Crown Heights For The Pluralistic Jew
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Crown Heights For The Pluralistic Jew

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Repair the World’s storefront on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn hosts educational programming and Shabbats. Courtesy of Repair the World
Repair the World’s storefront on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn hosts educational programming and Shabbats. Courtesy of Repair the World

Move over 770 — there’s a new kid on the block.

Taking advantage of demographic changes in heavily Orthodox Crown Heights, Repair the World, a national Jewish service nonprofit focused on food justice and education, announced last week that it is opening a new community center in the neighborhood to serve as a hub for volunteering and community outreach. Nine fulltime fellows, all recent college graduates, will live at the new Nostrand Avenue location and direct programming.

According to Repair the World’s New York City director, Cindy Greenberg, the new branch intends to target the “largely underserved” population of non-Orthodox Jewish millennials in the neighborhood that is home to Chabad-Lubavitch, whose headquarters are at 770 Eastern Parkway.

“Central Brooklyn is overflowing with young Jews looking for engagement, and the opportunities for unaffiliated Jews are very limited,” she said, noting that Repair the World will be the first non-Orthodox institution in the Crown Heights/Bedford Stuyvesant area. The closest up until now is the congregation Reform Union Temple in neighboring Prospect Heights.

Food-justice Shabbat dinners, education programs and “Cocktails with a Conscience,” a happy hour to meet, mingle and talk social action, are poised to enter the Central Brooklyn mix.

“My peers are craving different forms of community,” said Alli Lesovoy, 23, one of the fellows who will be moving into the new Crown Heights location in August.

“As a Jewish millennial, I’m looking for forms of engagement that reflect my values, concerns and priorities,” said Lesovoy, who grew up in a strong Reform household in San Francisco. “Maybe one day when I have a family, I’ll find my community at synagogue services, but that’s definitely not what I’m looking for now.”

The new Repair the World storefront adds one more change to an already shifting neighborhood. Brownstone Brooklyn is quickly becoming one of the most desirable locations for young professionals; young Jews are no exception. According to the 2011 New York Jewish Population study conducted the UJA-Federation, central Brooklyn is rapidly catching up to Manhattan in terms of numbers of Jewish singles.

As housing prices in nearby Park Slope and Prospect Heights skyrocket, young people are spilling over into the surrounding areas.

“The neighborhood is at a turning point, and we wanted join the change,” said Greenberg. Along with partnering with local charities to boost the number of volunteers, she said that “building bridges” with the longtime residents in the area is a priority.

“We’re very aware of our roll in contributing to the gentrification of the neighborhood,” she said. “We want to talk about it, understand it and give back.”

Greenberg noted that Chabad has been “very supportive” of their new center. “What we’re doing is so different it’s hard to compare,” she said.

Gearing up for her Brooklyn debut, Lesovoy said she’s been researching the neighborhood for the past year. “I’ve had over 350 meetings with people, trying to figure out how we can be most effective in maximizing volunteer opportunities once we get there,” she said. “There’s so much to do — so many people to meet. We’ve got no time lose.”

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