This article appeared in the August 7, 2015 Jewish Advocate.

Chabad Center of Brookline opens its doors

Lubavitch center joins several in area

By Susie Davidson

Advocate correspondent

Entrance at Brookline Chabad Center with new sign

Rabbi Shayke Lerner sits back in a large room that shows signs of a gathering on the previous evening. Outside the stately white house, located smack on Harvard Street in the middle of Brookline’s JFK Crossing, a bustling Jewish retail and service community, there is a giant menorah and a newly erected large sign that heralds the site as “Bais Chabad/Chabad Center/” At the front door, there is another large placard topped with 496, for the number on Harvard Street, illustrated with a representation of Brookline’s famed S. S. Pierce building astride a giant menorah and the words Chabad Brookline.

Although to a casual observer, these designations appear to signify the unveiling of a new religious center in this part of town, Lerner has, in fact, lived there for 1.5 years with his wife and nine children, but has only just put the sign out. It’s actually the culmination of a long presence in the town. He said that the delay was due to complying with town regulations. It took five months just to figure out the proper size for the sign, and there were other applications and petitions that took time for approval. “We started on Park Street from an apartment,” he explains, “before moving to Harrison Street.” Activities, he said, were divided between the Holiday Inn, the Devotion School, and the town’s public libraries.

Services are held every Friday night and Saturday morning, along with extra observances for yahrtzeits (anniversaries of a loved one’s death) and simchas (celebrations). Lerner said there is a core of regular attendees.

Last night, we hosted a farewell party for a young couple who are making aliyah,” Lerner said. “ They were two young college kids who hit it off. We helped them out through the years with life cycle observances when they married and had children,” he said.

The varied area Lubavitch centers appear to enjoy a warm and reciprocal relationship. “My kids attend the New England Hebrew Academy (a Brookline-based Lubavitch yeshiva led by Rabbi Chaim Ciment),” said Lerner, who said that he is also good friends with Rabbi Dan Rodkin of Shaloh House in Brighton. “I send my kids to his camp,” he said.

Rabbi Lerner is great,” responded Shaloh House’s Rabbi Dan Rodkin by telephone. “We collaborate often.” When asked about the preponderance of Chabad houses in the greater Brookline area, he responded that in his opinion, there weren’t enough. “We should have a dozen more,” he said, while however noting that each center has its own special focus. “Rabbi Lerner reaches out to the Israeli community, we have a large membership of Russian community, and Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz (of Brookline’s Chai Center) tends to reach out to young people,” he said. “Then there is the local yeshiva,” he said. “We each have our specialties.”

I am very happy for Rabbi Lerner and Chabad of Brookline on their new center,” said Rabbi Shalom Prus of the nearby Beth Menachem Chabad of Newton. ‘’They have been doing wonderful work for over 13 years in Brookline, and it is great for them to be able to have a permanent home in such a visible location.”

The two rabbis collaborate often, he explained. “Rabbi Lerner refers young adults from Brookline to get married at our facilities, and as they establish a family and are looking to find a home in the suburbs, many of them settle in our community,” he said. “Likewise, I refer young adults and college grads who are moving out of their parents’ homes in Newton to Chabad of Brookline.”

Lerner had similar words of praise for his other rabbinical cohorts. “Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz has been here for 10 years, and we are both Chabad,” he said. “Each rabbi,” he continued, “has his own personality and appeals to different types of people.”

Expansion is in the works on Harvard Street with Rabbi Lerner sharing plans that the main room will be enlarged. “We have an advantage of a core group,” he said. “Yet, there is also a freshness to it, because Brookline often changes,” he said, adding that the changes can bring both advantages and disadvantages.

But, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no drawback to the location. “It’s the best that can be imagined,” Lerner said. “I’m always joking about how to the left, there’s a kosher restaurant, and to the right, there’s a Jewish funeral home. Half a block away, there are Jewish stores, and a kosher grocery store. I have often thought that they should call this section the ‘Jewish Corner’.”

To contact the Chabad Center in Brookline, visit