Shea Rubenstein, 35
As the Jewish population in Marine Park, Brooklyn, continues to soar, so does the responsibility to look out for the needy in the community.
So when Shea Rubenstein founded the Jewish Community Council of Marine Park, one of the key projects was Project Mazon, which subsidizes groceries for struggling families that may not qualify for public assistance while protecting their anonymity.
“Anyone who feels they need help can go to any rabbi to qualify and receive a credit at the grocery,” said Rubenstein. “We pay the grocer directly.”
The Bronx native grew up in Pelham Parkway and wanted a more solid religious community to raise his kids.
After marrying, the graduate of Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva on the West Side and Bobover yeshiva in Borough Park lived in Flatbush for a while with his wife, Raley, a writer for Orthodox publications. But the couple didn’t feel a sense of community there, despite the overwhelming presence of other Orthodox Jews.
He found the growing Orthodox presence in adjacent Marine Park “thrilling. This was a nice, middle-class neighborhood with good housing; the cost was inexpensive for Brooklyn,” he said. “I bought houses to reconstruct, renovate and resell, and one of them I ended up moving into.”
Five years ago, there were an estimated 50 to 75 Orthodox families in the area bordered north and south by Flatbush and Nostrand avenues and east and west by Avenue U and Kings Highway. Now Rubenstein estimates there are over 1,000.
One speed bump is the city zoning code. In some areas, the rules restrict the ratio of building to property size, which limits the ability of large families to add bedrooms or expand kitchens.
Members of the Marine Park Jewish Community Council and its related political action committee advocate expanding the more liberal zoning code that exists in other parts of the borough to a wider area. Some in the neighborhood oppose the change, fearing larger homes will change the area’s character. Rubenstein, who has five children, says more expensive homes raise the value for everyone.
Aside from housing and activism, Rubenstein’s other passion is cantorial music. His first cantorial gig was at a shul in Bradley Beach, N.J., when he was 17, and he has led services from the bima as far away as Mexico City. He released a CD, “Ahavti,” in 2008 and performs regularly at Jewish concerts. “I have always loved the art of music,” he said.
YouTube sensation: His music video, “Window In Heaven,” has generated over 100,000 combined hits on video sharing sites.