The eastward expansion of Pico-Robertson’s Orthodox community hit a new milestone recently with the Aug. 24 opening of LINK East, a satellite branch of LINK, the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel.
A kollel is a place where rabbinic scholars study among themselves and teach people in the community. At this point, though, LINK East is starting off as a Shabbat-only synagogue.
Its location inside the yeshiva Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok on the corner of West Pico and South Crescent Heights boulevards puts it in the middle of the up-and-coming Faircrest Heights neighborhood, where many observant Jews from Pico-Robertson have moved over the last few years to take advantage of lower property values.
The original LINK, founded by Rabbi Asher Brander in 2002, is at 1453 S. Robertson Blvd. Previously, it was located at Westwood Kehilla, where Brander was also the rabbi.
Brander said he has been planning LINK East for about two years, when he predicted Faircrest Heights would become a hot spot for Orthodox Jews. In a previous interview, Brander said that when he moved to Pico-Robertson in the early ’90s, the border of the Orthodox community was much farther west than it is now. Today, many Jews are moving east, past La Cienega Boulevard, into the Faircrest Heights neighborhood.
“That’s where the Jews are coming,” Brander told the Journal.
About 45 men and 25 women came to Aug. 24 Shabbat morning services, which were held inside the yeshiva’s study hall. That was followed by a lunch at the home of Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native who recently moved back from Israel with his wife and three daughters to become LINK’s associate rosh kollel (head of kollel) and to lead LINK East.
Since he arrived in July, Shoff said that he has been developing relationships with Jewish families in Faircrest Heights. He hopes that in addition to it being a Shabbat location for neighborhood residents, LINK East may attract families living in the eastern parts of Pico-Robertson willing to make what is about a 10- to 15-minute walk.
“This is just a little farther out in the neighborhood,” Shoff said. “It’s not far away.”
Prior to LINK East’s opening, Chabad of South La Cienega (SOLA) was the only synagogue that was within short walking distance for families in Faircrest Heights who observe Shabbat. That synagogue, led by Rabbi Avraham Zajac, began with about 10 families when it opened nearly six years ago. Zajac said that it now has around 100.
Reflective of the growth of SOLA and the Jewish community in Faircrest Heights, Zajac is spearheading an $8 million to $10 million expansion, which would include the construction of a communal mikveh, a Chabad synagogue, a Sephardic synagogue and a Jewish Montessori preschool. Zajac wrote in an e-mail to the Journal that SOLA recently purchased a 12,000-square-foot property for $2.4 million as part of the expansion project. The property is at 1450 S. La Cienega, a few blocks north of the existing location.
Shoff said that for now, his goal is to establish LINK East as a “warm, vibrant [and] exciting” Shabbat location. He said that LINK East will have Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services every week, along with a Kiddush lunch.
Although both Shoff and Brander hope that Jewish growth in Faircrest Heights will warrant LINK East becoming a full-time weekday synagogue eventually, Shoff’s immediate focus is on making Shabbat as engaging as possible.
“If we can produce something that’s beautiful and meaningful,” Shoff said, “then I think that ultimately the numbers will come.”