Jason Finkelstein, 22, a financial adviser and planner for North Star Resource Group in Minnesota, met Rabbi Sholom Brook through the Chabad rabbi at the University of Kansas, where Finkelstein was active with the campus program. From that first meeting, Finkelstein thought Brook was “a cool, friendly, welcoming guy.”
So when local events for young professionals started popping up—like “Sushi & Scotch” and a Shabbat social night—he began to attend them.
“It was hard for me to pass up the opportunity to become involved,” says Finkelstein, who has made new friends and developed business contacts through the group. “Personally, it has benefited me by allowing me to stay active in the Jewish community, meeting and hanging out with Jews my age, and also staying connected to a teacher, rabbi and new friend.
“I enjoy Sholom’s teachings; it forces us to talk about very simple things that people take for granted for every day or don’t think about enough. And professionally, it has provided great networking opportunities, which is essential in my line of work.”
Helping this post-college population create such a multifaceted network is the mission of Rabbi Sholom and Mushky Brook, co-directors of the Uptown Chabad of Minneapolis and its Chabad Young Professionals group.
“This age is a crucial time in their lives, a time when they are starting to shape their destiny,” says the rabbi. “They are making some of the most important decisions for real, before they marry and have children: what do you want to do, where do you want to work, who your friends are, who your spouse will be, how you want to make your Jewish home.”
Rabbi Sholom Brook, left, mingles with attendees at the group’s recent Chanukah party, the largest event to date.
The goal of the group, he says, is “to connect young people to each other and to their heritage, to show them how colorful Judaism can be” through gatherings and events geared towards young adults ages 21 through 39.
One such event was the Jan. 4 “Learning With a Twist,” where social learning took place in groups, as opposed to the traditional classroom setting. Two Shabbat programs are also scheduled for this month. “These events are about meeting people and making friends,” says Brook. “But at the end of the day, they are very much marketing events. It boils down to one-on-one relationships.”
Mushky Brook meets young women for coffee to talk about life and Judaism, and is working on a “Girls Night Out” to involve larger numbers of people. The rabbi focuses on Torah study with the men and social events that appeal to their sensibilities.
Checking in to the Chanukah party, which was attended by more than 100 people.
He notes that while Chabad centers exist on most college campuses—and a variety of Chabad services, schools, events and activities are in place across the country for children, families and older individuals—the post-college crowd is often underserved. So when the director of the Minneapolis Chabad, Rabbi Mordechai Grossbaum, asked Brook and his wife to start a program in Uptown—a lively commercial district in southwestern Minneapolis—they accepted enthusiastically.
“The Uptown area is a growing, happening place,” explains Brook. “A lot of alumni from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Minnesota are moving back to the city. They want to continue what they have going with Chabad from college, and we want to create a vibrant community of young adults.”
The couple received the go-ahead in March; a few months later, they made the move. Their initial goal was to meet four or five new people each week through outreach and referrals from campus rabbis, friends and other community members. Soon enough, they started putting into place coffee meetings, events, Torah classes, combined learning/social sessions and Friday-night dinners at their home.
It was a natural calling for the Brooks—both 24, and both from large Chabad families from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
‘The Real Deal: Relationships’
The rabbi believes that individual connections are the driving force; the events are a means to that end. “The real deal is relationships, one by one in a personal way,” he says. “The community has been very interested, and very welcoming and warm”—something that’s usually said of Chabad.
Because Minneapolis is home to number of large corporations—such as Target and United Health Care—participants come from a variety of professions that include finance, marketing, law, engineering and medicine.
Many in the area have grown up with Jewish backgrounds and involvement, so for them, reaching out to Chabad is a natural extension of their lives. In fact, it’s more relevant than ever as they shape what their 20s and 30s will look like. Being guided by and in the presence of a Jewish couple their age—and already the parents of a baby—has real influence.
Take Evana Kvasnik, 23, the youth director of a local synagogue, who grew up going to programs at the Chabad House in St. Paul and continued the affiliation through the campus Chabad center at the University of Minneapolis.
“Being a part of Chabad has really helped me grow as a Jewish woman,” she says. “I feel like it is giving me an opportunity to grow my professional network, as well as meet new people. Working in the Jewish community can make it hard to separate your Jewish work life and Jewish personal life. I strongly believe Chabad is the place I am able to be a Jew as a person first and as a professional second.”
To learn more about the Chabad Young Professionals group, click here.
Emily Goldstein, left, and Ari Pressman
From left: Sara Lang, Jessie Israel and Mia Bronstein