It’s the dream of so many Chabad couples to expand from their home to a bigger, more multi-faceted “Center for Jewish Life.”
In a matter of months, Rabbi Hirshi Sputz and Rebbetzin Shevy Sputz will live that dream.
The husband and wife, both in their 30s, have spent six years building up the Chabad of Fairmount. More than 100 neighborhood families are now regular attendees of their programs. Rabbi Sputz said he sometimes needs to rent out locations for Shabbat services, dinners and other activities.
It’s time for the couple to move the Chabad from its home, a brownstone on Spring Garden Street, to the Chabad Jewish Center of Fairmount, a three-story property on the corner of 23rd Street.
The mortgage was bought from the bank. The $2.5 million to pay for renovations was raised (though the couple’s goal remains $3.7 million). The construction of a sanctuary/social hall, a kosher café and four classrooms is underway.
Rabbi Sputz did not want to put an exact date on the center’s opening. But he said he was hoping for “sometime in 2024.”
On a cloudy day in Fairmount, he gave the Jewish Exponent a look inside.
“We are very grateful to Hashem, and to our community members for stepping up,” the rabbi said.
The Sanctuary/Social Hall
When you walk up to the building on the corner, a banner that says Frankie Ann’s Bar & Grill still hangs. Inside, construction workers drill, carve wood and clear the space. There’s nothing in here but the smell of paint and sawdust.
But if you walk to the back of the bottom floor, you see an open room. It’s going to be a sanctuary with seating for more than 100 people. The rabbi will stand at the front of the room, and the congregants will sit facing him.
But there will be seating, not pews. Sputz is careful to make this point. The rabbi is used to the informality of running a synagogue out of his home, and he wants nothing to be fixed. He wants to be able to move the seats to quickly transform his sanctuary into a social hall.
“To be able to give so many more people the opportunity to connect and celebrate their Judaism,” he said.
The Kosher Café
A room to the side of the main lobby has a paint bucket, dried paint on the floor and wooden boards standing against the wall. Sputz envisions it as the kosher café.
To start, neighborhood residents, Jewish and not, will be able to walk in and buy breakfast and lunch. Eventually, there may be dinner, too. But the rabbi wants to start, if not small, then at least manageable.
It’s important for Fairmount locals to have a place to get a kosher bite, he says.
“We’ll be able to offer more now that we have the space,” Sputz said.
On the second and third floor, there are future classrooms. One is a rectangle. Another is a square. A third is a wider rectangle. They all have dried paint on the ground and paint buckets sitting around.
But come 2024, Sputz hopes, there will be preschool and Hebrew school students here. Shevy Sputz already offers Shabbat circles for young families while the rabbi runs Torah classes.
But in the Chabad Jewish Center of Fairmount, they will be able to open a preschool.
“Education is a very important foundation for the Jewish people,” Sputz said.
As we walk back outside, the rabbi sees a Jewish family from the neighborhood and exchanges pleasantries. He then explains that the new and improved Chabad of Fairmount will be two-pronged.
The rabbi and rebbetzin will continue to live in their brownstone and host Shabbat dinners there. But the institutions of Jewish community life in Fairmount will be run out of the Center.
Sputz said that this property used to belong to Rembrandt’s, a popular restaurant for 32 years. He hopes that the Chabad can have a similar kind of staying power.
He calls this project “a miracle.” It was a miracle that neighborhood Jews donated enough money, and that the Chabad got its loan.
“Some community members have their own college debt, their own things that they’re working on,” he said. “And they pledged $100,000 towards the project. And some others, less.”
To donate to help the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, visit chabadfairmount.com.