Chabad for young professionals

Chabad for young professionals

Rabbinic couple creates a flourishing program in Hudson for an often-ignored cohort

From left: Rabbi Shmully Levitin, Gregory D. Edgell, Hannah Edgell, Gabriele Edgell, and Esta Levitin
From left: Rabbi Shmully Levitin, Gregory D. Edgell, Hannah Edgell, Gabriele Edgell, and Esta Levitin

Rabbi Shmully Levitin and his wife, Esta, had wanted to start a Chabad for young professionals since they’d led a Birthright Israel trip together as newlyweds in 2014.

“We shared a passion for responding to the needs and interests of young Jewish men and women and wanted to dedicate our lives to serving this demographic,” Rabbi Levitin said. Rabbi Shmully, as he likes to be called, is from New Haven; he went to rabbinical school at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and was ordained in 2010. Ms. Levitin grew up in Sydney, Australia; they met in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 2013, and lived there after they married.

Eager to create a safe and comfortable space for Jewish young professionals to convene, to learn, to network, to pray and to celebrate, they talked to Rabbi Moshe and Shaindel Schapiro, who had established the Chabad Jewish Center in Hoboken and Jersey City in 2001.

“Chabad Lubavitch of Hoboken and Jersey City is geared to the wider community, including programs directed to young families,” Rabbi Levitin said. The organization offers a range of activities to young families in Hudson County, including My Little Gan Preschool; there are now programs for infants and toddlers, as well as a kindergarten, an afterschool Hebrew school, holiday events, camps, Shabbatons, and a CTeen program.

The audience listens as Rabbi Levitin dedicates the new space.

Rabbi Levitin has been impressed by how many Jewish children, teens, and young adults have taken advantage of the services Chabad offers. “Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City has served as a vibrant dynamic for the Jewish community in Hudson County for two decades,” he said. “Rabbi Moshe and Shaindel saw the need for the establishment of a Chabad center geared toward young professionals in the area. Since my wife and I had been seeking the opportunity to support this demographic, we saw Hudson County as a perfect match.”

In 2015, with the support of Chabad headquarters, the Levitins and their 6-month-old daughter, Rivka, moved to Hoboken, where Shmully and Esta started an affiliate Chabad for Young Professionals. Rabbi Levitin is its director.

The cities of Hoboken and Jersey City have seen a resurgence in the past decade, with property values rising steadily, retail stores opening, and trendy restaurants popping up. Jersey City, the state’s second-largest city, has seen a renaissance in vibrancy and culture, as well as in business — it has been called “Wall Street West.” Hoboken, nicknamed “Mile Square City” because of its size, is booming like its neighbor. Over the last 20 years, thousands of young Jews from the tristate area have moved to these two cities.

“Chabad Young Professionals, or CYP, was a grassroots effort to support a niche demographic where we saw a clear need,” Rabbi Levitin said. For six years, he and his wife operated CYP of Hoboken and Jersey City out of their apartment. “In an expensive real estate market, we did our best from our small apartment to accommodate our members,” he said. “Somehow, we provided a Shabbat meal to whoever was in attendance, but once the meal was over, people had to leave — there was no space for congregating, conviviality, or community.”

The Chabad headquarters office works with rabbis and rebbetzins all over the world to provide the resources necessary to support getting centers off the ground. “Every Chabad house is a nonprofit organization that survives on locally based funding,” Avi Winner said. He’s Chabad’s director of marketing and media relations and the rabbi at Chabad Young Professionals on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “If there’s a need in the community, then the community should be locally invested.” Therefore, Chabad central offers resources for support, but doesn’t pay the bills.

From left: Alison Gerver, Esta Levitin, Karley Ackerman, and Jessica Granat

“Creating a space for young Jewish professionals to convene was a unique challenge, because young professionals don’t have a nest egg to dip into,” Rabbi Levitin said. But “an opportunity arose three years ago during the pandemic. The market was soft, and we found a space in Jersey City. Young professionals gave generously. They reached out to their colleagues, their families, and their friends. They tapped into their professional networks. They contacted vendors, contractors, artisans who specialized in counters, floor, sheetrock, lighting, glass. They were extremely resourceful. It didn’t matter if the service provider was Jewish or non-Jewish; these young people were anxious to build a home.”

Rabbi Levitin believes that creating a space for this segment of the Jewish community was important. “The press bemoans involvement and passion among young Jews, but our main donors were the young professionals themselves,” he said. “It wasn’t one donor with endless funds. Young men and women kept coming through the door to help — they used their ingenuity and intellect to find unique ways to raise funds — and ultimately they built the door they’d walk through.”

He sees the birth of Chabad Young Professionals as a miracle. “It is a testament to the future of the young Jewish community,” he said. “While we had to take on debt to build the community, we are grateful to have a space where young Jewish men and women in their 20s and 30s can come.”

The property in Jersey City is 4,000 square feet, including a residence. It is open seven days a week for prayer, learning, educational and religious workshops, lectures and programs, study sessions, scheduled meet-ups, hanging out and socializing, and volunteer events. The CYP has had a steady stream of 40 to 50 young Jewish professionals who come every Friday night for Shabbat services and Shabbat socials. “We do a lot of weddings and will guide our members through dating and marriage classes,” Rabbi Levitin said.

“The need for community has been great since October 7,” he continued. “We shudder to think how this generation of young Jewish men and women would have been impacted if they didn’t have a community of like-minded Jewish peers to connect to, a safe space to find support and camaraderie, a place to call their second home.”

CYP dedicated the space on May 19, honoring the young professionals who’d taken leadership roles in creating it.

“It’s an interesting time to be Jewish,” CYP member Naomi Dym said. “Being at CYP makes you want to embrace it.”

“CYP provides a sense of warmth, belonging, community and friendship,” another member, Emma Rose Zaid, said. “It fills my cup and provides an opportunity to be present; present for myself, present for others, and present for my Judaism.”

Six hundred young professionals are now involved in the wide array of services and programs CYP offers. Most come from Hoboken and Jersey City, some from Union City and Weehawken, almost all from Hudson County.

Just as CPY has expanded, so has the Levitin family. Shmully and Esta now have four daughters, and a fifth baby is on the way.

Rabbi i Winner of Chabad headquarters notes that CYP of Hoboken and Jersey City is a milestone for the young professional demographic. “It’s a first in general,” he said. “In the past 10 to 15 years, the young professional community has been too transient to commit to a consistent enclave they feel a part of or connected to. Most of them have recently graduated from college, are just getting started in their careers, have bills and loans to pay, and are not financially established.”

“If you want teens and young adults to resonate with the message you’re conveying, they have to have a physical space that’s just for them to hear it,” Rabbi Levitin said. Teens, in particular, “also need programs that are geared toward what they find interesting. They’re at an age when they no longer want to be schlepped somewhere by their parents.

“Often, they want to know who is going to be there before determining if they want to attend.”

The Chabad Young Professionals Center in Jersey City so far is the state’s only such center. There are Chabad Young Professionals chapters in Morristown and Fort Lee, but neither has its own center. Chabad Young Professionals Morristown operates out of the general Chabad of Morristown space.

Chabad Young Professionals has 250 chapters internationally and is the largest network of its kind. It assesses no membership fees. To learn more, go to

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