Wandering Jewish Congregation Finds Home in Inwood Pharmacy

By Nigel Chiwaya on February 11, 2014 9:28am 

 Rabbi Herschel Hartz and Inwood Jews hosts weekly learning sessions and monthly services in the basement of Dichter Pharmacy.
Rabbi Herschel Hartz and Inwood Jews hosts weekly learning sessions and monthly services in the basement of Dichter Pharmacy.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

INWOOD — This pharmacy offers a dose of medicine — for the soul.

Dichter Pharmacy, at 4953 Broadway at West 207th Street, has opened its doors to the fledgling congregation Inwood Jews, which has been using the space for weekly services while trying to open a synagogue of its own.

Inwood Jews was founded last February by Rabbi Herschel Hartz, a yeshiva student who noticed the area had a fast-growing Jewish population but a lack of community groups to serve it. The group held a barbecue in Inwood Hill Park in April and has since drawn 450 people to eight big events, including a drum circle in Inwood Hill Park in June and a sukkah event in September.

“In a neighborhood where I was told there were no Jews, they’re basically popping out of the woodwork,” Hartz, 28, said. The rabbi pointed to the Jewish Community Study released by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York in January 2013. It showed the Jewish population of Washington Heights and Inwood increased 144 percent between 2002 and 2011.

“This neighborhood has tremendous potential for growth, Jewish-ly, and that’s what our organization hopes to do," he said.

Inwood Jews spent close to a year holding events around the neighborhood, with no permanent home, until Dichter Pharmacy owner Manuel Ramirez heard about the group.

“I saw a flier for one of their events, and I spoke to Herschel,” said Ramirez, who is an active Catholic and member of the nearby Church of the Good Shepherd.

Ramirez said he reached out to Hartz in January, and has been hosting the congregation in his basement, free of charge, ever since.

“We’ve got a common interest. I’m totally for the re-establishing of a Jewish congregation in Inwood," Ramirez said. "I think it’s really important.”

Dichter Pharmacy hosts Inwood Jews’ weekly scripture learning sessions Thursdays at 8 p.m. as well as the group’s monthly Shabbat service on Friday nights, which will be followed by a dinner.

While Hartz is happy to have a temporary home, he said finding a permanent home is still a top priority.

“Hopefully he’ll kick us out,” Hartz joked, saying the space is so accommodating it could be an impediment to looking for a permanent home.

The group hopes its future full-time synagogue can be located in Inwood. 

“We’re looking for a space where we can have prayer services, meals, and where Jewish people in Inwood can feel free to express themselves Jewish-ly," Hartz said.

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