It Is Time To Talk About “Class Shuls” in Crown Heights

It was very shocking to me, as the years went by, to see the phenomenon of “class-shuls” opening up on every block of Crown Heights. It seems that every age group has in recent years created their own oasis and community and seems to ignore the treasure – 770 – that is in their midst.

By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

I had the privilege of growing up in Crown Heights, the Shchuna and daled Amos of the Rebbe. While my father would bring me every shabbas to the Rebbe’s Farbrengen and seder niggunim, we would not Daven in 770 Friday night and shabbas day. Instead, we would daven in a small Shteeble called the “Sosnowitz Shteeble” located (at the time) on Crown St. We would come to 770 for Tekios on Rosh Hashana and for Napoleon’s March on Yom Kippur.

When I was very young, I asked my father the obvious question: If we live right near the Rebbe’s Shul, and we are always being told how important it is to spend as much time as we could in the presence of the Rebbe, why are we davening in the Sosnowitz Shteeble and not 770? My father gave me an illuminating answer: The Rebbe does not want any shul in crown Heights to close!

He elaborated: While today, Crown Heights is known as a place where Lubavitcher Chassidim live, it was not always that way. Just a few decades earlier, there were many different chassidic, and non-chassidic, groups that had centers in Crown Heights. As some non-jewish people started coming into Crown Heights, these groups – against the wishes of the Rebbe – left Crown Heights for other communities. This caused a risk that the small shuls around Crown Heights would close and the Rebbe did not want that to happen. Thus many local balebatim gave up on the opportunity to Daven with the Rebbe in order to fulfill the Rebbe’s desire. It was their shlichus in Crown Heights.

With this education and mindset, it was always clear to me that – while we have the responsibility to strengthen the existing shuls in Crown Heights –  nobody would ever willingly and voluntarily open a new shul in Crown Heights. Why would any group of Chassidim choose on their own not to daven in 770?!

 It was therefore very shocking to me, as the years went by, to see the phenomenon of “class-shuls” opening up on every block of Crown Heights. It seems that every age group has in recent years created their own oasis and community and seems to ignore the treasure – 770 – that is in their midst. It really “got to me” when a friend of mine, who lives in Crown Heights and attends one of these shuls, commented to me that it has been months since he stepped foot into 770!

Being open and transparent: For quite a number of years, this bothered me tremendously and I attributed this concept to the darkness of Galus and the general apathy of many young people today. It was recently that I realized the tremendous benefit of these small shuls: In addition to the fact that the Crown Heights community has expanded so much geographically, and it is also difficult for a father to  daven with a bunch of sons in 770; more importantly: It gives a young man – and woman – a sense of belonging and community. 

Every person has an inner need to feel needed and that they matter and can contribute. This need is very difficult to fill in well-established shuls and institutions. By being part of a small community shul – especially with people your age – gives each person the feeling that they are an essential part of a community. 

On a simple and practical level: One person serves as the Gabai, the other is the Baal Koreh and the other is on the board. If someone does not come for a shabbas, there are people that will notice and show care and concern. This sense of community actually encourages more young people to participate in Tefillos, farbrengens and shul events. This is in addition to the social life that is afforded to people. This realization and perception has changed the way that I view these small shuls and communities.

Together with the above, I would like to call out to all of the young leaders and members of these wonderful and important young congregations: Do not forget the Beis Rabbeinu Shebebavel that is in your midst! Don’t forget the tremendous zechus – that people Pay thousands of dollars and much travel time – to daven in the Rebbe’s Shul – the Beis Hamikdash in our time!As Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim (137): “אִם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵ֥ךְ יְ֜רֽוּשָׁלִָ֗ם תִּשְׁכַּ֥ח יְמִינִֽי” – If I forget you, Yerushalayim, may my right hand forget [its skill].

On a practical note: I would strongly encourage and recommend that every “class shul” should designate one tefilla a month that they all daven in 770 as a community. It doesn’t matter which Tefilla it is, as it is the inner-statement and mindset that we are establishing: We are are not Chas-Veshalom running from 770, we are “expanding 770” and bringing the Kedusha of 770 to our own little shul and community. It is so vital that we, and our wives and children, internalize this very important mindset of our everlasting attachment to 770. 

Ps – Today, 28 Shevat, is my Yom Holedes BH. With the Koach of “Mazalo Gover”, I bless everyone with Hatzlacha in all aspects of their lives B’Ruchnius and Gashmius. May we merit the Hisgalus of the Rebbe and the rebuilding of the third Beis Hamikdash – now!

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the above with me by sending me a personal email: [email protected]

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  1. I would imagine the reason many people have stopped Davening in 770 is because the atmosphere is often not conducive to Davening, especially with young children.

    Coupled with the fact that 770 has essentially been taken over by some crazies makes people want to stay far away from the place r”l.

    People who aren’t Davening in 770 probably can’t bear to see the Rebbe’s shul is such a state of hefkeirus.

  2. A better question is why the yungeleit are willing to spend money to have their own shul. My understanding is that there are reasons why they don’t feel comfortable in the shteeblach.

  3. More importantly, every shul must have a Rav/ Mashpia. A Shul must be warm, inclusive place, that gives one a sense of community, and BIRNGS ONE CLOSER TO HASHEM, and not ch”v the opposite. Practically the way to ensure this is that their is a spiritual leader, who the community members respect.

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