabad of Wicker Park and Bucktown is located at 2134 Winchester. For more information, contact Moscowitz at 773/851-5989, or via e-mail, at WickerParkChabad@gmail.com.

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