Rabbi Hirshi Sputz and Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz Build Chabad of Fairmount

Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz and Rabbi Hirshi Sputz (Photo by Hy Paul Studio)

Rabbi Hirshi Sputz and Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz didn’t always have those titles. But they always knew that they wanted to play those roles. So when a matchmaker connected the girl from Monsey, New York, and the rabbinical student from Brooklyn, they hit it off right away.

He made the hour-and-a-half-long drive out to her. They met in a hotel or just in a lobby near her home, and they would talk. For hours. About everything.

But one topic always came up: spreading the word of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the 20th-century leader of the Chabad movement who transformed it into a global network with thousands of emissaries.

Those emissaries, rabbis and rebbetzins, work to live his values and transmit them to their communities. The rebbe believed in a commitment to Torah-based Judaism combined with an openness to Jews from all backgrounds.

As Rabbi Hirshi and Rebbetzin Shevy explain it, “Whatever the community needs.”

And for six years, their community has been Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood.

The Sputz family lives on Spring Garden Street and works out of its brownstone home. On July 14, their four young children are running all over the place and asking their parents various questions. Their newborn baby is lying in a bouncer and alternating between sleeping and looking around. A picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, black hat, long gray beard, focused expression, hangs on the wall above the baby.

The picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe inside the home of Rabbi Hirshi Sputz and Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

As the rabbi and rebbetzin talk about their synagogue, the Chabad of Fairmount, they also set up tables and chairs for that evening’s Shabbat dinner. More than 20 people will show up to eat in the family’s dining room.

“When we came to Fairmount, we wanted to interview people and just learn,” Hirshi Sputz said. “Whenever you come to a community, you got to listen.”

In the 2010s, the couple was deciding among several options to move to and launch a Chabad house. Cincinnati; Orlando, Florida; Minnesota; and even Australia were in the running.

But after they spoke with Rabbi Yochonon Goldman, the spiritual leader at B’nai Abraham Chabad in Society Hill, and Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, the founder of the Chabad house at the University of Pennsylvania, they realized that “the greatest need was in Philadelphia,” Hirshi Sputz said.

Goldman had been teaching Torah classes. But he also had a synagogue with dues-paying members to run. The city needed a rabbi who could focus on education, according to Hirshi Sputz.

He became that rabbi.

“We quickly started getting involved in starting classes, meeting new people,” he said. “We hosted a lot of lunch and learns.”

The Shabbat dinner table inside the home of Rabbi Hirshi Sputz and Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Hirshi Sputz did that for a year and a half. But local Chabad leaders recognized that the Fairmount Jewish community was growing. It needed spiritual leaders who could focus on the neighborhood.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Sputz stepped forward to fulfill the role.

“Our focus is building life in Fairmount,” Hirshi Sputz said.

From talking to people in the neighborhood, the couple learned that there were needs for Shabbat circles for parents with young kids, Shabbat dinners, Torah classes for adults and holiday services for families. Those programs and gatherings continue today.

Between 20 and 50 people take the classes, according to the rabbi. Eighty people showed up to a recent Shabbat dinner (at a separate venue from the couple’s home). More than 100 neighborhood families are regular attendees at Chabad events.

“Our goal is to help you grow in your Judaism in a path that you’re comfortable with,” the rabbi said. “The rebbe was very into removing labels from people. ‘Labels are for shirts.’”

“We’re all one family, and we’re here to strengthen each other,” he added.

In return, the Fairmount Jewish community has strengthened the Chabad. The house runs on donations, according to Hirshi Sputz. And while the couple had to hold teaching jobs during their early years in Philadelphia, they do not have to anymore. They are committed full time to spreading the rebbe’s word.

A rendering of the Chabad Jewish Center that the rabbi and rebbetzin hope to build (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

They are hoping that their next step will be a new Chabad Center for Jewish Life at a building just blocks from their home. It will have a sanctuary/social hall, a kosher café/restaurant, a preschool and an office for the rabbi and rebbetzin.

That is if the couple can raise the $3.7 million it will take to build out the facility. They have already raised more than $2 million. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Sputz expect to open the building by early 2024.

If they do, they will be able to open up more opportunities for Jewish life in Fairmount.

“We really just love the people,” Shevy Sputz said.

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