Rabbi Schneor and Estie Greenberg settled in Commerce Township, Michigan, seven years ago with a shared passion for their love of Judaism. As orthodox, or very observant Jews, they are part of the Chabad movement, which reaches out and embraces other Jews of every denomination and invites them to find the joy of Judaism in ways that hopefully will enrich their lives.
Rabbi Greenberg is from an Israeli town near Tel Aviv, in the center of the country. Estie is from Brooklyn, New York, and studied to be a teacher. They met when Rabbi Greenberg came to study in New York. After he completed his studies, they married and traveled around the globe before settling in metro Detroit. They now have six young children — two girls and four boys.
In addition to religious services; Hebrew school; bar/bat mitzvah tutoring preparation; adult education; men’s, women’s, and teen study groups; spiritual and life cycle counseling; and summer camp, Estie opens her house each Friday night for congregants or anyone who wishes to join them for Friday night (Sabbath) dinners, and Rabbi Greenberg is a volunteer chaplain at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. Rabbi and Estie Greenberg recently spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly about the Chabad movement and their purchase of a building for a new synagogue in Commerce.
SCN: What is Chabad? How does it differ from a traditional synagogue or temple? What segment of Judaism does it represent? Is it part of the orthodox heritage of Judaism?
EG: Chabad is the world’s largest Jewish educational outreach organization and we are dedicated to providing every Jew, regardless of background, philosophy, or their level of commitment, an open door environment where they can come and strengthen and enhance Jewish family life. We serve individuals and families looking for an anchor and a non-judgmental, personalized Jewish experience. We are actually available to all Jews. My husband and I, we are personally Orthodox, but we are open and accepting of all Jews. Chabad is known to not use labels, and be accepting of all and provide for everyone, whatever they need.
SCN: On your website, you write: “Our doors are open to all, regardless of background or affiliation.” Many Jews are opposed to the act of proselytizing, of going out and actively converting or convincing Jews to participate. Chabad seems to be the opposite. Would you say that is accurate? Could you explain more about how Chabad works at outreach?
EG: We are open and here for everyone who comes and wants to learn. We have many non-Jews that come to us and say to us, “Tell us a little bit about more Judaism.” We are glad to explain to them what we are about.
SG: I would add one more thing. We encourage people to learn. A lot of people say, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that.” I’m telling them, “Come learn. At least you should make an informed decision. Come learn. What are you going to lose?”
EG: We have a Hebrew school. We do educational programs for the children, and holiday outreach programs before each holiday at the synagogue to show people the joys of Judaism, to show them how Judaism can be exciting and wonderful and can be done in a fun way, and not as such a serious, or negative experience that American Jews have that are practicing Judaism.
SG: For most of the people going to synagogue for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, this is a very serious day. And for a lot of people, it’s very boring. We (tell them) don’t come just for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, come for the happy days — Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, and Passover — and share the joy times of Judaism, not just the seriousness.
SCN: You have been operating Chabad of Commerce/Walled Lake for the last seven years. How and why did you choose to settle in Commerce? What kind of a community have you found in this part of Oakland County? Who are you outreaching to? How large is your congregation right now?
EG: The Lubavitcher Rebbe (rabbi) spoke, (and) exemplified unconditional love for each and every Jew, about going to areas where there is little or … no Jewish services for people that are out there. So if a Jew is living out in Commerce Township, when we came out to Commerce, there wasn’t any synagogue or Jewish center, or somebody living out there in case somebody needed something Jewish, and we were looking for someplace to move, and somebody suggested Commerce Township would benefit from a Chabad Center. This was something that we always had a dream of going and starting a vibrant Jewish community, and we wanted to share Judaism with Jewish people, and Commerce Township, we felt, needed it, and we would be happy to provide it for the Jews in the area. We are glad to be here, and hope they realize that Judaism is a wonderful thing.
SG: The most interesting thing we have found is that this area is a different place. This area is more calm. Our neighbors are very welcoming. People just accept you for how you are and who you are. They don’t expect you to be like them, and it’s a very welcoming feeling.
EG: Our neighbors, our friends, even the non-Jews, have been very welcoming, very accepting, and very helpful.
SG: I would never dream to have better neighbors than we have now.
Every Jew is our target. A lot of them find us through the Menorah we have in our front yard. Many people find us through the Internet, or through The Jewish News. We also are walking in the street, and people come up and say, “It’s nice to see a Jewish person. What are you doing here? Why do you live here? Why don’t you live in Oak Park (where there is a large orthodox community)?” But when I explain what we are doing here, they are open to the idea, and a lot of them keep in touch, and now we have a beautiful Jewish community and we hope to grow more and more.
EG: We currently know about 100 Jewish families. We have a greater mailing list, and we do know that they read them.
SG: (That’s) 100 families that we have contact with either weekly or monthly, that we are involved with in almost every program. Then there are people that we just meet once a year at the High Holidays, or for Pesach (Passover) … but we are trying to get everybody more involved.
SCN: West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills are full of synagogues, from Temple Israel, Temple Shir Shalom, Temple Kol Ami, Shaarey Zedek B’nai Israel, Adat Shalom, B’nai Moshe, The Shul, and others. Why did you feel there was still a need for Chabad? Why do you call yourselves the “first and only synagogue in the lakes area?”
EG: Because there was nothing locally in this area. And there were many Jews that we felt had moved out to this area who did not affiliate themselves with those temples or synagogues, or they went there to pray but they were still lacking in other areas of Judaism.
SG: Also, people don’t want to shlep. If they want to send their kid to Hebrew school, if they are thinking for those two hours, they are going to have to shlep a half hour each side. It’s too hard, and a lot of them, just because they’re not comfortable, they will not send their kids to Hebrew school. So they come here. We are here, 10 minutes from your house, maximum, and you can send your kid. It’s easy. Many people who came to our High Holiday services (were) people who started to come to the High Holiday services just because we are here. They never went to West Bloomfield, and if we would not be here, they wouldn’t go anywhere.
When we talk about the “lakes area,” we talk about Commerce, Walled Lake, Milford, and White Lake.
SCN: You have just purchased a new building. Where is it? How much larger is it than your current building? How much money do you need to raise through fund-raising? What kind of fund-raising are you planning?
EG: It’s within a quarter-of-a-mile of the hospital (Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital). It’s a good location. It’s a central location in Commerce, and easy to find. We’re excited that we will be able to grow and to have the Jewish Center of Commerce.
SG: Right now, we are working from our house.
EG: The lower level of our home is used as the synagogue and the Hebrew school, so currently this is a building of its own that will be used strictly for this purpose.
SG: We have to renovate (the new building) because right now it’s just a house that we will need to turn into a synagogue. We will need a big renovation, and resources, but we are sure that, together with the community here in Commerce, and maybe other places … we will make it a beautiful Jewish center here in Commerce.
EG: Our goal for our building campaign is $250,000. We are planning to ask people to purchase a share of the building, giving a donation. We will be selling a share of the building for $1,000, something that people can give in installments. There are dedication and sponsorship opportunities to name the building or the sanctuary, the rabbi’s office, and different parts in the building where people will hopefully come and give larger donations. But we want it to be the people’s shul (synagogue), where everyone feels a part of it.
SG: Having spoken with contractors, (it will cost) a quarter-million-dollars to renovate the place and make it ready to be a synagogue.
EG: We don’t charge membership. We want everyone to come and be a part and do not ask that you pay in order to be a member of Chabad.
SG: We do not believe it is fair that you need to pay to come talk to God. It’s a spiritual connection, and everyone should be able to do it, whether you have money or you don’t. Definitely, when people ask how they can help, we say they can always give donations. But like for High Holiday services, we do not ask for tickets. You want to pray — come, you are welcome.
EG: Each Chabad is individually run and funded, and thankfully, the local community has understood we cannot do it on our own. They have come together and each person gives when they can and how much they can give. That’s how we make it.
SCN: You offer a wide variety for a small synagogue, from Shabbath (Sabbath) services, Hebrew school to adult education. You invite congregants to Friday night dinners in your home. Why is it so important to provide so many different avenues for study and learning? Are there certain programs that mean more to you? Which ones have connected with people more than others?
EG: We find that we never know what will touch somebody, what will have an effect on somebody. Some people like coming for a Shabbath (Sabbath) dinner, but won’t necessarily come for services. Some people like to learn. Some people just like to have a good time, and to enjoy, and come for a ladies’ night out. Not all teens will come for services, but will come for a special teen groups made just for them. So we’re here for whatever and in whatever way people will feel their connection to Judaism.
We’ve found the Women’s Chavurah to be very successful. Local women enjoy that very much. The adult education classes, as well. People love our Hebrew school, so that’s great. We currently have 10 kids this year in our Hebrew school.
I have a specific connection to the Hebrew school because I am the teacher … and I studied to be a teacher. I have a degree in teaching, and I love to teach, so for me, that is something special. When I see the children smiling and learning and enjoying Judaism, when they go on and celebrate their bar and bat mitzvah — and Judaism is just beginning, rather than ending at that stage — then I know that I accomplished something, and I feel good.
SG: I feel when people are coming to classes, and continue coming every week, again and again and again, I know that I make a difference. Also, I have one program that we do with elderly people. We go every Friday to Bortz Nursing Home on Green Lake Road. We do our Shabbath (Sabbath) program. One of our ladies said, “Rabbi, we need to such a program here in the area.” Together, we go every Friday, and we are sitting with 10 elderly people, and we sing the Shabbath songs and we give them grape juice, and we do the kiddush (prayer over wine) and give them challah (bread), and … when we see their faces lighting up, you know you are making a difference.
The goal is to go up to touch more and bring the joy of Judaism to as many people as we are able.
EG: I would say my goal is to reach out, as we believe every Jew is important. Even if it’s just one more Jew, with that one person that I made a difference in their life, to me that is important. As 2010 comes, we are excited about building and expanding, and we hope it is a year of growth and expansion for the Jewish community here.
The audio interview:
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