The Chabadnik-ing of DUMBO

for The Brooklyn Paper
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DUMBO’s only yeshiva has closed — but there’s no Jewish Exodus going on; the yeshiva’s founders are about to open a community center nearby.

Chabad of DUMBO is remodeling a one-story building on Jay Street into a community center rather than continue operating the academy devoted solely to Torah study (which, unlike most, was co-ed).

The move is the result of continued growth of the Jewish population in DUMBO. Forelocks and black hats are becoming a normal sight in a place where goatees and black American Apparel tees are the norm.

“Downtown Brooklyn in general is expanding,” said Rabbi Simcha Weinstein of the Pratt Institute, who is not affiliated with the DUMBO chabadniks. “There are definitely many more Jews there, and in the next 10 years we’ll see an enormous increase.”

Rabbi Avram Tov Chakoff, who heads Chabad of DUMBO, agreed with the Maimonides of Clinton Hill.

“Right now the demand is for community events,” Chakoff said. “We have to progress with the demand,”

Until this week, the community center was little more than an empty room, but after construction wraps up in the next few weeks, there will be a lounge, a kitchen, a wall for displaying art, and a play area for kids in the center’s Hebrew classes, which will focus on basic comprehension, not in-depth Torah study.

It isn’t the typical stuffy, intimidating Orthodox center with dark interiors and vaulted ceilings, and that’s intentional. “We’re very casual,” Chakoff said, adding that the idea was to have a “café motif” will fit the surrounding gentrifying area better than an austere temple would. (Perhaps Rabbi Chakoff took notice of our interview last week with fellow rabbi, Joseph Potasnik, who told The Brooklyn Paper that synagogues should “be more like Starbucks.”)

Raising money for the center was a bit of a schlep, but local landlord Joshua Gutman “contributed generously” to the construction, Chakoff said. Before that, Gutman had given the yeshiva free space at his building at 155 Water St., which is undergoing its own renovation (though Gutman wouldn’t tell us what he’s up to).

The Jewish community center might open as early as July, but a grand opening event is planned for September 9, the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Chakoff hopes that the community center will reach out to the latte-drinking Reform Jews, not just the Chabadniks. And even non-Jews are welcome, he said.

“New York is unique in that you can have a Hasid and a hipster sitting next to each other,” said Weinstein. “Which must be a good thing.”

Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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