Happy 10th birthday, Chabad of Rehavia

While he wasn’t competing with the synagogue congregations of Rehavia, Goldberg was viewed as a competitor within his own circle – namely the Chabad centers in nearby Sha’arei Chessed.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
One of Jerusalem’s oldest and most iconic
bookstores was Stein’s of Jerusalem. Situated on King George Street between Heichal Shlomo and the Great Synagogue, it had a wonderful collection of mainly used but also new books, including a broad range of volumes on Judaica.
When the owner died, his son, a well-known photojournalist, was not interested in being a bookseller, and after a while sold the premises to Chabad of Rehavia, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Before acquiring the premises, Chabad of Rehavia was established at the Windmill around the corner, which quickly proved to be too small for the growing numbers of men, women and children who congregated there for Shabbat services, and who came for other events during the week.
Fortunately, in his first year in Israel, the very personable Canadian-born Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, who is co-director with his Bnei Brak-born wife, Shoshi, of the Chabad Center in Rehavia as well as in Nahlaot, was aware that there are places in the world where Chabad is regarded as competition and is treated with hostility.
He didn’t want that to happen to him, so during his first year in Israel, he went around from congregation to congregation in Rehavia and its surrounds to integrate himself with the community and to assure each rabbi and community leader that there would be no rivalry on his part. He just wanted Chabad to become part of a united community.
Because he is a naturally positive person, he had no trouble in being widely accepted and was even able to enlist the cooperation of spiritual and lay leaders of other congregations.
Even before coming to Jerusalem, he created a Hebrew/English website JerusalemChabad.com to make people aware that Chabad was on the way.
While he wasn’t competing with the synagogue congregations of Rehavia, Goldberg was viewed as a competitor within his own circle – namely the Chabad centers in nearby Sha’arei Chessed, Talbiyeh, Abu Tor, Baka and Katamon.
Meanwhile, Goldberg was conducting what appeared to be a fruitless search for suitable premises in Rehavia. Hardly anything he looked at was in the right place, and if it was, it wasn’t affordable. Finally, when he was at his wit’s end, space in the Windmill became available, and Goldberg happily signed on the dotted line of a rental contract. The inauguration was attended by then chief rabbi Yona Metzger, who said that a Chabad Center in Rehavia was filling a void.
Before coming to Israel, Goldberg worked as an assistant director at Chabad of Rockland County near Monsey in New York, where he served as program director for four years. He also spent two years as assistant director to another Chabad community elsewhere in New York. These two positions were the best cadetship for being a director, he says.
Indeed, Goldberg is always dreaming up new programs to attract more people.
So how many members does he have?
“We don’t have a membership,” he explains, because some people come only to services, but not to lectures or courses. Others come to lectures or courses, but not to services. There are those who may come to neither, but will come to kiddush every Shabbat. Others still rarely come to anything, but want to stay informed about the activities of Chabad of Rehavia and Nahlaot.
All in all, it makes for 6,000 names on Goldberg’s mailing list, and the numbers keep growing.
When the Chabad Center at the Windmill could no longer accommodate the volume of worshipers who came to Shabbat services, Goldberg approached Zalli Jaffe and Asher Schapiro, acting president and chairman, respectively, of the Great Synagogue to ask whether he could conduct his Shabbat services in the Great Synagogue building. The reply was affirmative, and the basement area, which serves as a study center during the week, was allocated to Chabad for Sabbath services, which on average have an attendance of around 125 people, but during the High Holy Days, the number grew to 200.
This may have been because of the annual website announcement, plus the flyers that were distributed, stating, “We saved you a seat at Chabad of Rehavia – Free of charge.” Unlike most congregations, Chabad of Rehavia does not charge for synagogue seats.
Even more people come to the annual seder hosted by Chabad of Rehavia at Heichal Shlomo. Average attendance is around 300.
There are many more people attending the Azza Zaza Megilla readings during Purim.
Realizing that many people who might like to hear the Megillah missed out because synagogue times were inconvenient for them, Goldberg enlisted the cooperation of coffee shops and restaurants in Rehavia and Nachlaot, to have them host megillah readings at staggered times, attracting hundreds of people.
He’s also managed to get the Jewish Agency and Yeshurun Synagogue to give him use of their premises for special events.
GOLDBERG WANTED to get out of the Windmill not only because it had become too small for his purposes, but also because it was rented.
When the shop on King George Street went on the market, it took Goldberg six months to raise the necessary $1 million for the purchase. This was in an addition to the NIS 1.2 million that he had to raise to meet the center’s operating expenses.
One of the things that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson wanted when he sent his emissaries out into the world was that they should be financially self-reliant.
“People think that Chabad has some huge monetary fund from which it pays our salaries and expenses,” says Goldberg. “But that’s not true. It may give a little financial help to shluchim (as the emissaries are called) in far-flung areas where the Jewish community may be very small and not at all wealthy, but otherwise we all have to raise funds ourselves.”
As part of his 10th anniversary celebrations, he held a Sukkot celebration this week for children with cancer, providing them with theater, music and games.
The main celebration will be on Tuesday, November 5 at Yeshurun Synagogue Hall, with guest speaker Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson, better known as Rabbi YY Jacobson, a popular teacher and public speaker, who is coming specially from the United States for the occasion. His topic will be “Think Big. Be a Hero! – How your thinking affects your actions.” On the musical side, there will be a concert by the Ramatiyim men’s choir.
Not everything Goldberg does works out according to plan. He wanted to hold a Hanukkah festival in France Square, but it was pouring with rain, so very few people showed up.
Nonetheless, he made a valiant effort to light the candles and there was some singing and entertainment.
Very little deters him.
The current location, he says, is the best he could dream of, “It’s like Times Square in Jerusalem.” During our interview in his store front office, close to a dozen people came in just to say hello, or to leave a donation.
On average, he says, 25 people come in each day. Just ahead of Purim, Pesach, and the High Holy Day period, there can be as many as a hundred.
Goldberg has a cheerful smile and a warm word for all of them.
“The Rebbe told us to embrace all Jews, even those who may not be Torah observant,” he says.
Where does he draw the redline?
“With people who act inappropriately with children,” he says. “I have to protect my community and my family.”
Community is the operative word with Goldberg. He wants to give everyone a sense of belonging, regardless of whether or not they identify with Chabad. “When they walk past our center, they know they have an address,” he says.
But it’s not just a matter of drawing people in. Chabad is known for its outreach programs, and Goldberg has also reached out to the IDF and danced with soldiers.
Licensed by the Chief Rabbinate to perform wedding ceremonies, he is thrilled that he has already done so for close to 20 couples. Considering how many great rabbis there are in Jerusalem he says, the greatest compliment that any couple can pay him is to ask him to officiate at their wedding.
Much as he loves his present location, it too is proving too small.
The big dream that he and his wife have is to have an all-embracing Chabad center that includes educational facilities for adults and children as well as a synagogue, a huge dining room and a state-of-the-art mikveh (ritual bath) with a spa and all the other modern amenities.
Shoshi Goldberg already runs a kindergarten and a women’s club, which has, among other activities, engaged in a hallah mega-bake. It is quite amazing, says her husband, how many women, including those who are not religiously observant, call from Israel and overseas to ask her questions about mikveh.
Finding another suitable location will be quite difficult because it must be on a main street where anyone feels they can just walk in and know that they will be made welcome. There are not too many such sites in Rehavia, and the few that exist cost a king’s ransom.
But just as he has experienced miracles from a higher source in the past, Goldberg is confident that more will be forthcoming in the future.
In tandem with the expansion of his community, there has also been the expansion of his family.
When the Goldbergs came to Jerusalem, they had five children. Now they have eight. “We now have three sabras,” says the rabbi with a smile.