When Danielle Goldblatt and her husband, Joshua, moved to New York City’s Roosevelt Island in March, she didn’t know anything about its Jewish community. As it turns out, she lives just floors above Rabbi Zalman and Nechama Duchman, who run the island’s Chabad-Lubavitch center.
“It’s really nice,” says Goldblatt. “We’re very lucky we’re this close.”
Soon after moving in, the Goldblatts accepted an invitation from the Duchmans for Sabbath dinner. On Purim the Duchmans came over with gifts, and just before her now nearly six-week-old son Gabe’s circumcision, the Duchmans came by to say prayers for him.
For the Goldblatts, whose son’s arrival prompted them to step up their Jewish involvement, such efforts to make sure they know what’s happening during the holidays—as well as the calls, e-mails and texts about upcoming events—are welcome reminders from a community practically at their doorstep.
“Having a new baby and preparing for the baby’s arrival, we wanted to be a little bit more involved in the Jewish community,” explains Goldblatt. “And they’ve really been helping us do that, which is really nice.”
Through the Roosevelt Island center, she’s met other members, including young mothers and families. And Nechama Duchman, who has five young kids, has been “a really good resource to me as a young mom,” she says.
As for what’s next, Goldblatt’s excited to kickstart Gabe’s having Jewish peers with whom he can connect now and down the road.
“I like that we can expose him to the Jewish community here and get him more involved with that, and have other Jewish friends and celebrate the holidays with them,” the mother explains.
With seven new buildings opened up in stages recently, Roosevelt Island’s Jewish population has risen, particularly in the families with young children segment, says Scot Bobo, a 17-year resident of the island, which sits between Manhattan and Queens. Growth is expected to continue, especially if Cornell University’s plan for a joint campus with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology is approved by the city.
Bobo, who serves as president of the RIJC, a community organization that opened in 1981, expects to see something akin to what happened when the island first opened to renters around 30 years ago.
“I think we are coming back to that now, where the number of Jewish families will warrant more Hebrew schools and more events,” says Bobo, a father of two children, ages 14 and 9. “The more people, the bigger the crowd, the more people who want to come.”
The arrival a few years ago of the Duchmans “definitely upped the number of events and celebrations,” providing a new element to a community whose origins date back to 1976, he adds.
Hannah and Aaron Kranich moved to Roosevelt Island about six years ago, a return for Aaron, who had grown up there. They were aware of the Jewish community, but pleasantly surprised to find so many avenues for Jewish life. Their children, Jacob, 6, and Sonia, 3, go to Chabad’s Hebrew school Sunday mornings, where they see their friends and learn about Jewish holidays, Hebrew and the Sabbath.
The Duchmans have brought vitality and an enhanced sense of community to the island, says Hanna Kranich.
“They take every opportunity to infuse life here with Judaism,” she adds, pointing to a birthday party Nechama Duchman threw herself a few months back. “She invited the women from the island, and she made it about them and their Hebrew names and their Hebrew birthdays. Everyone got to learn about themselves for her birthday.”
For Zalman Duchman, who knew just two Jewish families on the island when he moved there five years ago, the community’s evolution has been encouraging. On Simchat Torah last month, he and his wife presented gifts to 11 Jewish babies born recently, and gave them a special blessing. A few more babies are on the way.
“We have a whole new community being born: young families and new babies who present an entirely new face of the Jewish community,” he says.