A Jewish Welcome

Chabad Center of Spokane opens its doors to all Jews

Rabbi Yisroel Hahn, right, his wife, Sarah Hahn, and their son, Eliezer, recently moved to Spokane from Brooklyn and are opening a Chabad Center, a Jewish community center that will provide educational and outreach services to all Jews, in their home. The Spokesman-Review (Holly Pickett The Spokesman-Review)

About the Center and the Kosher co-op

For more information about the Chabad Jewish Center of Spokane and the kosher co-op, check out www.jewishspokane.com or call Rabbi Yisroel Hahn at (509) 443-0770.

In a South Hill home stocked with kosher food and religious books in both Hebrew and English, where visitors are often welcomed with an offering of food and the strains of klezmer music, Rabbi Yisroel Hahn shares his faith.

"Every Jew is welcome here," says the rabbi, a bearded young man dressed in a dark suit, a red tie and a black yarmulke. "We are here with an unconditional love for every Jew, regardless of their background or affiliation."

Hahn's home is also the new Chabad Center of Spokane – a place that aims to serve the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of Jews in the region. The first of its kind in Eastern Washington, the Chabad Center opened its doors this month with a long list of offerings: a kosher co-op, counseling, Hebrew classes, courses on Torah and Jewish faith, Shabbat gatherings and other social and religious services.

The Chabad Center of Spokane is a branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, one of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism with more than 3,300 institutions in more than 70 countries worldwide. Founded 250 years ago by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the movement is known for its Jewish community centers. Although adherents are Orthodox Jews like Hahn, Chabad centers or houses are essentially places for all Jews to gather, pray and deepen their understanding of their faith.

"We are much more than a religious organization," said Hahn, who moved his family from Brooklyn to Spokane to open the house. "We are here as emissaries. … This is part of the vision – to reach out to every single Jew, wherever he may be."

Born in Rehovot, Israel, a city about 14 miles south of Tel Aviv, Hahn was 6 years old when his family moved to New York. Like other Jewish children in his Brooklyn neighborhood, Hahn grew up in a devout, observant home where his parents ate only kosher food and "followed the laws of the Torah."

"Judaism is a lifestyle that encompasses every detail of life," explained Hahn, who is 27 and the father of two young children.

He and his wife, Sarah, wanted to help people and reach out to other Jews, so Hahn became a chabad rabbi. Unlike the spiritual leader of a synagogue, which already has an established congregation, a chabad rabbi often moves into a city with the hopes of enhancing Jewish life and community.

Before making Spokane their home, the Hahns visited the area several times. The rabbi first came to Spokane last summer after receiving instructions from the Chabad headquarters in New York as well as from Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin, the director of the Seattle-based Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest.

"In my capacity as the regional director, we decided that Spokane was ready," said Levitin, who has served in that position for 35 years.

In the last decade, the number of Jewish congregations has grown from one to three, he noted. In addition to Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation, Spokane also has two Reform groups – Beth Haverim and Ner Tamid.

Levitin also believes that the region is home to a large number of Jews who are not affiliated with any of the congregations. These people likely will benefit the most from the offerings of a chabad house, he said. "Chabad is known throughout the world for reigniting those who are unaffiliated," Levitin explained.

Washington state is home to about 15 chabad houses. All but the one in Spokane are located on the West Side. Although these Jewish centers keep in close contact with the headquarters, the rabbi of every chabad house is responsible for raising money to pay for the center and its services.

"Spokane is getting a tremendous gift," Levitin said. "Rabbi Hahn is a very dynamic young man. He and his wife are totally devoted to enhancing and augmenting the Jewish community."

Since Hahn moved to town, about a dozen Jews have taken part in his classes on tanya, which deals with Jewish spirituality and philosophy, as well as Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism.

He also has met with members of Spokane's three Jewish congregations, he said.

"We welcome Jews of any persuasion to Spokane and encourage diversity of expression," said Gary Singer, one of the leaders of Congregation Ner Tamid. "I'm all for Jewish involvement – the more there is of that, the better and healthier the local Jewish community will be."

Chabad's outreach efforts will definitely augment the work of the three Jewish congregations in Spokane, said Rabbi Jacob Izakson of Temple Beth Shalom.

"Chabad also strives to raise Jews' level of Jewish observance and spirituality," he said. "This, of course, is a critical aspect of every synagogue's mission. Chabad is a welcomed reinforcement in our work."

Together, Temple Beth Shalom and Congregations Beth Haverim and Ner Tamid have worked to promote Jewish observance and spirituality, as well as on projects that involve service to community and to Israel, said Izakson.

"This begs the question … if we're that close-knit a community, why aren't we just one, all-inclusive congregation?" he asked, using the metaphor of the Spokane Symphony, which provides different concert series to meet the needs of various groups.

"Similarly, Jews have varied preferences in our approach to God, Jewish observance, spirituality, and Jewish values," said Izakson. "Yet, regardless of our inclinations and practices in these areas, we are all members of and supporters of the Jewish people. That sense of, and commitment to, peoplehood and community is vital to the vibrancy of our Jewish community."

Even though he may look like an Orthodox Jew, Hahn said he, too, shares that same commitment to the Jewish people who live in the region. "We're not judgmental," he stressed. "Our house is open to any Jew in need. We are here to enhance the community. … There's always room for growth."