It’s a springlike Sunday morning and Chabad Intown Atlanta buzzes with activity. Runners and electric scooters are whizzing by on the BeltLine trail just yards away. Inside Chabad Intown’s new two-story, 21,000-square-foot brick building, children are learning Hebrew and Judaics; millennials are mixing in Jeff’s Place Café; yogis are working out in a yoga studio; graduate students are reading in a sleek coworking space, and seekers of all ages are enjoying Kabbalah and Coffee.
Thanks to the vision of founders Rabbi Eliyahu and Dena Schusterman, Chabad Intown has created a true community center in the heart of hip Atlanta.
The Chabad Intown center is bringing Judaism to the BeltLine—one of the biggest redevelopment projects Atlanta has ever undertaken. Similarly, the $12.5 million building campaign to support the center is the biggest project Chabad Intown has undertaken since its founding 24 years ago.
Meeting People Where They Are
“We’re meeting people where they are, literally and metaphorically,” declares Rabbi Schusterman. “Unaffiliated Jews of all ages are on the BeltLine. They’re looking for good restaurants, arts and culture, community service they can be involved in, and a Jewish experience that’s comfortable to connect with.”
Chabad Intown obliges, with everything from art exhibits to straight-up Torah study to talks like “Cheating Death: True Stories of Near-Death Experiences.”
Joe Schertzer, 27, a fourth-year medical student at Emory University, says one of his favorite events was Shabbat 360, for which Chabad Intown rented out the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. “They had a huge crowd. I met a lot of people there.”
“That’s one of the biggest draws for me,” adds Schertzer, a Florida native.
“Chabad Intown has a great way of uniting young people in Atlanta and getting us involved in the community.” He also enjoyed Chabad’s Lag B’Omer barbecue and brought fellow Jewish medical students to a white party on the roof of Ponce City Market, where everybody dressed in white.
Elliot Dordick, a 23-year-old Georgia State University student from Los Angeles, agrees. Reading a patent law textbook with his earphones on in the coworking space this Sunday morning, he takes a break to sing the praises of Chabad Intown.
“I have law school a few days a week, and on the other days this is my hub,” Dordick says.
He continues: “Chabad Intown has provided an infrastructure for my own personal growth. We had minyan this morning. On Wednesday nights there’s Torah learning for young professionals. My friends and I show up and meet people in our demographic who we might not necessarily have met otherwise. I come to services Friday and Saturday. This is a reliable place for inspiring Jewish conversation, especially on Shabbat.”
Dordick likes that he has become part of a community of Jews not only his age, but also his parents’ age and older. “If I didn’t show up, people would wonder where I was!”
Chabad Intown fans may vary in demographics, but they share a quest for Jewish meaning. A broad array of programs meet the need, appealing to singles, young couples, young families, working adults and retirees.
There’s Always a Tempting Buffet
The Schustermans and colleagues Rabbi Ari and Leah Sollish, founders of the popular Intown Jewish Academy, along with Rabbi Chaim Aaron and Chava Green and soon Rabbi Leivy and Shelbelle Lapidus, directors of the YJP Young Jewish Professionals program, have a knack for appealing to the urban, largely unaffiliated community in a way that allows them to explore different degrees of their Judaism.
For instance, in the upstairs 1,700-square-foot sanctuary, the rabbis hold services and Torah classes. The space also hosts lectures, special events and community gatherings.
Meanwhile, on the ground level facing the BeltLine, Jeff’s Place Café is a safe space dedicated to the broader community and those in recovery. Multiple 12-step groups hold recovery meetings in the space. “One of the groups asked if we could host spiritual study focused on Torah. That’s a great story of serving the needs of the community,” reports Rabbi Schusterman.
Also occupying the 17,000-square-foot lower level are classrooms, a lounge, meeting rooms, workshop spaces, art rooms, coworking spaces and staff offices.
Parties with a purpose bring more life to the facility, such as a recent Super Soul party to benefit the homeless with free meals and clothing during the week of the Super Bowl.
“In true Chabad spirit, we just want people to do Jewish,” the rabbi says. “We want them to feel completely embraced without judgment and grow in their Judaism at their own pace.
“Our objective is to create a buffet of opportunities. When you’re ready to eat more on the buffet, come and eat more.”
The Future Looks Bright
Chabad Intown charges a participation fee for many of the programs, but has no membership dues.
An ambitious $12.5 building campaign called Vision 2020 is underway to complete the purchase of the new facility at 730 Ponce de Leon Place. Funds raised also will cover the construction of a new Intown Jewish Preschool building one-half mile down the BeltLine near Piedmont Park.
In the quiet phase of the campaign, Vision 2020 already has brought in $7 million. In addition, an anonymous donor has given a $1.5 million challenge grant. The donor will match other contributions up to $1.5 million.
The anonymous donor has naming rights to the Chabad Intown facility on the BeltLine. Other donors will have opportunities for naming for the Intown Jewish Preschool campus and dedications for the lobby, kitchen, offices, classrooms, Jeff’s Place, school playground and other areas.
Chabad Intown welcomes and appreciates everyone’s involvement, no matter how large or small their donation. For more information about Chabad Intown’s Vision 2020 campaign, visit https://buildingintown.com or e-mail Rabbi Schusterman at firstname.lastname@example.org.