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Jun282016

FROM A CHABAD HOUSE TO A CHABAD COMMUNITY

They started as Chabad Houses with local programs and as they became successful and grew, they became a Chabad community with a shul, minyanim, shiurim, Chabad schools, etc. * How did it happen? What is the secret to turning a Chabad House into a full-fledged Chabad community? What are the challenges a shliach faces when he suddenly finds himself running a Chabad community? *

In the past ten years it has become more and more common. Shluchim who went to various cities to open a Chabad House were so successful that a community formed around them. And not just any community; a Chabad community with a shul, minyanim, farbrengens and even schools.

Suddenly, the shliach’s attention is not focused solely on a t’fillin stand, house calls or mivtza mezuza, but on maintaining a community, founding schools, and solidifying a community with men, women, and children.

“It’s an entirely different framework which needs a completely different approach,” says R’ Yosef Algazi, director of a Chabad House in Kiryat HaYovel who finds himself in this situation.

There are shluchim who think that outreach activities are no simple matter when done within the framework of community shuls, with some unwilling to accept the situation. They maintain that in certain instances it would be better to operate as a regular Chabad House and not within the framework of a community.

Among the many communities that have sprung up are the ones in Rishon L’Tziyon under shliach, R’ Yitzchok Gruzman; in Kiryat Gat which has a longstanding community; in Beit Shemesh under shliach, R’ Eliezer Veiner; in Givat Shmuel under shliach, R’ Shabtai Fisher; in Chadera under R’ Yochanan Butman; in Ramat HaSharon under shliach, R’ Aharon Butman, who is the rav of the Oneg Shabbat community; and in Rosh Pina under the shliach, R’ Shlomo Berkowitz.

Is the combination of an outreach center and a community good or bad? What about money challenges? We spoke to shluchim who started out with Chabad Houses, not to those with communities that were initially created as such.

FROM SEED TO FRUIT

We started in Kiryat Ata in the north where there is one of the nicest Chabad communities in the country, under the shliach and rav, Rabbi Chaim Shlomo Diskin. R’ Diskin did not want to go to Kiryat Ata on shlichus. His father-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo Kupchik, lived there and after marrying into the family, he was asked to stay in that city and start outreach work. R’ Kupchik lived in Kiryat Ata and worked quietly for decades among the frum people living there. He arranged farbrengens and did mivtzaim for which the Rebbe sent him encouraging letters.

At first, R’ Diskin considered living there to be a temporary arrangement. He was learning in kollel and wanted to go on shlichus to a place where he’d break new ground. When he was offered the position of rav of the school in Kiryat Ata, he agreed. He did not know that this would lay the foundation for his work in the city to the point that today, he is the rav of the entire city and leads the main Chabad shul (a replica of 770), which has 150 people davening there every Shabbos. There are other shuls too in which the Chabad nusach is davened. There are six preschools, a kollel, Chabad Houses in the neighborhoods, a large soup kitchen, and more. Hundreds of children from the community travel every morning to attend schools that serve all the Kiryot in the region.

From Kiryat Ata in the north we went to Kiryat HaYovel, an old Yerushalmi neighborhood located in the southwest of Yerushalayim. It is torn right now between the religious residents who want to settle there and the mayor and the heads of the Neighborhoods Administration that want to stop the “religious infiltration” at any cost.

The shliach in Kiryat HaYovel, R’ Yosef Algazi, arrived there in 5758 and opened a Chabad House, one of many in Yerushalayim. The Chabad House began as a small room, an annex to a shul, through the efforts of the neighborhood rav at that time, R’ Yehosaf Ralbag a”h. It was a modest start.

“We worked out of that room for five years until it became too small for our activities and visitors.” He rented a more spacious place in the business district where the Chabad House eventually became a Chabad shul. In the past two years, the shul tripled in size as did the Chabad House which operates out of the same place.

They expanded over time and now there is a soup kitchen, many shiurim, activities with children, and all the other programs that a typical Chabad House provides. There is also a mikva.

Along with programs for the residents of the neighborhood, R’ Algazi has invested many hours learning with people one on one. Many of them have become Chassidim. About thirty sirtuks (as the expression goes) now live in Kiryat HaYovel. Some of them are local people who became baalei t’shuva and some are young Lubavitcher families who moved there when they saw the community slowly but surely turning into a Chassidishe k’hilla.

Of course, at a certain point, there was a need for Chassidishe schools.

“We are starting to seriously deal with starting a daycare center, a preschool and more. Until now, the Chassidishe families sent their children to schools in Gilo, Katamon, etc. But as the community grows, there is a need for our own schools. The time has come to open our own mosdos so we don’t have to send the children to other neighborhoods. We have a strong nucleus of people and, G-d willing, more will join.”

No, R’ Algazi is not afraid of the “restraining order” that Mayor Nir Barkat wants to establish in the neighborhood, in the course of which he is doing everything possible to torpedo the founding of religious schools in the neighborhood. R’ Algazi says that the policy setters of the neighborhood, the heads of the neighborhood administration, are an inseparable part of the Chabad House and some of them even learn with him at the Chabad House. “It is one of the Rebbe’s miracles that we have been able to reach all the movers and shakers and they all love the Chabad House, including those who sign the checks.”

Not far from the capital of Chabad in Eretz Yisroel, Kfar Chabad, is a somewhat sleepy town, Ohr Yehuda. I spoke with the shliach there, R’ MM Friedman, who has been there since Rosh Chodesh Elul 5750. R’ Friedman started small, learning half a day in kollel and spending half a day on programs that began in a local bomb shelter. He did what every Chabad House does – clubs for kids, shiurim, farbrengens. Only two Lubavitchers lived in Ohr Yehuda at the time.

Twenty-five years later, Ohr Yehuda now has two Chabad shuls. A third shul is being planned and will be located next to a future Chassidus kollel. There are schools for boys and for girls that were founded by the Ohr Avner organization and are now run by the community. There are two yeshivos, a mesivta and a beis midrash. Bachurim come from all over the country. R’ Sholom Ber Hendel runs the yeshivos. Along with his educational work, he was a big help in founding the Chabad community, which grew in no small part due to the yeshiva staff who moved to Ohr Yehuda and made a major contribution toward the formation of the Chabad community.

Chabad in Ohr Yehuda has come a long way. Fifteen years ago, a nusach Ari minyan began at the Chabad House.

“It was a shaky minyan which happened mainly on Shabbos.” Then the minyan moved from the Chabad House to a side room of a shul belonging to the Georgian community. There was a shiur in Chassidus every Shabbos before the davening and a farbrengen led by R’ Bentzion Beckerman after the davening. That was the stage when the Chabad House became a k’hilla, a Chabad k’hilla. “As time went on, about ten mekuravim who were making great strides in Torah and mitzvos joined the minyan. They were the initial ‘sparks’ of the birth pangs of the community.”

We met with R’ Motti Anati who runs the Moshiach Center – 770 in Ft Lauderdale. He went there in 5738, but the Center was first opened on Chai Elul 5753. He focuses his attention on the many Israelis living in the area. Although the Center is in the US, the outreach style is Israeli with menorahs on cars, house calls, t’fillin stands.

R’ Anati is known for his famous convoys, i.e., cars that make the trip from Florida to 770, 22 hours of driving, which are used to strengthen Jewish identity among the participants as well as send out a Geula message to the thousands of people who see them driving by.

He has Israeli bachurim to help him while they also study for smicha. A yeshiva was opened in the Moshiach Center and sixteen cycles of bachurim have earned smicha in Ft Lauderdale.

Here too, a Chabad community grew almost inadvertently. R’ Anati tells us how it happened:

“The bachurim gave shiurim and had many chavrusos and the Israeli chevra began connecting to us. When we moved to our current location, many local Israelis began coming to us and slowly became interested in Judaism. That is how an Israeli Chabad community came to be in Florida. The language, you guessed it, is Ivrit. Thirty-six Lubavitcher families live here, aside from other Lubavitcher families who live nearby.”

Today, the community has a shul with about a hundred people on Shabbos, some of whom became “sirtuks.”

“It’s a chevra that, over the course of a week, are visited by the bachurim for a private shiur, t’fillin, etc.”

R’ Anati says that soon there will be a “Mivtza Shabatot” for not yet religious Israelis, in order to be mekarev them. “The plan is to create a big wave of guys that are becoming more committed in the hopes that they will come and live near us and expand our k’hilla.”

The Moshiach Center in Ft Lauderdale has opened a preschool and a few grades of a boys’ school with the intention of adding a grade every year. “We are spreading the word that we have a school al taharas ha’kodesh that people can send their children to.”

THE BIG CHALLENGE

Now that we’ve introduced these communities, let us hear from the shluchim what the ramifications are of a combination Chabad House – Chabad community. You might ask, what difference does this make? Who cares whether a shliach “only” has a Chabad House or he was also able to establish a community, when the main thing is the Rebbe has nachas?

It turns out, it is not so simple. Unlike established Chabad communities like Kfar Chabad, Nachalat Har Chabad, etc., these k’hillos grew out of the outreach.

“It’s a group of people who were drawn to Chabad until they became Lubavitchers themselves. You can speak to them as one Lubavitcher to another. You no longer need to reach out to them; they themselves are part of the shlichus outreach. They went from mushpaim to mashpiim,” R’ Elgazi explains.

“Some families from the community once went to spend Shabbos at the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas. During Shabbos we farbrenged with the mashpia, R’ Ofer Maidovnik, who spoke at length about a Chabad k’hilla not being like other k’hillos. It needs to be a ‘nuclear reactor’ that spreads light outward. He addressed the sensitivities of the guys who became Lubavitchers over the years and always received hashpaa from the shliach. He said they should not continue expecting the shliach to provide for them and look out for them as in the past, because that is when the problems start. He said each of them is a Chassid and has the ability to take action.”

R’ Friedman agrees: “A k’hilla consists of people who are themselves on shlichus. Their appearance and dress in such a place is already making a statement. Furthermore, a person who lives in a k’hilla has children who are being educated in Chabad schools. He is no longer in the initial kiruv stage but is one of Anash. He feels responsible for the outreach work as well as the stability of the schools. There is no need to look for schools in other neighborhoods when you have Lubavitcher schools where you live.”

R’ Friedman adds, “When you are a shliach and director of a Chabad House, you need to run the farbrengen, but in a k’hilla you sit together with Anash. Everyone is part of the unified atmosphere and you can speak about subjects that speak to the heart of Lubavitch life from many different angles; this can’t be done when you are running an ordinary Chabad House.”

R’ Diskin, a veteran shliach who has developed strong views on the subject, admits that there are differing views on the matter. “There are shluchim who will say it is great for a shliach to have a Chabad community, and others who will differ and say better to remain a Chabad House, because with a k’hilla you need to please more people with differing views.”

Did the Rebbe express an opinion about this?

“Even in the Rebbe’s words you can find two sides to the issue. I remember that I once spoke with R’ Bentzion Lipsker a”h, rav of Arad, about this. He too started out as a shliach and had a beautiful Chabad community develop in his city.

“My father-in-law operated in Kiryat Ata for decades before I arrived. He wanted to open a nusach Chabad shul but the Rebbe wrote him in 5717 not to do so and that it would be preferable for him to go to other shuls to spread Chassidus and the Chabad spirit.

“And yet, over the years, with the Rebbe’s bracha, we opened a Chabad shul and I have seen how the k’hilla structure gives a big push to the outreach activities. When the k’hilla stands behind the shliach, it is fertile ground for growth. When there is a shul with the Chabad nusach and a Chabad atmosphere, it serves as a ‘home’ to mekuravim as well as to Chabad Chassidim who come to live there. In addition, the k’hilla structure creates a sense of obligation to send your children to Chabad schools.

“I say this while knowing that a k’hilla is a tremendous undertaking; it’s really difficult.”

R’ Anati echoes that thought and it is clear from what he says that the transition from a shliach responsible for “u’faratzta” programs to running a k’hilla is not at all simple.

“It is definitely a challenge to go from a Chabad House to a Chabad community. That is how I feel, but it is not something that you plan; it develops over time.

“The truth is that at first I was a little fazed by the change. Starting a k’hilla was not in my plans. I came to Ft Lauderdale to do hafatza. Now that there is a Chabad community, the responsibility is much greater and the demands are far higher.”

What demands are you referring to?

“First and foremost, the demands on yourself. You need to give much more of yourself, in terms of time and in terms of your own family life. You need to be completely involved in what is going on in the k’hilla. I will admit that I am sometimes torn between the reality and the desire to preserve the original style of the Chabad House.”

It sounds like you haven’t yet digested what has occurred even though it is successful.

“Right. Sometimes I have the feeling that someone else should run things and I will go back to my original position, but I have a mashpia who guides me.

“As a director of activities you have more room to maneuver than the way things are now. I would go with the convoy to New York and create a huge promotional event, while today I wonder how I can leave everything and go on such a long trip. Here’s another difference – since we have a k’hilla, we have attracted some old time Lubavitchers and scholars and you need to maintain a certain standard to be able to provide answers. It’s completely different that going somewhere where nobody knows much and what you provide will be novel and special.”

R’ Algazi agrees that there is an enormous difference between directing a Chabad House and running a community:

“They are two completely different things. Running a k’hilla means to lead an organized group of people whose expectations of you are on a completely different level, you need to deal with people on an equal footing, while being a shliach means to come to the people with messages from the Rebbe. The needs of the people are also different.

“Mekuravim don’t expect that much of you and whatever you do for them, they happily accept. When you run a k’hilla, they look more critically at what you do. It entails more responsibility and thought about how to run things and it motivates me to work more.

“You can compare it to working with the neighbors’ kids as opposed to your own children. The neighbors’ children will always be satisfied with what you give them and say thank you; they are not critical. Your children, on the other hand, won’t be satisfied with something superficial. They expect more of you and you owe them. Every day you need to devote half an hour to thinking about the chinuch of your children.

“The easy way out would be to put the k’hilla aside as though they are fully self-sufficient because, after all, they are Lubavitchers and they know on their own what needs to be done, and to put all your energy and resources into people on the outside. But that’s wrong, because the k’hilla has many needs and you need to take care of every detail. People need attention and warmth even if they have a long beard and go to the mikva every morning. As the ‘father’ of the community, you need to look out for all of them. Children in your family demand what they deserve more than the neighbor’s children. The members of the k’hilla are your nuclear family.

“However, just as children are a father’s ‘job,’ the same applies to the community. Despite the added difficulties, they are also a part of you. They will go with you on mivtzaim, help expand your activities, grow the mosdos, and more. Treating them right will pay off in the future.

“Running a k’hilla is tremendous work but the Rebbe definitely provides the kochos.”

Do you think that you will eventually bring other influential personalities to join in running the community?

“Definitely. I have no doubt that when the k’hilla grows we will have to bring a rav here to run the community, a mashpia who will provide the Chassidishkait, while I will handle the practical side of things. These individuals will definitely enrich us all, spiritually. One day it will happen; I don’t know when, but it will happen.”

R’ Anati says:

“At a Chabad House, the responsibilities are less demanding; there is less criticism than when you lead a k’hilla when you have to invest much more, are examined with a fine toothed comb and the expenses are greater. However, the advantages you end up receiving from the k’hilla, the feedback, is your compensation for all the work you put in.”

R’ Diskin says:

“The main difficulty in solidifying a community is the fact that people don’t see eye to eye and you have to constantly mediate between them. Each one wants a different kind of shul. Nobody tells a shliach with a Chabad House what to do and whoever attends his programs doesn’t express their opinions and mix in.

“At the same time, a Chabad House that starts small cannot remain small. It must grow. This is what the Rebbe wants as he expressed it on countless occasions, not to remain satisfied with the status quo. When I look at our community in Kiryat Ata, I see Chabad mosdos and that there’s where to send your children. Even the mekuravim send their children there and then the house becomes Chassidish and they don’t remain just ‘friends of Chabad.’”

FROM CHABAD HOUSE
TO K’HILLA – HOW?

There are many shluchim who work hard for years but don’t reach the tipping point where they have a Chabad k’hilla. We asked the shluchim –

What is the secret to success? How did you move from u’faratzta activities to having a Chabad community with multiple mosdos?

R’ Algazi said:

“There are many dynamic shluchim who don’t move past having a Chabad House and the reason is because they don’t have mekuravim who become Lubavitchers. There are shluchim who have admirers, mushpaim, and mekuravim, but at a certain point their process gets stuck. I think it has to do with a certain distance between the shliach and his mekuravim which is why they remain distant and don’t become actual Chassidim.

“The secret of our success is investing in one on one. Our shlichus is for all residents of the neighborhood, population 25,000, but if we don’t take people individually and put our neshama into them, learn with them and look out for them, we will not be mekarev them. Personal attention is what makes the nucleus turn into a k’hilla.

“In the next stage, when people start seriously being interested and start living a Chassidic life, that gets other mekuravim to make significant steps forward. It gives them the strength to make a real change. One influences the next in the domino effect. But it all starts with the shliach investing individually, one on one.

“There are shluchim who devote their time and energy to building buildings, getting funding, and big events. They are very busy with building their infrastructure and don’t have time left to work with individuals. Yes, we need to do big projects like rallies, farbrengens, Lag B’Omer parades, etc. but we cannot waste any potential. Today too, when the k’hilla is big, I spend at least half my time in private conversation. I have no buildings because I look for people and not for buildings or mosdos. My ‘Ani Maamin’ is, if you invest in people, they themselves will tear the walls down and then the mosdos will not be long in coming.”

R’ MM Friedman says:

“There’s no question that the main surge of a k’hilla happened because a yeshiva was started in our city. The yeshiva brought young couples as part of the staff and that helped form the first nucleus, which over time developed into additional branches in the new neighborhoods.”

R’ Anati says:

“Here in the US, the style of shlichus is more community oriented to begin with. When a shliach shows up, he intends on opening a shul which will also be the center of focus for people in the area. This is unlike shluchim in Eretz Yisroel whose style is more u’faratzta. When I came here and began working Israeli style, it was unusual. I wasn’t planning on building a Chabad community but over time an amazing thing happened. We became a k’hilla while other shluchim in Florida adopted large parts of our modus operandi, like putting menorahs on cars and u’faratzta in the streets.

“There are advantages and disadvantages with any approach. I know that with a k’hilla you can more readily slip into complacency. There are Lubavitch community centers that open for Shacharis and are then closed until Mincha-Maariv. In between, the shliach gives a shiur or two and has various important meetings. As a shliach trained to nonstop activity, I am definitely nervous about that. I try not to forget that my main role is as a Chabad House and the bachurim who learn here are also schlepped into nonstop activity.”

What are your plans for the future?

Despite R’ Anati’s apprehension about a “dry” k’hilla life, he has always been one to take a leap forward towards implementing big plans.

“I want to build a building that will contain a big beis midrash, preschool classes, a Talmud Torah and a plaing field. I want this place to host more and more shiurim while nonstop u’faratzta activities go on day and night.”

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