Their hearts are big, their reach is long, and they offer an endless supply of hospitality and welcome. Rabbi Mendy Goldstein and his wife, Alta, leaders of the Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville are fulfilling the decree of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as “the Rebbe.”
The leader of the current Chabad Movement, the Rebbe directed his followers to reach out to all Jews everywhere, to make sure they had the opportunity to be embraced by a Jewish community.
“He said to reach out to every Jew regardless of affiliation, knowledge, how much they do or how much they celebrate,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “If you’re Jewish, you have a Jewish soul. It’s no bigger or smaller than anyone else’s. That’s the Chabad approach.”
Today, there are more than 4,000 Chabad emissary families worldwide.
The Goldsteins, who launched the Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville in 2005, have touched the lives of enough area Jews to outgrow two worship/program spaces. Next month, in time for the Jewish High Holidays, the Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville will move into its new and expanded site at 1935 Brookdale Road in Naperville.
Chabad is an acronym for Hebrew words meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The Goldsteins, who came to Naperville from New York as newlyweds, shared the Chabad movement’s vision to “be there for every Jewish person for whatever they may need, from A-Z,” Alta said.
They started in the basement of their home, and after two years, moved the center to a storefront. In their new site, they will host a Hebrew school of more than 50 students, their holiday events, which draw more than 100 participants, Friday night (Shabbat) dinners and worship services.
“People come to Chabad for different reasons,” Alta said. “They come for meaning and spirituality. Maybe they had a bad experience as a child and see that what we do is fun and exciting. We try to appeal to them in whatever way talks to them.”
Although the Goldsteins are Orthodox Jews, the people who participate with the Chabad Jewish Center are typically not that observant. Many have grown up with little if any religious background, some have strayed, and others are affiliated with a synagogue but looking for more.
Holiday events are fun and interactive, worship is accessible and welcoming.
“My services include words of inspiration and lots of jokes. We read in English a lot, and we have a lot of explanations,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “We make sure people are comfortable. If we’re doing too much in Hebrew, we switch to English.”
Participants in Chabad’s events and services need not join or make any commitment, financial or otherwise.
“People can just show up,” Alta said.
This is especially attractive during the High Holidays during which most Jews, whether they are observant or not, feel drawn to attend worship services. Donations are not required, but are always welcome because the organization is supported completely by the generosity of its community.
Rabbi Goldstein attributes the growth of Chabad in Naperville to the fact that people are “thirsty for more. They want to experience more, want their kids to learn more. People are searching to learn more and be more involved,” he said.
“Mendy says that his goal is to meet every Jew in Naperville,” Alta said. “Every Jew should know there’s a place to go. That’s also my wish, my dream.
“If you’re curious about what we’re about, the best way to know is to come and find out. We make a friend from everyone who walks in the door. I consider everyone a friend.”