B’nai Abraham Chabad, Led by Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldman, Continues to Serve Community

Leah and Yochonon Goldman (Courtesy of Leah Goldman)

In January 2000, Rabbi Yochonon Goldman and his rebbetzin, Leah Goldman, were “appointed as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Philadelphia,” according to

If you have never had contact with the Chabad movement, you may be wondering what that means. Rabbi Goldman has the answer.

“Chabad’s philosophy is guided by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson). The rebbe’s life was about unconditional love, and the way that translates into institutional life is to appreciate what we have in common and focus on that which connects us Jews, rather than what divides us. We have so much more in common,” he explained.

“At the same, there’s an absolute commitment to following the Torah as an eternal manual for life. And so, while we’re committed to continuing the practices and observances of the Orthodox way of life, the philosophy allows us to reach out to a wider community, and it brings in others who may not consider themselves Orthodox. It extends this philosophy of love,” he concluded.

For the last 23 years, the Goldmans have done that in Center City.

They became emissaries to Philadelphia when they took over leadership at B’nai Abraham Chabad on Lombard Street. Upon arrival, they found a decrepit old building and a congregation that could barely form a minyan.

B’nai Abraham Chabad in Philadelphia (Courtesy of B’nai Abraham Chabad)

More than two decades later, the building stands and so does the congregation inside. It consists of 60 dues-paying members, according to the rabbi. But the Chabad philosophy is not about finding as many paying congregants as possible. It’s about opening the synagogue doors to any local Jewish person with a need.

The rebbetzin is a professional educator, so she runs the Center City Jewish Preschool, which has 70 students, out of B’nai Abraham. Local Jews also come to the synagogue for High Holiday services, life cycle events and Hebrew school for their children. In August, the Chabad will host a conversation with Aleeza Ben Shalom, the star of “Jewish Matchmaking” on Netflix.

“There are a lot of people who engage in Jewish life in different ways. We try to open our doors and make people feel warm and welcome,” Rabbi Goldman said. “Some people are not ready to join in a formal way, but we consider them part of our extended family.”

Julie Perilstein Mozes, a member of that extended family, speaks glowingly of the Chabad’s “fabulous preschool.” The Center City resident and her husband live a few blocks away from B’nai Abraham, but they are not members. They started sending their kids to school there in 2017, and they grew to love the values and environment that Leah Goldman instilled.

Even for the youngest students, the school encourages independence, outdoor exploration and a deep connection to Jewish rituals. Every Friday, Perilstein Mozes’ kids would come home and remind her to light Shabbos candles. There is also a sustained emphasis on life skills, starting with the most basic like zipping your jacket and tying your shoes.

“Leah and I always joke about this: We’re creating a mensch,” Perilstein Mozes said.

An event at B’nai Abraham Chabad (Photo by Jay Gorodetzer Photography)

Kaila Dickstein-Giusini, a fifth-generation member of the synagogue, agrees with Perilstein Mozes. Dickstein-Giusini’s two oldest kids graduated from the Center City Jewish Preschool, and her youngest son is there now.

As a parent, Dickstein-Giusini found it difficult at first to leave her kids with someone else for “that many hours of the day,” she said. But Leah Goldman can “find the best people to run the school as teachers and aides,” the mother added.

“There’s no one in that school that my kids don’t love,” she concluded.

More than anything else, Dickstein-Giusini appreciates that the school, like the synagogue, treats every student “uniquely.” She also likes its “holistic approach” to developing the whole student, from social skills to emotional regulation.

“It’s just a place that provides support when you need it,” she said.

But like any other institution, the synagogue needs to get as much as it gives. Rabbi Goldman said the shul runs on dues, an annual fundraiser, a separate annual fundraiser for the preschool through a crowdfunding platform and separate donations from generous residents.

Overall, it’s enough to keep the doors open, the programs running and the yearly upgrades on schedule. The rabbi tries to focus on two a year for the building that was dedicated in 1910. In his time, he has replaced the windows, the roof and the security system, among other projects.

“I would say that it’s in decent shape,” Goldman said. “There’s always more
to do.”

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