Many times in recent years, I’ve heard rabbis or synagogue officials express concern over the growth of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect in the northern suburbs.
The concern is always the same: Chabad offers cheap religious programming — holiday celebrations, schools for youngsters, etc. — that is very attractive to unaffiliated Jewish families that don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.
That don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.
That’s the key.
Something like half the Jews in Westchester don’t belong to synagogues. Therefore, synagogues are always plotting how to attract a small percentage of all those available families.
The biggest obstacle for many — not all, but many — is the dues. We’re talking several thousand dollars a year.
For many families that could go either way, then, Chabad presents an attractive and affordable alternative.
The Chabad movement, based in Crown Heights and located around the world, is committed — in an existential way — to bringing home Jews who have lost their way. In numerous New York communities, Chabad rabbis and their wives work fulltime to provide accessible programming for Jews who might otherwise stay home and watch Seinfeld reruns.
So I was fascinated to read a long piece in The Jewish Week that teases out one such showdown between Chabad and established Jewish congregations.
It’s in Oceanside, Long Island, where a weekly Chabad school for Jewish youngsters has taken a lot of kids away from more traditional synagogue programs.
The ironic part is that the synagogues say that Chabad offers a less intensive, less well-rounded Jewish education — just so it can get Jews through the doors.
One “competing” rabbi explains: “Chabad has led to a diminution of Jewish education in this community. I still have a two-day Hebrew school and I’m under attack from my members [to cut back to one day a week]. … I’m not blaming Chabad for everything bad in the community, but Chabad was a catalyst.”
Chabad Rabbi Levi Gurkov did not mince words: “When I came to Oceanside I placed a phone call to every rabbi here. Some were receptive; some were not because they felt I was coming to shake up the community. They had had a great run, and now someone new was coming and they couldn’t do their job and their sermons by rote anymore.”
Ouch. This could get ugly.