Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Chabad's Shift to Southside Overjoys Jewish Community; the Opening of a New Center Shows the Organization 'Is Booming Here in Jacksonville.'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Chabad's Shift to Southside Overjoys Jewish Community; the Opening of a New Center Shows the Organization 'Is Booming Here in Jacksonville.'

Article excerpt


For about four years now, Southside residents Debbie and David Nabert and their two young sons have schlepped through nearly 30 minutes of traffic and red lights every week to attend services and programs at Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida in Mandarin.

But all of that ends for the Naberts on Sunday -- the first night of Hanukkah -- when the outreach and revivalist Jewish organization officially launches a new center on Jacksonville's Southside.

Nabert said she was overjoyed a couple of months ago when she learned of the new center, Chabad's third in Northeast Florida.

"The first thing that went off in my mind was 'hallelujah,' " Nabert said. "It's about time that we have more of a Jewish environment and atmosphere on the south side of town."

According to local Chabad rabbis, hundreds more will be having the same reaction when they learn about the new center and that Chabad also has plans to launch one in St. Augustine.

"The truth is Chabad is booming here in Jacksonville," said Rabbi Shmuel Novack, director of the newly formed Chabad of Southside. "We're growing like mushrooms."

And it seems Chabad is growing everywhere else, too, according to those inside and outside of the New York-based organization.

For the time being, the Southside center will hold its functions in rented spaces in the Deerwood, Butler Boulevard, Gate Parkway and surrounding areas, with plans to eventually purchase a home to operate from. reports that there are 4,000 Chabad emissaries in more than 3,300 centers worldwide.

In Florida, Chabad has approximately 130 centers with one or two new locations opening every month, said Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, director of Chabad of Northeast Florida.

Founded 250 years ago in a Russian town called Lubavitch, Chabad is a branch of Hasidic Judaism that emphasizes the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Judaism and the Torah. It is known for its aggressive outreach, especially to those who are unaffiliated with other Jewish traditions.

"It's like evangelicals are to mainstream Protestants -- think of it as revivalism," said Rabbi Irwin Kula of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York.


Rather than constructing synagogues -- of which it does have a relative few -- Chabad opens centers, often in rented spaces or in rabbis' homes, where it provides free and low-cost programs and religious services.

And while its rabbis and their families live strict, Orthodox lives, Chabad centers do not seek to convert Jews to Orthodox Judaism, Kula said.

Instead, they try to promote Jewish consciousness and identity and convince Jews to do good deeds, Kula said.

"They don't care if you're a member of Chabad," Kula said. "They believe that every single act of kindness has a cosmic significance."

Instead of requiring membership dues as many synagogues do, Chabad relies on fund-raising efforts and often on a core of big givers.

"There's no national bank account from Chabad," Novack said. "All Chabads are locally funded."


But the movement also has its critics, Kula said. Some question its emphasis on mysticism, its messianic devotion to its former leader, the now-deceased Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, and its outreach efforts.

In some communities, Chabad centers are viewed as poachers who take members away from other synagogues, said Rabbi Martin Sandberg, spiritual leader of Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Jacksonville. …

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