A young Brooklyn rabbi is working hard to bring a Jewish presence to a community where he says there currently is none, forming a “spiritual startup” that aims to help non-practicing Jews in Sunset Park and Greenwood Heights find their faith.
“We are really aiming to connect the Jewish people that live in the Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park neighborhoods and to build an all-inclusive and welcoming and loving Jewish community,” said Rabbi Yanky Hecht of Jewish Sunset Park.
Hecht, who first launched Jewish Sunset Park in early 2020, said that while he’s seen a slow start due to the pandemic, he’s slowly but surely started to grow a network of Jewish members.
“It’s honestly quite hard because we started off literally weeks before COVID came to New York City,” he told Brooklyn Paper, “so no real community is being built amidst all of the craziness of the pandemic, but we are moving slowly and we are taking baby steps.”
Throughout the pandemic, Jewish Sunset Park provided struggling families with groceries and other necessities. Hecht also offers private Torah studies and posts mezuzahs — a door ornament bringing good blessings — and delivers weekly packages for the Jewish Sabbath every Friday that include challah bread and other Shabbat items.
“I meet between 10 and 20 families or people every Friday delivering challah and Shabbat packages,” Hecht said. “Saying hello to them, sharing the good word, and sharing a laugh with them.”
The young rabbi has volunteered all over the world to help strengthen Jewish communities by giving Jews the opportunity to experience and understand the benefits of Judaism — and now he’s taking that mission to Sunset Park and Greenwood, where he said he plans to continue the work as long as Jewish people live in the neighborhood.
“As long as there are Jews in Sunset Park and Greenwood Heights, my mission will be to get them to experience the beauty of Judaism, allow them to come together and build a beautiful community where people are loved and accepted,” Hecht said.
As the city continues to recover from the coronavirus, the local group looks ahead to its first in-person events for the upcoming High Holidays — Jewish Sunset Park will host Rosh Hashanah services in the neighborhood on Sept. 7 and Yom Kippur services on Sept. 15 and 16.
Both services will be socially distant and outdoors with masks required, said Hecht, who added that the gatherings will be under two hours and casual, so that they’re inviting to all Jewish people who might practice in varying degrees.
“Both of them are going to be short, casual, safe and welcoming,” he said. “It’s not going to be the typical old traditional, temple 10-hour service.”
But, as Jewish Sunset Park settles into the neighborhood, Hecht told Brooklyn Paper that he’s in search of a good space for a permanent location within the area, which would exist under the Chabad of Brownstone Brooklyn — led by his parents, Rabbi Shimon and Sara Hecht — which has helped open a number of Chabad Houses, comparable to Jewish community centers, across the city.
“We’re still feeling the neighborhood out of what would be the best location but it is definitely on our mind to make a permanent Jewish presence in the area,” Hecht said, adding that all of the Chabads in brownstone Brooklyn were founded with the help of his family. “Jewish Sunset Park is going to be a branch of essentially that, but right now we aren’t official yet — we’re testing the waters.”
Hecht says his parents’ upbringing is what inspired him to do the work in his community, and once his organization is more established, he plans to be as active a part in the Sunset Park and Greenwood Heights communities as his parents are in brownstone Brooklyn.
“As much as we are on a Jewish outreach organization, focusing more on the Jewish community, it really is also a community responsibility as well,” he said. “I definitely look at it that way.”
“Shofar at the Park” at Sunset Park (41st to 44th Streets between Fifth and Seventh avenues, outside the entrance of the playground, in Sunset Park, www.jewishsunsetpark.com, 929-420-0434) Tues, Sept. 7 at 5 pm. Free.
Yom Kippur Services (225 34th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Greenwood Heights, www.jewishsunsetpark.com, 929-420-0434) Weds, Sept. 15 at 6:45 pm and Thur, Sept. 16 from 5:45 pm to 7:43 pm. Free with required RSVP.