There’s a New Chabad in Town

 The South Shore Standard September 23, 2011

 

BY SUSAN VARGHESE

 

2011-05-08 16-37-47_3597.JPGRabbi Nochem and Rivka Tenenboim of Hewlett are bringing a new meaning to the term house of worship. The pair are leading the new Chabad of Hewlett, a division of the Chabad of the Five Towns.

Chabad is a worldwide religious Jewish organization and the word Chabad stands for wisdom, knowledge, and intellect, Rivka said.

Although Chabad is based in Orthodox Judaism, the term houses of worship can often leave an impression of exclusivity and religious obligations, but that’s not what Chabad is about, Rivka explained. “It’s a house where every Jewish person can feel comfortable. A house of worship has a connotation that you come, you pray, and you leave,” Rivka said.  “It’s more of a home away from home…The idea of Chabad, the principle is that Judaism belongs to everybody.  We don’t believe in labels and separation…Our job is to help get people access and an opportunity to experience Judaism joyfully.”

Nochem grew up in Israel and studied at various rabbinical colleges in New Jersey and New York. He received his rabbinical ordination from the late Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu. Rivka grew up in Brooklyn and that’s where the pair met. However, her interest in Judaism started before that.

They’re starting the division in Hewlett because of its thriving Jewish community, which led to its fond nickname “Jewlett,” Rivka joked.

Nochem noted that there aren’t memberships at Chabad. “Even if someone’s a member in another synagogue, they can still come and participate in activities. We’re not excusive. Chabad is not about members. That’s the biggest difference.”

“I always dreamt of having a Chabad center,” Rivka said. She spent several years for the high holidays in Puerto Rico, where her sister runs a Chabad center, and a few years in Commack, where her other sister is involved with the Chabad center, running a children’s program there. “Recently, I met one of my students and she told me how incredible it was that I was her teacher when she was in Hebrew school because it sparked her love for Judaism,” Rivka said.  “It made me feel warm inside. “

People often get into Chabad for various reasons, including gaining informal Jewish education or to have a sense of community, Nochem explained. “ Most people who are with Chabad are not religious or don’t call themselves religious. A few weeks ago we had an ice cream party and it was unbelievable to see so many different kinds of people, those that don’t belong to any kind of synagogues.”

In their Hewlett home, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and refreshments are set neatly on their dining table. Chabad of Hewlett is currently working on acquiring a building, but the Tenenboims have been holding classes and activities at their home since April, and it’s a given that nobody leaves their home without a snack. “I love to cook,” Rivka said biting into a cookie. Besides balancing building awareness of the new Chabad, they also juggle being parents of their three young children, the youngest being three-weeks old.

“We don’t separate our personal life from our Chabad involvement,” Nochem said. “We have shabbos dinner every Friday night. Rivka makes delicious food. People from different synagogues or don’t belong to one come just to spend some more Jewish time together. The kids are a part of that.”

If guests aren’t over, the kids are usually disappointed, Rivka explained. “If we don’t have people over, they say, “Mommy, there’s no shabbos guests?’ They [the kids] love it.”

Even with no official memberships, Nochem isn’t too concerned about keeping Chabad afloat financially. “People want to participate in giving financially in a house of worship that’s non judgmental. All Chabads are funded independently. We believe that when we provide for the community, they’ll want to keep the Chabad center and activities going through financial support. It won’t be through membership dues, but people with the ability find a few extra dollars or change can contribute if they want.”

“That’s one of the successes of the Chabad,” Nochem said. “People with just a few pennies will give what they have to someone in need.”

The most important thing that Nochem and Rivka hope to achieve is to let people know that they always have Chabad as a place to rely on. “There’s always a number you could call and a place you could go. Our door is always open. Even if its not open I’m sure our three-year-old will open it,” Rivka said with a laugh.

For more information, visit jewishhewlett.com or reach the Tenenboims at (516) 295-3413.