By Libby Herz for COLlive.com
This is the story of two shuls. One shul was very old, and the other was fairly new. It is a tale about how two vastly different shuls united to create a strong community shul which is currently the spiritual life-force for hundreds of Crown Heights families.
The story begins in a shul called the Maple Street Shul/Ahavas Moshe. The shul opened in the 1930s, but by 1974 its membership was rapidly dwindling, putting it on the verge of termination. “There was a custom of selling shuls to churches,” says Eli Blachman, the shul president. The Rebbe directed Blachman to reinvigorate the shul and save it from closing.
Blachman joined forces with Rabbi Levitin, and together they went door-to-door, raising $10,000 and adding many new members.
Later, the Rebbe sent five $10.00 bills in support of the shul’s Membership Breakfast. Then and there, the shul board granted the Rebbe and Rebbetzin a lifetime membership.
One zayin Adar, in honor of the shul’s yearly melavah malkah, the Rebbe made a l’chaim at a farbrengen, and shared it with the shul members. The Rebbe stressed the significance of the name Ahavas Moshe, pointing out the shul’s connection with Moshe Rabbeinu.
Shul members fundraised tirelessly, and arranged many concerts which included the musical talent of Avrohom Fried, Shneur Zalman Baumgarten, Chazzan Malovany, Jo Amar ob”m, and Moshe Yess ob”m.
But after many years, Maple Street shul members began to move out of the area, and some began davening in other Crown Heights shuls. It seemed like the shul was to become a relic of the past.
But this was not to be.
One Shabbos afternoon in 2008, Moishe Chanin found himself yearning for a place to daven and feel inspired. But he didn’t feel comfortable going to any of the shuls in Crown Heights. “I’m not ok being ok with not having a shul,” he thought.
That shabbos, Moishe and his brother Mendy Chanin met up with a friend. They decided to gather some classmates to create their own minyan. The colleagues rented a basement on Albany Avenue and had their first minyan just in time for slichos before Rosh Hashana. The minyan’s growth was unexpected; forty men were packed into the basement to daven together that Rosh Hashana.
“The basement was raw,” says Chanin. “It was just bricks. Somebody generously donated thousands of dollars to renovate it.” The shul was named Itchke’s Shteibel in memory of Chanin’s grandfather, Itchke Gansburg ob”m.
With Chanin’s goal realized, the members of Itchke’s Shteibel now looked forward to davening together every shabbos and Yom Tov. Sunday morning minyanim featured a breakfast, and the group met every Thursday night for a shiur and farbrengen with Rabbi Mendy Wolf. Various guest rabbis were also invited to farbreng at Itchke’s each week.
One Chai Elul, Rabbi Chaim Fogelman farbrenged with the mispallellim. “He loved the shul, and we loved him, so we asked him if he would come back,” says Chanin.
Rabbi Fogelman accepted, and he has been the official rabbi of Itchke’s Shtiebel since 2010. “When I came, there were thirty mispallellim. Now, we have close to 200 on Yom Tov,” he says.
By 2012, Itchke’s Shteibel had completely outgrown their space, and they were looking for a larger location. At that time, Maple Street was in need of revitalization. Members of both shuls were eager to merge, seeing that the convergence would be a win for both parties.
Fogelman takes pride in the deep sense of community of the shul. “It’s a living hub,” he says. Fogelman gives a shiur in Ein Yaakov every Tuesday night. He learns with mispallellim on Friday night, and imparts a vort so that everyone can share the words of Torah at the Shabbos table. Rabbi Fogelman learns a maamer with shul members and imparts a Rebbe story on the long shabbosim of summer. There is a farbrengen on every yoma dipagrah.
The shul is growing by leaps and bounds. “We have valet stroller parking on Yom Tov,” Rabbi Fogelman says. “On Shavuos we gave out 200 tickets.”
Rabbi Fogelman is known to reach out to shul members. He checks in on them when they miss shul and asks about their well-being. He facilitates and encourages mispallelim to strengthen their yiddishkeit.
Rikal Fogelman, wife of Rabbi Fogelman, is extremely warm to the women of the shul. She welcomes newcomers, and is always there to lend a listening ear to shul members.
Miriam Silberstein, whose husband has been a shul member for years, realized the need for women-focused programs. “I grew up out-of-town,” she says, “and I realized that people in Crown Heights were lacking a warm community.”
Silberstein decided to create a woman’s auxiliary. “When the woman is connected to the shul, it becomes a family shul,” she says. Now, she arranges beautiful and meaningful programs for the women of Itchke’s Shtiebel.
Past programs include a two-part series about Taharas Hamishpacha by the renowned speaker Sarah Karmely, a Challah Bake with Rabanit Iris Odani Elyashiv, and a Night in Color with Color and Style Specialist Chanchi Milecki.
Itchke’s Shteibel offers four separate children’s programs every Shabbos morning, categorized by age group. “We have girls who are 8-12 years old who feel connected and want to go to shul,” Silberstein says. An exciting Chassidus shiur is offered to young bochurim every Shabbos morning, and there is an aliyah program for the younger boys which is laden with prizes and lively incentives.
Bentzi Cousin is a member of the board, along with Sruly Creeger, Yaniv Bazel, and Zeev Albaliya. “We have a lot of new members joining our shul,” he says. He is proud of the children’s programs, women’s programs, and parties for Chanukah and Purim.
The shul is always looking for more new members and has big goals for the future. There are plans for afterschool programs and the building of their very own Mikvah within the next few years. The struggling shul that once faced termination time after time, has established itself as a thriving community center for every member of the family. Itchke’s Shtiebel holds a place for all who would like to join its warm atmosphere filled with positivity and love for yiddishkeit.
Itchke’s Shteibel – Maple St. Shul
612 Maple St.
Brooklyn, NY 11203
Mincha: few minutes after candle lighting
Followed by a shiur in Shulchan Aruch either hilchos shabbos or about the upcoming Yomtov
Followed by Kabolas Shabbos and a weekly thought
Chassidus at 9 for the men
Chassidus for boys at 9:30
Shacharis at 10
followed by a Farbrengen
Followed by niggunim and a maamer and a rebbe story.
Then maariv and The Living Torah
Tuesday eve: 8:00 pm Ein Yaakov shiur
Our Shuls – profiles of the shuls of Crown Heights on COLlive.com: