The Louisville Slugger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Fort Knox, the Kentucky Derby, and even Muhammad Ali all have their roots in Kentucky’s largest city. Now, Louisville can boast of its latest addition: Chabad’s new Jewish Learning Center, located in the heart of the city, caters to a wide variety of Jews who all have one thing in common—a desire to learn.
Since opening Kentucky’s Chabad house three years ago, the community has been participating at regular prayer services, TGIS Friday night dinners, family fun events, holiday programs, and classes on everything from meditation to Kabbala to JLI. But it was the robust attendance at Chabad’s regular Torah classes that prompted Rabbi Avrohom and Goldie Litvin to open a center dedicated exclusively to, well, Jewish learning.
Centrally located, less than a mile from the Louisville Chabad House where all other Chabad activities take place, the 6500 square-foot center, which hosted its inaugural class Tuesday, November 7th, will serve as the one-stop-shop for Jewish education in Louisville. It will house the Gan Torah Preschool, the Louisville Jewish Day School, a library, JLI courses, JLearn classes, and more. The center will also eventually host the Louisville Friendship Circle, which is slated to open in 2017.
“Bringing people together through Torah study is a great way to bolster Jewish unity,” says Rabbi Litvin. The classes provide an alternative for people who may not be ready to come to a synagogue service and daven in Hebrew with a mechitza and other religious paraphernalia but who still want to get involved with something real. “We are finding more and more people who have shown interest in getting involved in ongoing classes in a serious way,” the Rabbi says.
The center is also open to those who want to study on their own and boasts a wide range of resources that facilitate independent learning, including a growing library and audio-visual collection. People are welcome to stop by for refreshments and chat with any of the rabbis who are usually found on site. Rather than going to a coffee shop or cafe, a college student can come and relax, do homework, and maybe catch a quick Torah thought or video.
Community member Bobby Fraser, whose wife Estee Pichasin is a commander at FortKnox, drives 45 minutes each way to bring his two-year-old son, Joey, to preschool every day. Instead of driving home and back again to pick Joey up, Bobby, who works remotely, sets up shop in the center and does his work there, saving himself an extra hour and a half in traffic.
Hanging out at the Learning Center during the day, says Bobby, gives him the opportunity to spend time with the Litvins and their sons who are often in the building. “I can ask questions about things that I’m interested in and I also really enjoy the JLI classes they offer.”
JLearn is a new program featuring rabbinical leaders who teach a variety of different topics. Their tagline: Learn Torah Anytime, Learn Torah Your Way. Participants can customize their learning and pursue subjects that interest them. The program, which began this past Thursday, November 10, started with classes such as Chasidic philosophy, Pirkei Avot, Hebrew, and Jewish femininity. After the first week, says the rabbi, students will choose subjects that interest them and use that as a guide for future courses.
“Bible and Bourbon in the Bluegrass” will begin by looking at the role of alcohol in the Temple and throughout Jewish history. Community member Nikki Deshurko is looking forward to the JLearn sessions. “We’ll be able to dive into topics that we hope to learn more about.” The center, she says, is “a wonderful place that will bring the community together. I’m excited for this opportunity and I think it’s a great addition to our community.”
The Litvins hope that the learning center will ultimately bolster Chabad’s growth in all areas. Over 8500 Jews live in Louisville, and the Chabad mailing reaches the vast majority of them. With new programs for both teens and seniors in the works, they expect to reach even more.
For more information, visit www.chabadky.com