The Starbucks Encounter that Built a New Chabad House



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    The Starbucks Encounter that Built a New Chabad House

    Photo; The Wichita Eagle

    When Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg, Shliach to Wichita and Rural Kansas, walked into a local Starbucks to purchase his coffee, he was surprised by an abrupt ‘shalom aleichem‘. Little did he know that the not so chance encounter with a local non-Jewish real estate broker would lead to the relocation of his Chabad House to a bigger, much nicer space than before • Full Story

    The Wichita Eagle

    John McKenzie was at the Starbucks at 21st and Greenwich last summer when he saw a Hasidic rabbi standing alone, doctoring his coffee.

    “I looked at him and said, ‘Shalom aleichem,’ ” McKenzie said.

    “Aleichem shalom,” replied Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg.

    After conferring peace upon each other, the two introduced themselves.

    McKenzie is president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate, and he explained to Greenberg that he learned some Hebrew while growing up in a predominantly Italian and Jewish section of the Bronx in New York.

    “I never knew the difference between Jewish and orthodox Catholic,” said McKenzie, who grew up Catholic. Other than worshiping on different days of the week, McKenzie said there were a lot of similarities, especially with Jewish and Italian Catholic mothers.

    “They were huggable, and they wanted to feed you all the time.” So he said he and Greenberg “had some common ground to work with.”

    Greenberg is a rabbi who Chabad-Lubavitch, an international Hasidic Jewish organization, sent to Wichita in August 2018 “to help bring the joys of Judaism to the Jews of Wichita and to rural Kansas” through Chabad of Wichita and Rural Kansas.

    After he and McKenzie met and chatted briefly, McKenzie gave Greenberg his business card and told him to reach out if there was ever anything McKenzie could do for him.

    A month later, Greenberg called and asked to meet. When they got together, Greenberg explained that his growing community needed more room for its spiritual center, which has met at various places since it opened.

    There was one stipulation, though. The new space would have to be within walking distance of Greenberg’s east-side home because, he said, “We are commanded by God to rest on Shabbos,” or the seventh day of the week. “It wasn’t easy, but we got it done,” McKenzie said.

    The new center will open in 1,308 square feet at the Shops at Tallgrass just east of the northeast corner of 21st and Rock Road.

    “It’s just a really nice shopping center,” Greenberg said. “It’s always pleasant, peaceful.”

    Also, the square footage happens to contain two numbers that are important in Judaism. The number 13 is the age a boy celebrates his bar mitzvah. The number 8 means above nature when the seven days of the week are the order of nature.

    Greenberg said Chabad-Lubavitch formed in Russia more than 350 years ago in the city of Lubavitch, which means city of love.

    “The concept is to serve God with wisdom and to serve God with love.”

    It’s also to spread awareness of the faith and do acts of goodness and kindness, he said.

    “Everything that we do we are doing with one purpose in mind.”

    Greenberg said that’s to prepare for the coming of the messiah “and to actually bring him closer” through goodness and kindness.

    “Goodness and kindness starts at home,” he said.

    “We all live in a world together, and it’s our job to make this world a dwelling place that God feels comfortable,” Greenberg said. “Just like a father or mother are happy when they’re children get along. . . . That’s part of our message.”

    Chabad-Lubavitch grows organically, Greenberg said.

    A native of El Paso, Greenberg and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Greenberg, previously ran a Jewish orphanage in Ukraine.

    Chaya Greenberg, a native of Costa Rica, co-directs Chabad of Wichita and Rural Kansas with her husband.

    The Greenbergs’ five children, ages 18 months to 7, are involved as well.

    Shmulik Greenberg said about 80% of the almost 2,000 Jewish people in Wichita and rural Kansas are unaffiliated, meaning they are not dues-paying members of a particular temple or synagogue.

    “So we reach out to the Jews who are not affiliated, and we teach them about the heritage, and we bring that in fun and exciting ways.”

    He said every Jew is welcome.

    “We don’t believe in labels,” Greenberg said. “The main focus is to serve the Jewish community.”

    Services are geared to the Jewish community. There are a lot of programs based around Jewish holidays as well.

    Greenberg said the center isn’t meant to take away anything from an existing temple or synagogue.

    “As a general rule, people have been very excited, very receptive,” he said. “Of course, there’s always some people who get . . . a little bit nervous — kind of competition came to town. But the truth is we’re only here to enhance the Jewish community.”

    People are still encouraged to attend their synagogue or temple.

    The center also is starting to offer classes for the broader community as well.

    Greenberg said he’s also working with Dillons for the grocery to offer an expanded kosher section.

    The center will open in its new home on Feb. 20.

    McKenzie represented Greenberg in the deal, and Craig Simon of Landmark Commercial Real Estate represented the landlord.

    Greenberg, who believes in divine providence, feels it was destiny for him to meet McKenzie.

    “As the rabbi puts it, God sent me to him,” McKenzie said.

    And McKenzie doesn’t disagree.

    “He’s a religious man,” McKenzie said. “Who am I to argue?”

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