For its 18th anniversary party, a Jewish center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side decided on a less traditional route.
It had the location – the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City – and entertainment by a top-notch singer, Avraham Fried. There was a raffle featuring dozens of prizes, from a dream Hawaii vacation to fine jewelry to a Marc Chagall lithograph. What was missing from the March 6 affair celebrating Chabad-Lubavitch of the Upper East Side and honorees Joseph and Deborah Aronow and Kim and Jonathan Kusher was place settings.
The goal was to create a fun, uplifting evening, without giving attendees a typical fundraising dinner to which New Yorkers have become overly accustomed.
“People are dinnered out,” said executive director Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski.
But although the event was far from typical for this part of New York, the event – judging from reactions among the crowd and figures provided by Krasnianski – was a huge success.
The celebration sold out a week in advance, and notwithstanding the soggy weather, there were roughly 600 people in attendance. Local parking garages were overwhelmed by attendees, some of whom had to wait 20 minutes just to park their cars.
At the center’s genesis almost two decades ago, Ben Tzion and Chanie Krasnianski had their work cut out for them.
After the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, approved the opening of a Chabad House in that part of Manhattan, the couple started searching for space on the Upper East Side. In the space of 18 years, they turned Chabad UES from a mission without a space of its own into a 17,000-square-foot educational operation offering the community everything from religious instruction to a preschool program.
“It is non-stop until 11:00 p.m. every day,” said the rabbi.
Something for Everyone
Early in the morning, Krasnianski offers one-on-one rabbinical instruction to the community. The center also incorporates a Hebrew school, a young professional program and a volunteer contingent serving children with special needs and their families. In addition, Chabad UES’ Jacque and Hannah Schwalbe Mikvah is used by more than 400 women each month.
(Krasnianski also teaches a popular online class on the Tanya, the 18th-century foundational Chasidic text penned by the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The class can be found at Chabad.org by clicking here.)
“Chabad is the savior of Yiddishkeit,” Peter Schwalbe, the anniversary party’s committee chairman, told the crowd. “Their mission is to bring Jews back to their Jewishness. It is a wonderful way of thinking.”
Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who was also at the dinner, agreed.
“It is an opportunity for people to reestablish their roots and to reconnect with their inner souls under the leadership of a rabbi who is one of the most popular in America,” he said. “He is able to connect with people in real ways.”
The sense of urgency lives on. Chabad UES is already beginning to outgrow its existing space, and is considering moving to a new location.
“At Chabad we are not looking for donations, we are looking for partners,” said Krasniaski.” We are all in this together. We are all Jews and we are all looking out for each other”
In the end, the center wants to reach out and let every Jew on the Upper East Side know about their spiritual inheritance and the beauty of Judaism. Krasnianski estimates that 70,000 Jews live in the neighborhood, although the area still has one of the lowest percentages of Jews involved in Jewish life.
“People ask how many congregants I have; 70,000, I tell them,” explained the rabbi. “Some know it. Some don’t know it yet.”