Jonathan Shapero found a “home away from home” at Chabad on Campus when he came to the University of Pittsburgh six years ago, the 24-year-old Long Island native recalled.
Raised in the Conservative movement, he was accustomed to spending Friday nights celebrating Shabbat with his family, and felt comfortable at Chabad, where he was able to connect with like-minded young Jews in a warm and spiritual setting.
After he graduated in 2017 and took a job at the Bank of New York in Pittsburgh, Chabad on Campus was no longer exactly the right fit, because so many of his friends had graduated and moved away.
“It was a different feel,” Shapero said. He desired the type of Jewish community he found at Chabad on Campus, but he was now in a different stage of life.
But about seven months ago, a new Chabad community formed in Pittsburgh, seemingly tailor-made for young Jews like Shapero.
Called Chabad Young Professionals, and co-led by Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld, 30, and his wife Sarah, 27, the new community is poised to fill a social, spiritual and professional void for Jews who are no longer in college and who have not yet started families of their own.
Pittsburgh’s CYP is part of a broader effort called Chabad Young Professionals International, which launched about 10 years ago “with the goal of focusing on the young professional demographic, a group that is often overlooked in the traditional setting,” said Rosenfeld. There about 90 other CYP branches around the world.
“Young professional is more a stage than an age,” Rosenfeld explained. “Typically, it’s going to be somewhere from 22 to 37, but it is really a stage of post-college, pre-family life. So it could be anyone that’s either in a relationship, not yet in a relationship, married or single.”
Rosenfeld estimates that there are between 8,000 and 15,000 young Jews in Pittsburgh that would fall into the demographic CYP is targeting.
In fact, according to the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, there are almost 12,000 Jews in Pittsburgh between the ages of 18 and 34. About 3,000 of them are students.
While there are many avenues of connection for young Jews who have children in Jewish preschools, day schools or religious schools, Rosenfeld said there are fewer organizations that provide “an organized Jewish community” for those who have not yet started a family.
CYP intends to focus on “three areas within our young Jewish community here in Pittsburgh,” he said. “We want to fill the need of professional life, social life, and spiritual life.”
Rosenfeld is seeking unconventional locales for some of CYP’s programming, catering to a population that may not be as eager to attend an event at a typical Jewish venue.
Last March, CYP held its first event, a Purim celebration for 80 people, at CAVO, a trendy nightclub in the Strip District.
“It was so much fun,” said Shapero, who met some new friends at the celebration, which included cocktails, mingling, a catered kosher buffet and a megillah reading.
“It was not traditional place to have a religious event, but we rented it exclusively for the evening,” Rosenfeld said. “People were able to socialize there around something meaningful.”
Other CYP programming has included intimate Shabbat dinners at the Rosenfelds’ Squirrel Hill home, a monthly Bagels, Lox and Tefillin group that meets on the South Side, and a Shavuot event at a home in Squirrel Hill, which featured a Torah reading and a garden brunch that attracted 50 people.
“For many people there, it was the first time they had attended a Shavuos service,” Rosenfeld said. “But instead of bringing them to shul, we brought the shul to the garden.”
On August 2, CYP is launching its first Shabbat Social, inviting all local young Jewish professionals to a private home in Squirrel Hill for “happy hour, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres,” followed by “candle-lighting, kiddish, then a full gourmet dinner, and mingling late into the night,” Rosenfeld said.
He hopes to host several Shabbat Socials this year, in various neighborhoods, including Lawrenceville and the South Side.
“Our motto is really organic community growth,” he said. “We will be tapping into the knowledge and desires of our community to see what they want.”
For Pittsburgh native, attorney Aaron Weiss, 29, and his wife, attorney Emily Weiss, CYP provides another avenue for professional as well as Jewish connections.
“My wife and I enjoy all the young professional groups in the Pittsburgh area,” said Weiss. “Chabad Young Professionals opens up a more Orthodox approach to young professional inclusion.”
Emily, who is Catholic, has been warmly welcomed at all CYP’s events, Weiss said.
“Sarah [Rosenfeld] and Emily have become good friends, and have grabbed coffee together,” he said. “The Rosenfelds do a great job, and are inviting and inclusive.”
While attending the Purim event at CAVO, Weiss was able to reconnect with some old friends from Community Day School, and also met some other young Jewish men who live in his South Side neighborhood.
Many young Jewish adults “drop out or get off the grid” following graduation from college, and “don’t really connect with their Judaism during that time,” Rosenfeld said. “Once they graduate college until they enter the stage of family life, there isn’t much out there for them in terms of organized infrastructure. Chabad Young Professionals was established to help bridge that gap so that young Jews would not have to spend so much time searching, at the age of 30-plus when they are looking to start a family, for a place to connect.”
Upcoming CYP events can be found at cyppittsburgh.com and on Facebook. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at