Chabad seeks permanent homes in Lakeview and Lincoln Square

Ever since Chabad established itself in the area, they have been boarders, not residents.

Chabad leaders image
(from left) Chabad emissaries Chanie and Rabbi Baruch Hertz; and Rabbi Dovid and Devorah Leah Kotlarsky.

Friday night dinner served in a Boys & Girls Club or a car showroom. A succah built in the parking lot of a moving-truck company. Summer camp staged in a grade school.

These are just some of the makeshift situations that the Lakeview and Lincoln Square Chabad programs have adapted to. And while their hosts have been kind -- and their own flexibility impressive -- they would prefer not to have to shoehorn themselves into other people's spaces, but find permanent bases in the neighborhoods they serve.

Ever since Chabad established itself in the area, they have been boarders, not residents. Their first home, in 1991, was at Congregation B'nei Ruven in West Rogers Park. When the late Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz wanted to expand Chabad in 2000 -- into the broader Lakeview area and Lincoln Square -- he sent Rabbi Baruch and Chanie Hertz.

For them, the mission of Chabad -- part of the Hasidic movement -- is straightforward, said Rabbi Hertz: to "make people more aware of their Yiddishkeit (Yiddish for 'Jewishness')." Though Chabad is an Orthodox institution, its emissaries-known for its outreach efforts -- welcome all Jews to their events.

When developer Tomer Bitton bought Park Place Tower in East Lakeview, he gave them the party room for events. On Shabbat and holidays, the Hertzes walked an hour and a half there from their West Rogers Park home.

There, the couple held classes and programs for the burgeoning Jewish community in Lakeview -- young singles, couples, and families. And some singles who became couples there.

The Hertzes were also involved in creating Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel's mikvah (ritual bath), stocking a local grocery store with kosher food, and hosting Jewish holiday parties at Sluggers, a Wrigleyville bar.

Next, came a Sunday school program at Lakeview's Nettelhorst School, now in its 10th year. The school also began Camp Gan Israel, a.k.a. Gan Izzy, which has grown from eight kids to 100. Many participating families from across the city are otherwise unaffiliated.

When the Hertzes began getting stretched thin, they enlisted their daughter, Devorah Leah, and her husband, Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky.

The Kotlarskys live in Lakeview, with the mission of "growing the Jewish community of East Lakeview, and creating a center there," the rabbi said. One of Devorah's innovations is a Women's Circle holding events like Menorahs & Martinis and a Mega Challah Bake. From Lag B'Omer carnivals to decorate-a-donut Chanukah parties-attended by hundreds -- their goal, the rabbi said, is to "make Judaism fun, exciting, and alive."

Some attendees have told Dovid that these Chabad events are their first touchpoints with Judaism since college, their b'nai mitzvah, or immigrating from Russia.

With the Kotlarskys' help, Chabad has extended its (out)reach again, to West Lakeview, North Center, and Lincoln Square. Last year, Chabad held three outdoor menorah lightings. In West Lakeview, the local chamber of commerce invited the Chabad to do the lighting and sponsored the event.

For the Lincoln Square lighting, a small group protested the public display of Judaism; Rabbi Hertz countered with a larger menorah, built by a Holocaust survivor.

Most neighbors, however, have been neighborly. For example, the Sierra Auto showroom, owned by a Lebanese man, let the Hertzes hold Shabbat dinner there gratis.

While they still search for permanent lodgings in these neighborhoods, the Hertzes enjoy the friendships and memories that emerge from their improvised situation. "It's these little stories," Chanie Hertz muses. "That's really what it's all about."

Until their Chabad finds a home, the Hertz-Kotlarsky family will continue to bring Yiddishkeit to people, and places, that have never experienced it before. As Chanie put it, "They would all come if they knew how much fun it is!" 

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