A Growth in Solon’s Jewish Population
Solon's Jewish population up 132 percent in 5 years
Chabad Center, city's lone gathering place for Jews, is rapidly outgrowing its leased space on Aurora Road
By BOB SANDRICK Staff Writer
June 11, 1998

When Solon resident Mark Silverstein first encountered Rabbi Zushe Greenberg, he was not overly impressed. 

It was around Hanukkah. The young rabbi, who had moved to Solon three years earlier to establish a Jewish center here, was driving around town with a Menorah fastened to the top of his station wagon to announce the holiday and advertise the center. Silverstein viewed the promotion as a garish gimmick.
"I didn't think his schul would be successful," Silverstein said.
But Silverstein — up until then a self-described secular Jew — was soon reminded of the danger of condemnation prior to examination.
"I ended up going to one or two of (Greenberg's) services because I couldn't find a place in Cleveland where I was comfortable," Silverstein said. "After meeting the rabbi, I found I could ask him any question I wanted, and that he was not judgmental. I slowly became involved."
Today, Silverstein attends worship services at the center every week and has become an active fund-raiser at Greenberg's Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.
Greenberg started the Chabad center six years ago. It has been located in the basement of the Solon Professional Building, 32915 Aurora Road, for about three years.
Participation at the Chabad center has seen a dramatic growth over the last six years, reflecting growth in Solon's Jewish population.
According to Michael E. Bennett, marketing and communications director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, from September 1989 to September 1994 the number of Solon's Jewish households on file at the federation rose from about 400 to 717, a 132 percent increase.
In 1996, Bennett said, just over 1,000 Jewish families lived in Solon. According to Bennett, the general consensus is that the Jewish population growth in Solon has leveled off after a dramatic spurt.
But the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon continues to grow.
The Chabad center provides programming, including preschool, Bible and Jewish philosophy classes and social activities, for about 300 to 350 Jewish families in Solon.
During Hannukah, Greenberg places a 10-foot menorah outside the center.
And although not an official or conventional temple or synagogue, the center holds worship services every Saturday. In fact, Greenberg said, any service held at a conventional synagogue is also held at the Chabad center.
Lately, the services have been overflowing, with no room even to stand.
"We are totally overcrowded here," Mirian said.
And what might be considered unusual, perhaps, is the fact that Greenberg, 32, and his wife Mirian are practicing Orthodox Jews, while participants in the programs are either Reform, Conservative or unaffiliated Jews. One of the purposes of the Chabad center is to burst such barriers.
"The Chabad movement in Judaism believes in no labels," Greenberg said. "There are no labels in Judaism. A Jew is a Jew.
"Here we are trying to have human contact," Greenberg said. "This human contact breaks down all this misinformation and misconception about other people. As we meet on a personal level, we find we can enjoy being Jewish because we are sharing the same tradition."
Greenberg said the Chabad movement started about 250 years ago in Russia and came to the United States in 1940. It seeks to reclaim Jews who have lost touch with their religion. This is done through education, by showing Jews how the ancient scriptures apply to their lives today.
Also, Greenberg said, a spirit of acceptance is fostered. People are invited to participate at the Chabad center as much or as little as they're able and comfortable.
Today, Chabad is a world-wide organization with outreaches all over the globe. Greenberg believes the movement today is badly needed.
"In today's world, I would say about 14 million, out of 15 million Jews, are not observant, most of them because they never had an opportunity to be exposed to Judaism and enjoy it," he said.
According to Mirian, many Jews have drifted away from Judaism over the last 50 years because they viewed it as too authoritarian. Chabad aims to expose the wisdom behind the laws and the rituals, making the religion more attractive.
Mirian said the word Chabad is a Hebrew acronym that means "wisdom, understanding and knowledge." Chabad teaches that if Jews understand Judaic theologies, they'll more likely practice them.
At the Chabad center in Solon, no one is pressured into doing anything. Some participants come only for Saturday worship services, while others attend just Bible classes. Some only attend holiday social gatherings. Others participate in a variety of programs.
"The point is that through these activities you'll see the beauty of Judaism yourself, and you'll enjoy coming and doing whatever it is you wish to do," Mirian said.
Solon resident Judy Smith, for example, sends her 4-year-old son Sean to the preschool, which meets five days per week. However, Smith and her husband Scott, a Christian, are not themselves involved at Chabad.
Smith, a Reform Jew who attends services at a branch of Temple Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, said she and Scott have tried a number of preschools for Sean and his two older siblings. Chabad's, she said, is one of the best.
"This particular program is very nurturing," Smith said. "It's small, which is good because there's a lot of one-on-one interaction."
At the Chabad center, the focus is on children, Greenberg said. He said it's important to start a Jewish education early in life so that the faith is engraved within them.
"We are here because of the children. Because someone has to drive them to the synagogue, we let the parents in too," Greenberg joked.
"The idea is to make a future. The children should enjoy Judaism. They should be proud of being Jewish. Our goal is to touch every child in Solon."
For adults, the center holds Bible classes, which normally meet in private homes. Also Greenberg teaches adult education classes at the center nearly every evening.
These programs have taken place for six years in nearly every public and school building in Solon, including Grantwood Recreation Park and the Solon branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Chabad's basement headquarters serves as both synagogue and preschool.
The Greenbergs said that as attendance grows, they will soon be forced to either purchase or construct their own building. Regardless, its mission will not change.
"It's not so much that we're trying to evolve from what we started to a synagogue, and then get everyone to come to synagogue," Mirian said. "We are here to offer something Jewish to every person in Solon and this area."
© Copyright 1998 Sun Newspapers, Cleveland, Ohio