There are busy, hardworking people, and then there’s Reuvena Grodnitzky.
A Cherry Hill native, the 31-year-old has lived in Philadelphia for the past nine years and served as co-director of Chabad Young Philly with her husband, Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky. The two run a Chabad house where she leads many programs for women and young adults while also hosting Shabbat meals most weeks.
What led you and your husband to start a Chabad house in Philadelphia?
My husband and I met at Oberlin College. We didn’t grow up Chabad, and there was no Chabad house at Oberlin College when we were there. We became very interested in connecting more Jewishly and, after we left Oberlin and got married, we had a goal of going back and starting a Chabad house there.
In the process of that not working out, we met Rabbi Menachem Schmidt. He said he had an art gallery in Old City and “there are so many Jewish art students that are coming that I think they should have their own Chabad house.” So we moved August 2010, when our second daughter was 3 weeks old, from Ithaca, New York — we were running a Chabad house at Ithaca College — and set up shop.
What’s the importance of a Chabad house in Philadelphia?
The people that are coming to us are coming at an important phase in their lives. They’re either in school, finishing up school or just starting their working career and really making all sorts of decisions and thinking about their lives in a way that’s going to direct their future, direct what friends they make and who they marry. They’re getting involved with us at this critical time, and we feel that it’s important to give them access to the Jewish parts of their lives so as they’re making these decisions and formulating their identity in a profound way, that they have all the tools that they need to incorporate Judaism into those decisions.
What are the challenges of running the Chabad house?
It’s a big undertaking. You have to be organized. Plus, I have seven kids, so we have a lot going on.
What do you like about it?
Just trying to help the Jewish young people as best we can connect to their beautiful Jewish heritage and to see the beauty in their tradition. I love sharing the beauty of Judaism with our community. I love seeing when people make friends here and when two Jews get together and they get married; that’s amazing. It’s very rewarding. We now have more and more engagements and weddings coming up. It’s so special. And when people say, “Oh, this is my best friend and I met them at Chabad,” it’s very beautiful and really gratifying.
So people say you’re a pretty good cook, huh?
The joke is that we run all of these programs and social events and they are really coming for the free food. And yeah, it’s definitely a lot of work to prepare all of these meals every week for so many people, but the joke is that the key to someone’s heart is through their stomach, and hopefully the food that they are eating is coming from a place of love from within me. If the food is what keeps them coming back, then I’m happy that I can provide for them in that way.
What are some future projects you’d like to work on?
I’d like to put out a Chabad house cookbook and Shabbat guide. That’s one thing that’s hopefully in the works. One of the other things that I do is challah-baking workshops and other cooking-related things, and I am hoping to do more of that.
[email protected]; 215-832-0751