A short walk from the East River, through cobblestone streets shadowed beneath skyscrapers and the Manhattan Bridge, sits an art gallery right above the hub of a quaint bar in the up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo.

One of its owners, Itchie Gross, sits at a desk at the far end of the gallery near windows looking out at new developments. He is surrounded on both sides by walls displaying masterpieces of Chassidic art.

Gross handles the publicity, sales and marketing for "The Jewish Gallery," which opened its doors May 9 for an event that attracted 300 people. Gross says he always had "a feeling for artwork."

His father, Rabbi Elye Gross, founded the Chai Art Gallery in 1979 on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which sells Chassidic art primarily to neighborhood residents and visitors.

What sets Itchie's new art gallery apart is that while it is devoted exclusively to Jewish art, it reaches out to a decidedly secular crowd. All the artists featured in the current exhibition created works listed in big auction houses and exhibited in museums around the world. And although the artists were not necessarily religious, their pieces draw on a common theme: life in the old European shtetl.

One such artist is Chaim Goldberg, whose patrons included the likes of Marc Chagall. Goldberg, who died in 2004, grew up in southern Poland and later became a Parisian-school artist; he used Jewish village life as inspiration for his artwork. Chagall bought Goldberg's work during the 1930's and it's no surprise – an untrained eye could be forgiven for confusing the two artists' paintings.

Trendy Brooklyn

One of the paintings in Hyman Bloom’s “Rabbis Holding Torahs” series
One of the paintings in Hyman Bloom’s “Rabbis Holding Torahs” series
The gallery's next exhibit – after a three-month display, the current collection will be taken from public view in August – will feature works by artists such as Jay Milder, a contemporary painter raised in Omaha, Neb. by Russian-Jewish parents. His canvasses don't explicitly feature Jewish themes, but rather abstractly explore the psychological and spiritual makeup of man.

Gross and his business partner, Aryeh Wuensch, who curates the gallery from Florida and runs the online catalogue at lionsgallery.com, hope to see the gallery become a gateway for all Jewish art, whether to trade, display, sell or purchase. They plan to host cultural events in their attractive loft-style space.

Admittedly, the art that is for sale bears a high sticker price. Hyman Bloom's "Rabbis Holding Torahs" series, for instance, is listed at $95,000. One could easily spend less on other works, of course, but it's clear this gallery sees itself as fitting firmly into Brooklyn's newest trendier, upscale hot spot.

Nevertheless, Gross relates a story revealing a more subtle, yet profound purpose, for opening up shop beyond making money.

Gross and Wuensch recently took a trip to retrieve art from Bloom's home in New Hampshire. The artist, who is now 95 years old, taught at Harvard University for 50 years and is considered by many to be the first real contemporary American artist, having exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art, as well as at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. When they arrived, Gross and Wuensch asked the artist if he wanted to put on tefillin; Bloom gave a definite no.

But then Wuensch, knowing that Bloom usually takes photographs of himself holding Torahs as a basis for his artwork, tried another tack. Wuensch asked him, "Why not take a photo of yourself in tefillin to later use for a painting?"

Bloom relented.

At first, he didn't remember any of the prayers. Slowly, though, the words came back to him and he said the Shema while crying. It had been 82 years since he last put on tefillin, just before he left Europe as a 13-year-old boy.

For the gallery's directors, both of whom consider themselves adherents of Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidism, opening up a space in Dumbo is a way "to draw people in, to touch people," says Gross.

And with a new Chabad House slated to open up across the street, the gallery will be another stop along the way for those searching for Jewish culture and meaning.