Rabbi Yehuda and Chana Levin are happy to welcome people into their home. Their dining room table is topped with cookies and teas and the sounds of family fill the halls. They host neighbors for Shabbos every weekend and are quick to hand out invitations.
The couple co-directs Chabad of Ditmas Park, an organization that provides Jewish programming in the community to people of all affiliations. They started the Chabad in the neighborhood about three years ago.
“The goal is to create programs that are tailor-made to the community with the goal to raise awareness and reach out to Jewish residents, no matter their affiliation,” explains Levin. “We want to be a place where people can come for spiritual guidance or anything else they need.”
The lack of judgment is an important feature of Chabad for the Levins. The organization emphasizes acceptance, no matter how religious you might be. But Rabbi Levin emphasizes that they are not missionaries. They are not trying to convert people to Judaism; they are just trying to provide a space for people to come together.
“We are creating a community, a non-biological family,” says Levin. “We are reaching out to families who don’t already have a community, who are looking for a sense of belonging.”
“Reform, Conservative, Orthodox — these are manmade labels and we don’t like labels,” says Levin. “Why are we labeling ourselves? We are trying to shed these labels. We just want to reach out to people and be there for them.”
Mark Shahon and his wife Lisa have been participating in Chabad of Ditmas Park programming since it began. “It’s been a great experience meeting Jewish people from all backgrounds,” says Mark. “Regardless of your background, we should all be more embracing of others.”
Chabad of Ditmas Park currently doesn’t have a permanent location, so they partner with a number of different organizations and businesses to do programs, such as Ezra Guitar. “We do some of our programs outside of religious spaces, so if you aren’t affiliated, you don’t feel unwelcome,” Levin explains.
They are hoping to open a community center in the neighborhood eventually, however, it has taken time to gather funding.
In some ways, Chabad is like a Jewish “franchise,” Levin says. Each Chabad runs entirely independent of other Chabads in other communities, which means that they are dependent on the community for funding and support.
Some of the programming the Levins have offered include Hebrew classes, a Jewish women’s circle, and holiday programs. This Sunday, December 6, they are hosting two Chanukah programs, on for children and on for adults. The children’s Chanukah Extravaganza will be at Alden Moves Dance Studio (1203 Church Avenue) at 4pm and includes donut decorating, menorah lighting, fresh latkes, face painting and an art workshop.
And for the adults, there will be a Chanukah themed wine and cheese event at 386 Marlborough Road at 7:30pm, featuring music, a dreidel tournament, and a latke bar. You can RSVP to both events by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
They are also planning to open a Jewish preschool in the neighborhood next fall and hope to have more information available in the coming months.
“We’re here to bring the spirit of life, the spirit of our traditions to the neighborhood,” says Levin. “You can just be as you are, you don’t have to fit in.”