It was two years ago that Bluma Millman, 26, first heard about Chabad Young Philly from a Facebook post. Today, she’s an active member, attending CYP’s weekly women’s class, Shabbat dinners, workshops, challah bakes and field trips.
“Their programming is so fun,” Millman said. “I loved meeting other young professional Jews in Philly. It’s hard, everyone’s busy, you can’t really make time to socialize, especially in a Jewish environment. And at the Chabad of Young Philly, they really allow you to socialize.”
The nonprofit started nearly a decade ago to provide social and religious activities for young Jewish professionals in Center City, and it’s been popular, as people like Millman respond to the concept. But that popularity means more space is needed, especially because right now, co-directors Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky, 34, and Reuvena Leah Grodnitzky, 32, run CYP out of their home in South Philly.
It’s estimated that 4,000 people attend programming annually, with three quarters of them participating in Shabbat meals. With seven kids and dinners reaching up to 200 guests, the husband and wife have been searching for a larger space for the past few years. Now they’ve finally found an answer: a 6,000-square-foot corner property at 16th and Lombard.
Once renovated, the first floor will host dining events for more than 200 people. The second floor will be home to a synagogue and classrooms, the third floor will be used for guest suites and the basement will house an art gallery and storage.
“We just really felt the location was too good to pass up, and the building, the way it spatially works, is really great,” Doniel Grodnitzky said. “And the timing was perfect with just how pressing our need is to find a bigger space.”
The project’s cost is an estimated $2.36 million, with $1.61 million for the building acquisition and $750,000 for renovations. For the initial phase, the plan is to raise around $750,000 to secure a loan enabling the nonprofit to take over the building. The second phase will require raising additional money to renovate and modernize the facility.
But CYP lacks the funds to close on the building, and the deadline to reach the initial fundraising goal is early November. If they don’t meet the goal, Grodnitzky said they will pull out of the deal.
To raise money, CYP is seeking out community members, philanthropists and local foundations for contributions in the form of naming rights to the new building. Grodnitzky said they already have an architectural and structural engineering team in place so the nonprofit can begin demolitions and renovations as soon as its closes on the property. If everything goes according to plan, the new center could be up and running as early as January 2021.
“This is a unique opportunity that doesn’t come along often. We hope this will raise the quality of Jewish life tremendously if we can pull off this project,” Grodnitzky said. “We’re asking people to share our vision with us and we can only make it happen with the generosity of others.”
CYP was founded in August 2010. Two years later, the couple rented a storefront at 15th and South for a student art gallery and programming space. In 2015, the organization bought and moved into a nearby storefront that was able to fit about 80 people for Shabbat dinners. Now, the nonprofit resides only in the Grodnitzky’s home.
The Lombard Street building CYP is trying to acquire has an interesting history. It was constructed in 1914 by Victor J. Hamilton and Samuel Kapnek as a bar and restaurant, according to a report by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Kapnek was a Russian-born Jewish businessman primarily involved in real estate and Hamilton was an Irish-born saloon keeper and political boss.
In the early 1920s, the building was home to the Cinderella Inn or Cafe, a club popular among African-Americans. In 1925, the venue was raided because it was selling alcohol during Prohibition. It shut down shortly thereafter.
For the next 10 years, the property was home to a pharmacy until The Apex College of Beauty Culture moved in. The school resided there from 1935 until it was seized by the federal government in 1944 for use as a venereal disease clinic by The Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital. The report has no further details about subsequent history, but the property has been owned by real estate developer Cross Properties since 2016, according to the company’s website.
Many CYP members, like Millman, see the move as vital. She said the nonprofit is an important part of Philadelphia’s Jewish community and the new building will improve the quality of CYP’s programming and expand its audience.
“It’s so important for the growth of the Jewish community to have this new building. It’ll give us ample space to do all the programing that they do and its centralized location is right in Center City,” Millman said. “It would be so great if we could raise the funds and get this accomplished.”
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