Rebuilding urban Judaism

MLewyn's picture

In most car-oriented American cities, Jews moved to the suburbs as rapidly as anyone else, if not more so.  As a result, most such cities lack a Jewish presence anywhere near downtown.  For example, until recently the most "urban" synagogues in Dallas and Kansas City were six or seven miles from downtown, and there is only one synagogue left within the Cleveland city limits (only a few blocks from said city limits).

But the times are changing, thanks in large part to Chabad, a Hasidic movement specializing in outreach to unaffiliated Jews (and also to travelers; in the interests of full disclosure, I note that while attending CNU I spent Friday night and Saturday afternoon with Chabad in Palm Beach).   While other Jewish movements build huge, capital-intensive synagogues, Chabad tends to operate out of small, relatively cheap-to-establish houses.  As a result, Chabad is able to operate in singles-dominated intown neighborhoods, where Jews are less able and/or willing to spend large amounts on the dues that larger synagogues demand.   For example, there are now Chabad mini-synagogues within a mile or two of downtown Dallas and Kansas City, and in the heart of downtown Miami and San Diego.   Similarly, if you plan to visit CNU 21 in Salt Lake City next year, the closest synagogue will be Chabad of Utah (about 3 miles out).

Of course, Chabad's rigorous brand of Orthodox Judaism is not for everyone.  But it is blazing a trail that other Jewish movements will (I hope) follow.


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