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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chabad to open Jewish outreach center

Oct 18, 2007 —
Rabbi Elazar Green believes the most important building in the Jewish faith isn't the synagogue. It's the home.
"It's where people can come and experience and live Judaism," he said.
A home is what Green's organization recently purchased in Spring Garden Township on the edge of the York College campus.
After some remodeling and a good scrub down, the four-bedroom house now peeling with white paint will become York County's first Chabad House - an outreach center to Jews and home to an emissary family of Chabad-Lubavitch, a branch of Hasidic Judaism with mystical roots.
Including 30-year-old Green and wife Shira, Pennsylvania is home to 59 shluchim, young Lubavitch couples who have left their homes and relocated to communities with little or no orthodox presence.
Their mission in part is to encourage Jews to live more religiously observant lives and to spread the teachings of their revered rebbe. They belong to a growing, highly organized network of 4,000 Lubavitch rabbis and their families who serve lifetime assignments in more than 70 countries, according to figures on Chabad.org, the movement's Web site. That number of emissaries has doubled in the last decade.
They're acting on Chabad's belief that its highest calling is to help other Jews.
Green and his family moved to Lancaster three years ago and started the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center, which sponsors hands-on, educational activities designed to teach about Jewish culture, tradition and history. Next month, the topic of a new course is Israel and why Jews should care about it.
Green established a location in Lancaster but looked for a house in York for three years. He and his board of directors wanted something big enough to host Bible studies, counseling and other events but also centrally located for the Jewish community in York County and students at the college, he said.
In August, a friend discovered the half-acre property on the corner of Colonial Avenue and Grantley Road.
That friend, Elliott Weinstein (also a member of the local Chabad board), lent the Chabad center $200,000 to cover the purchase. Green plans to raise the funds to pay Weinstein back, he said.
Among the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement began in Russia in the 18th century. Since coming to the U.S. in the 1940s, the Lubavitch have used various American institutions, such as day schools, summer camps, adult classes and holiday celebrations to reach Jews unschooled in the faith.
Sue Fishkoff, author of "The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch," cites some critics who say Chabad pushes the outreach too far with an "in-your-face" type of Judaism. She also notes tension with many rabbis in the U.S. because Chabad doesn't recognize non-orthodox denominations.
Still, Lubavitch are known for their dedication and idealism, Fishkoff writes.
Green grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of educators who also serve as emissaries. Friendly, energetic and talkative, he said he knew as a child he'd someday become an emissary for the movement.
A few years ago, Green's uncle, Rabbi Shaya Sackett of Congregation Degel Israel in Lancaster, invited him to teach at a yeshiva (Jewish school) he founded there.
Green accepted. At the same time, he approached a rabbi in Philadelphia who leads shluchim in this region and asked about starting a Chabad center in Lancaster and York. The rabbi agreed.
For the most part, the Jews who attend the Chabad programs in York and Lancaster are unaffiliated with a congregation, Green said.
After it's fixed up, the Chabad home in Spring Garden Township will house Green and his family part time. Eventually, they'll hire another emissary family to live in the house and focus full time on outreach in York County, Green said.
Besides planning the Enrichment Center's programs, much of Green's job is fundraising - something that's gotten relatively easier as the community learns more about what he does, Green said. Chabad houses are funded by donations and not membership dues.
Green plans to partner for some activities with the Jewish-student group Hillel at York College. He also might erect a 10-foot-high menorah on the Chabad house lawn come Hanukkah time to alert Jewish students to the home's presence. Last month, some students attended a Sukkot party at the house, said Dena Leavey, 20, president of Hillel.
"It just brings another option to Jewish students on campus," she said of Chabad.
"People do want to learn more about Judaism, which is something Rabbi Green provides with his programs."
Leavey and Green estimate York College has about 100 Jewish students, some of whom regularly daven Shabbos at Temple Beth Israel, the Reform congregation in York Township that offers transportation to the synagogue and host-families to Jewish students, Leavey said.
Green isn't trying to make anybody adopt orthodox observances. He wants to reach the unaffiliated and nonpracticing.
He said, "Everybody's welcome (at Chabad) - no matter their affiliation or level of observation."
Reach Melissa Nann Burke at 771-2024 or mburke@ydr.com
ABOUT CHABAD-LUBAVITCH
One of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism, the Chabad movement originated in Russia in the 18th century.
In 1940, the head of the movement (the Rebbe), Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, emigrated from Poland to the United States.
Under his successor and son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch used American institutions such as day schools, summer camps, adult classes and holiday celebrations to reach out to U.S. Jews the group felt had not been exposed to “authentic” Judaism.
Since, the Chabad organization has developed a vast international presence with 4,000 full-time emissary families directing more than 3,300 institutions worldwide to spread their teachings. Lubavitchers emphasize outreach to nonpracticing Jews.
Schneerson died in 1994, and a new leader has not been appointed. Some groups regard Schneerson as the Messiah and await his return. Others aren't so sure. Still others believe he never died and is living in a way that ordinary people cannot perceive.
The branch is also called Chabad-Lubavitch - Lubavitch referring to the name of a small town in northern Russia where the movement was based for more than a century. The organization Chabad is now based in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Journalists and scholars estimate that there are 100,000 to 200,000 Lubavitchers worldwide.
Source: Chabad.org and ReligionStylebook.org

WHAT'S THAT MEAN?
Chabad is an acronym for the Hebrew words of chachmah (wisdom), binah (comprehension) and da'at (knowledge).

ON THE WEB
Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center of Lancaster & York, http://www.jewishenrichment.com
Chabad Lubavitch, http://www.chabad.org

IF YOU GO
What: A six-week course, "The Land & the Spirit: Why We All Care About Israel," from the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, starting Nov. 1
Where: York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive in York Township
Cost: $90, including textbook
For details: Register at 843-0918

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