Chabad Houses Augur Jewish Gentrification Downtown and Uptown

Chabad Houses in Harlem and on The Bowery are harbingers of Jewish gentrification, The Jewish Week argues in an extensively reported article. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a branch of Hasidism, increases its numbers by reaching out to non-Hasidic Jews to spread its message and practices. The Jewish Week called it a “popular outreach group that sniffs out where Jews are migrating next.”

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which established its outreach reputation years ago on American college campuses and in underserved Jewish communities abroad, is fast becoming American Jewry’s canary in the coal mine, sensing the stirrings of an emerging Jewish community and moving in to offer its usual mix of religious and educational programming.

Chabad representatives, typically young couples, “have not necessarily spurred the migration” to these emerging Jewish areas, “but to their credit they go where Jews live and establish community outposts,” says Jeffrey Gurock, professor of American-Jewish history at Yeshiva University and author of “When Harlem was Jewish, 1870-1930.”  “I predict more synagogues and Jewish institutions will find their way uptown.”

And downtown.

Neither Harlem nor The Bowery have had large Jewish populations over most of the last century, but as the areas have become more desirable and affluent in recent years, they have attracted young Jewish people, as well as other gentrifiers. Chabad officials estimated that 300 Jews live in the Bowery area, and “several hundred” Jewish families live in South Harlem — down from a peak of 150,000 in 1917, but creeping slowly back up again in the last decade. The Jewish Week described the scene at both Chabad Houses.

On a recent night in late February, one story up from a street where neighborhood denizens once drank during the day and slept at night — or vice versa — a few hundred people socialized over sushi and kabobs and kosher wine. In the background, klezmer music played.

It was the inauguration of the Chabad Serving NYU on the Bowery.

A hundred-odd blocks north on another recent evening, across the street from a once-abandoned building where squatters lived until recent years and drug deals and muggings kept the sidewalks empty after dark, a few dozen people sat and sang and schmoozed for several hours. When they walked out later that night, they joined other people strolling outside, passing a brick-façade, doorman apartment building that has just risen across the street.

It was a Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat meal sponsored by Chabad of Harlem, on Manhattan Avenue at 118th Street.

Rabbi Dov Korn, right, is co-director of the new Chabad Serving NYU on the Bowery. (Photo via Jewish Week)

The two neighborhoods have gentrified in different ways, The Jewish Week reports. Bowery has become a new hipster hangout, while Harlem’s new residents were attracted to the quality of its housing stock and “nice parks nearby, easy community, friendly neighbors.”

The Chabad Houses in Harlem and on the Bowery, though spurred by a common goal of spreading Yiddishkeit to an often unchasidic, unaffiliated brand of Jew, serve vastly different clienteles. In Harlem, mostly young families — the foyer to the community room where services and meals take place was crowded with baby carriages Saturday morning, and a dozen kids scampered on the floor.

On the Bowery, mostly college students or recent graduates — the new center, geared to the NYU crowd, is clearly labeled Chabad Serving NYU on the Bowery, not Chabad on the Bowery.

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