(lubavitch.com) With its weekend parties and packed bars, outlandish clubs and celebrity-studded Sunset Strip, Chabad of Los Feliz has learned how to compete for a crowd.
Outsiders to Tinseltown think of Hollywood as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with the stars’ hand-prints etched in stone. But true Angelenos know that further east – Los Feliz and Silver Lake – is where it’s at: celebrities, screenwriters, wannabe-actors, and one lone Chabad center.
Standing tall among the trendy restaurants, cafes and boutiques on Hillhurst Avenue, Chabad of Los Feliz’s international-themed Shabbat dinners are an attraction. In the last three years the food and décor has hailed from places like Thailand, Australia, Israel, China, Costa Rica and Tunisia.
This year, some 250 partygoers will do Purim, French style.
Porquoi? “We have a lot of people from Paris and France who have decided to make Chabad of Los Feliz their home shul,” said Rabbi Laibel Korf, who credits this to his wife Dvonye‘s fluent French. (She was born and raised in Morocco where her father, Rabbi Leibel Raskin, was the Chabad emissary there.) The center also features a new Jewish-French library, in memory of Pascal Chwat, a member who was killed in a tragic work accident.
On the menu is a feast featuring French dishes like beef bourguignon, salad nicoise, and crepes served up to French-themed Jewish music and mimes.
“We found it so beautiful to connect to different countries and cultures. Having their kind of food and decorations gives people an appreciation for their way of life – a way of life that we’re not accustomed to,” said Rabbi Korf. It resonates with the Rebbe’s message, he said, “that every Jew has a common denominator – that there is an essential bond to Judaism, regardless of the culture or the environment.”
The Korfs arrived here in 1998. “There was nothing Jewish going on here at the time,” recalls Rabbi Korf.
Patricia Crichi, who works in the fashion industry was thrilled when Chabad moved in. “My daughters were at another Hebrew school that closed,” she recalls. Chabad’s arrival here “has allowed me to raise my children in a Jewish environment,” says the mother of three daughters, one who is now studying in Israel. Crichi has stayed involved for the last 11 years, and is now helping prepare the Purim fare.
Others were persuaded to join. “I got a letters, fliers, a few phone calls from Rabbi Korf inviting me to everything Jewish – Shabbat, holidays, classes, cholent,” said Jeremy Goldscheider, a producer who lived in Los Feliz. He finally went to the Korf’s house for services and dinner. “Although it was a small group and the shul was in his living room at the time, it felt genuine and warm. It became a regular Friday night routine for me.”
After merely two and a half years in their living room, with 75 people attending each week, the Korfs moved to a storefront in a strip mall on Vermont Avenue. Around the same time, the glitterati started to move back to the neighborhood – a neighborhood that once boasted an early entertainment yichus – Mickey Mouse was reportedly “born” in Los Feliz, drawn by Walt Disney, living in his uncle’s Los Feliz garage, and some studios were originally housed there. The new influx of young artists and industry types brought an eclectic crowd to Chabad.
“I developed an enormous appreciation of people from all walks of life, how profound their inner spark is, no matter what their background,” Rabbi Korf said. “I can see that I’ve changed.” The center changed too, and five years ago they moved from the storefront of Vermont Avenue’s bustle, to a stately mauve building a few blocks east, now used for services, meals (there’s a large kosher kitchen), parties (there’s a backyard garden), a Jewish school (with 25 kids) and an adult education center (which draws 100 people yearly).
It’s a vibrant demographic, but it comes with a downside: a transient population. “It was hard for a while because you invest so much. On the other hand, you’re there for the community.”
But even when people move away, they don’t forget. “I have to credit Rabbi Korf with bringing me back to Judaism,” said Goldscheider, who, after eight years in the neighborhood, moved to Beverly Hills to start a family. Although he was raised Orthodox in New York, he didn’t start regularly attending services and eating Shabbat meals until Chabad set up shop.
“Chabad gave me my jump-start and helped me re-examine how I want to live my life. It plays a part in who I am today.”
Goldshcheider, like many others who have moved away from the neighborhood, returns to Chabad of Los Feliz for Purim. Maybe that’s why their festivities are so well attended. “People feel at ease with themselves and with their friends here,” says Rabbi Korf. “We really bring the Purim spirit out.”
For more information visit www.chabadlosfeliz.org.