Spiritual Home of Crown Heights Rabbi Inspires Replicas Across the World

By Rachel Holliday Smith on August 25, 2014 7:30am 

Slideshow
 A photography exhibit of replicas of the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement will go on view at a Chelsea gallery in September.
Replicas of 770 Eastern Parkway
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CROWN HEIGHTS — A three-story Gothic revival brick building at 770 Eastern Parkway that serves as the physical and spiritual center of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish community and once served as the workplace of Grand Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson has spawned a mini-architectural boom across the globe.

The landmarked building is so important to Lubavitchers that more than a dozen spiritual followers have built replicas of it in locations as far away as Melbourne, Australia and Buenos Aires, Argentina — a worldwide phenomenon that sparked a mesmerizing set of photos that will go on view next month in Chelsea.

“The 770s are an insider message,” said photographer and longtime New Yorker Andrea Robbins, who traveled with her husband and fellow photographer Max Becher to document as many of the architectural replicas as possible.

“In other words, if you don’t know 770 Eastern Parkway, then you’re going to walk by the building or drive by it, and you’ll never see it.... But to the Lubavitcher...it’s very exciting to them and it means only one thing."

The duo spent six years between 2003 and 2009 photographing sites around the world. In their travels, they found almost all Lubavitch Jews were “very familiar” with 770 Eastern Parkway, even if they weren’t from Brooklyn. Their photos — along with another photo project they did on monuments across the United States that feature the Ten Commandments — will go on display at Chelsea's Sonnabend Gallery at 536 W. 22nd St. beginning Sept. 13.

Many of those who decided to build a replica of the building were familiar with other counterparts across the world, leading Robbins and Becher on a worldwide scavenger hunt to track down the next site.

“We didn’t find them all at once. We sort of went to one and then [people there] knew of another one and it just kind of snowballed,” Becher said.

“If the community can have the enthusiasm and can afford to do it, they will do it,” Becher said.

Since the two stopped photographing the 770 replicas in 2009, a handful of others have been built, according to a Chabad-Lubavitch spokesman. One of those was completed in 2012 in Tacoma, Washington by Rabbi Zalman Heber, who explained why he chose to build a replica of 770.

“For me and for a lot of people, 770 is a symbol of a spiritual home, a place of outreach. When you look at that building, it reminds you of a place of kindness, a place where people do good deeds, where people come and study. And I wanted to share that feeling with other people,” he said.

Before the replica project began, Heber took many photos of the original building in Brooklyn to get the details right, working with an architect to design the facade.

“I think, thank God, we did a pretty good job in that regard. People say it’s very close [to the original]” Heber said.

The photos of the 770 Eastern Parkway replicas will be exhibited at the Sonnabend Gallery at 536 W. 22nd St. in Manhattan beginning on Sept. 13. For more information, visit the gallery’s website or the photographers’ website.

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