Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco was ground zero of the counterculture movement in the 1960’s when the neighborhood threw its arms wide open, embracing the hippies and flower children of the Summer of Love.
But today, the gentrifying neighborhood is home to a thriving young community. This month, Rabbi Nosson and Chaya Potash will open a Chabad Center in Cole Valley to serve the Jewish population of Haight-Ashbury and neighboring Inner Sunset, and Twin Peaks.
“Even today, there are some lingering anti-establishment sentiments in Haight-Ashbury,” says Rabbi Potash, 25. “But the hippie movement was brought on by a spiritual thirst. We’re looking forward to providing a Jewish perspective and creating a vibrant Jewish community here. “
The four neighborhoods are a study in diversity. Cole Valley’s residents include many families with kids, while Inner Sunset has a higher concentration of seniors. In Twin Peaks, residents are mostly middle aged, single Jewish residents. With trendy stores in a vibrant, modern town center that still retains an endearing bohemian ambience of its past, Haight-Ashbury today is a hub for a thriving younger demographic.
Despite the fact that there are 10,000 Jewish people living in these areas – representing ten percent of the total population – there are no synagogues or Jewish education and scarce Jewish activity within the community. The Potashes expect to spend much of their first year here meeting people and learning about what is most lacking here so they can tailor their programs to suit the needs of the Jewish community.
Having always been a part of her parents outreach work in the Richmond District of San Francisco, Chaya, 22, says that assuming the role of a Chabad emissary “was a natural decision.”
“I have been stuffing envelopes and helping out in my parent’s office since I was young. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to move back to my home city to further Jewish life.”
The couple’s long term goals include building a Jewish children’s library—a first for San Francisco—establishing a community of young adults in Haight-Ashbury and launching a visitation program for seniors.
“Caring for every Jew is most important to us,” says Nosson. “We want to serve every Jew in a way that’s most meaningful to him or her.”