Twelve years ago, when Rabbi Doniel and Rebbetzin Reuvena Grodnitzky hosted their first Shabbat dinner as a Chabad house, they had one guest.
Still, they were eager and excited, envisioning a future when they would be able to grow and become a home to young Philadelphia Jews looking to connect.
After 12 years, three locations and a global pandemic, the couple’s Chabad house is relaunching, with the same goal of building Jewish connections.
One July 9, Mamash! Chabad, formerly Chabad Young Philly, hosted its “grand opening” Shabbat dinner with almost 90 people in attendance, celebrating the launch of its new building at 1601-03 Lombard St.
The event debuted the 6,000-square-foot space, complete with a new candle-lighting station, kitchen, bar and dining space built to accommodate 200 dinner guests.
Yet grand opening is a bit of a misnomer.
The Grodnitzkys have hosted events and programming from their new location for around six weeks: Torah study groups, Saturday morning Shabbat services and a bris.
However, Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky felt like the building wouldn’t truly serve its purpose until it was home to the Chabad house’s Shabbat dinners.
“Friday night is kind of our flagship program,” Doniel Grodnitzky said. “So that’s why it’s a big deal for the community that the most-attended Friday night dinner in the city is finally going to be at its permanent home.”
Making the event more special to Mamash! was the dinner’s co-sponsorship by Remy and Alexa Moyal, a young couple whose wedding Doniel Grodnitzky officiated last June.
The Moyals met the Grodnitzkys four years ago at Chabad house at the Old City Jewish Art Center and have been part of Mamash! Chabad ever since, frequently attending Shabbat dinners and text study classes. After a small, outdoor and masked wedding ceremony last June, the couple wanted to thank the rabbi for helping out in their pandemic-style wedding, and they provided enough funding to pay for a five-course dinner for the Chabad house’s guests.
At Mamash! Chabad’s Shabbat dinner, Doniel Grodnitzky announced that the couple helped sponsor the event in honor of their wedding anniversary and that, to keep their ceremony COVID-19-safe, they sacrificed a dinner and dancing.
Before the rabbi could finish his speech, Alexa Moyal said the couple were swept off their feet, and all 90 guests began to dance around them.
“It was just such an incredible release of emotion and excitement for the Jewish community,” Moyal said.
For the couple, the event was the opportunity to take part in wedding traditions that weren’t available a year ago.
“It felt like the event came full circle, and we were able to finally feel as if we had danced on our wedding night, even though it was one year later,” Moyal said. “And we’re incredibly grateful for that opportunity.”
Though the event was capped, and met, its 80-guest limit, the Grodnitzkys designed a space to accommodate more ambitious goals, especially after their previous location — their home in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood — could no longer fit their Friday night company.
“It was so crowded, people were eating in my kids toy room and in our guest room, even in the basement,” Reuvena Grodnitzky said. “It became very apparent that there just wasn’t enough space anymore.”
Their building on Lombard and 16th Street will not only house a larger dining space and kitchen, but also a kosher wine and Judaica store, a work hub with five available offices for rent and two AirBnBs.
“We were really hoping to be a community destination for all things Jewish,” Reuvena Grodnitzky said.
Along with its new space, Mamash! Chabad also underwent a rebranding; its new name (pronounced mahm-ish) is literally translated as “really” or “truly,” but in informal conversation the meaning is difficult to put into words; it is generally intended to invoke a sense of jubilee.
“It’s not even a word that really means anything, necessarily. It’s just a word that can be used with any other word in the English or Hebrew lexicon, and it just emotes excitement. And that’s what we’re all about,” Doniel Grodnitzky said.
Even with all the new bells and whistles, the Grodnitzkys find the same joy in Shabbat that they did back when Mamash! was Chabad Young Philly, when they were hosting Shabbat guests in the single digits.
“It’s just pretty magical, all the different friendships that are formed and the bonds that are made,” Doniel Grodnitzky said. “And so we’re just getting right back to it.”
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