When the pandemic drove Judaism online, Chabad bet on more than $ 137 million in real estate

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(JTA) – One main line in the face of declining membership The Protestant community in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood has put their historic church complex up for sale last summer. Church leaders were told it would take at least a year to close the deal. But within a few days an attractive offer came in, and a few months later the $ 2.85 million sale of the building was completed.

The buyers were two Chabad envoys who had been serving Jews in the North Side district from their rented apartment since 2015. The renovation of the church complex enabled the Hasidic couple Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky and his wife Devorah Leah to realize their dream of expanding the footprint of Chabad and building a synagogue and a preschool.

According to Chabad.orgThe key to the purchase was a $ 2 million donation from Jacques Aaron Preis, a Chicago tax attorney who heads the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust. Price was quoted as praising Chabad’s “authenticity” and welcoming demeanor.

The real estate transaction in Lakeview – a center of Jewish life in Chicago where large Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues have long operated from stately buildings – is just one of Chabad’s dozen investments in new buildings or in renovating and expanding existing properties.

In some ways, Chabad appears to be an anomaly in the Jewish world. Many non-Orthodox Jewish institutions are unsure of what the future holds for their physical spaces after a year and a half of largely digital engagement – and after decades of declining synagogue members for the largest American denominations of Judaism. Chabad, on the other hand, whose strictly Orthodox envoys seek followers from all Jewish faiths and practices, seems confident that it can attract large numbers of people to its centers.

The movement has tackled at least $ 137 million in real estate projects since the Covid-19 pandemic began, according to figures compiled by Chabad.org and verified by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, the local Chabad paid $ 20 million to take over the grounds of a Jewish day school which was closed last year. A $ 3 million renovation of a historic inn is underway in Durham, North Carolina – partially supported by Sarah Bloom Raskin, Duke University law professor who is married to US Representative Jamie Raskin – was inaugurated last week. And the University of Illinois Chabad is spending more than $ 7 million on ownership and renovation a massive fraternity house in the Tudor style.

With the thousands of Chabad envoys around the world collecting donations independently, Chabad’s news and public relations department had to collect the data by gathering media reports and through an informal survey, according to Rabbi Motti Seligson, a Chabad spokesman.

The survey revealed a number of investment projects that have not yet been publicly announced, including some acquisitions that are currently underway. Seligson said the true extent of Chabad’s recent real estate expansion is likely much larger than the $ 137 million figure suggests.

But he said he wanted the information he was giving related to the 38th as well as virtually.

“We studied the impact and growth of Chabad to examine the effectiveness of various programs during this troubled time of the pandemic,” he said. “These numbers came into focus when we looked at the level of engagement and our institutional and infrastructural growth.”

Seligson also pointed out that during the pandemic, Chabad coined 250 new pairs of emissaries who went out to service existing Chabad centers or to set up new ones.

Even before the pandemic growth spurt Chabad had already engaged about 37% of American Jewish adults in activities, according to current survey data from the Pew Research Center.

In the past 20 years, the number of Chabad synagogues in the United States has nearly tripled, reaching 1,036 in 2020, according to a tally by Joel Kotkin, a Chapman University professor who studies demographic trends, and independent researcher Edward Heyman . During the same period, the total number of synagogues decreased by 29%.

“As their secular counterparts shrink, the Hasidim and other traditionally observant Jewish communities in America are experiencing a surge in growth.” Kotkin and Heyman wrote in a tablet magazine article analyzing their data.

While many Hasidic groups grow primarily through procreation, Chabad, which is outreach-oriented, appears to accommodate a significant portion of Jews who have separated from the Reform or Conservative movement or who have never had a large institutional affiliation with the Jews with. In his most recent poll Pew estimated that among the Chabad participants, 24% are Orthodox, 26% Reformed, 27% Conservatives, and 16% do not identify with any particular branch of Judaism.

“At the present time, the core social needs of the Jewish world are met by two types of organizations: One is Chabad, which is expanding rapidly and offering a whole range of services” Kotkin and Heyman wrote. (The other type of organization is the local Jewish Federation and its affiliated Jewish community centers.)

As Chabad spreads, it finds it among the Jews to serve many willing donors. Sometimes individual donors like the Chicago Preisses play an oversized role, but their donation was accompanied by $ 500,000 in small donations, according to Chabad.org.

In comments on Chabad.org, the prizes explained why they donated Chabad. “You focus on everyone Mitzvah without criticizing. You are so hospitable, “said Jacques Price who was educated to reform. “It’s not a diluted Judaism,” said Evelyn, his wife.

“Much of the funding for these campaigns is being raised locally by people whose lives are personally enriched by Chabad in their community,” said Seligson. “They represent people from large donors to many small donors like college students who are committed to supporting Jewish life and programs that inspire them with all they can.”


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