South Philadelphia Shtiebel closes prayer space, looks ahead

Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter
Photo by Dan Schere

The Philadelphia synagogue founded a year ago by Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud
Torah’s former rabbanit is leaving its prayer space.

It’s not the end of the world, said Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, of the South Philadelphia Shtiebel. It was simple financial sense for the small congregation, which doesn’t have plans to meet in a small indoor space any time soon. “Heartbreaking” as it is, Fruchter said, the congregation had already outgrown the space.

I’m really grateful that we were able to make a move,” she said.

In the meantime, congregants will continue daily prayer and learning sessions, with the occasional outdoor, socially distanced event at nearby Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School.

A year ago, the South Philadelphia Shtiebel was celebrating its first Kabbalat Shabbat, attended by about 100 people on a day that was about 100 degrees. Over the course of the year, the congregation grew as the shtiebel offered more classes and created greater opportunity for engagement. Much of it was centered at the physical space.

Frustrating as it is to lose the space, Fruchter said, it simply didn’t make sense to keep paying rent. “This,” she said, “is not going anywhere. COVID-19 is here.”

Indeed, the pandemic has left its mark on the congregation. Fruchter herself is recovering from COVID-19. But offering classes on Daf Yomi and Pirkei Avot, along with the occasional lecture, has enticed many that may have once wished to stay at home. Now, they can do both.

The shtiebel has also held a few outdoor services at Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School, a practice that Fruchter hopes to continue as the pandemic endures. “We commit,” she said, “to continuing to doing what we do well, which is helping people connect and helping people bring love into the world, and connect with Torah and Judaism.”

And though the shtiebel’s space will no longer belong to the shtiebel, it will belong to some “shtieblers,” as Fruchter calls them.

Orrin Leeb and Bryan Kravitz, co-owners of Philly Typewriter, will take over the space within a year. Their store, which sells and repairs typewriters, is now a few blocks away from the shtiebel.

Kravitz, who was married to his wife by Fruchter, said that he and Leeb were looking around for a new space when Fruchter reached out to them with a proposal a few weeks ago. “It was very, very, very fortuitous this all happened,” Kravitz said. It’s “a perfect move, for us,” Leeb added.

Jesse Bernstein is a writer for the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of Washington Jewish Week.

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