The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Orthodox Rabbi Can't Drive, So He Walks 5 Miles to Serve Two Congregations

By Justin Breen | November 27, 2013 7:58am
 Baruch Hertz, the rabbi at Congregation Bnei Ruven, walks a few times per month the roughly 5.5-mile distance from Lakeview to West Rogers Park.
Rabbi Baruch Hertz
View Full Caption

LAKEVIEW — As he ventured outside late on a recent Friday night, Rabbi Baruch Hertz exclaimed, "It's not that cold."

But it was actually below freezing, at 10 p.m., and Hertz was getting ready to embark on a 5.5-mile walk with his wife, Chanie, three of their 11 children, and two of their kids' friends.

The group was making the hike from Lakeview — where Hertz runs the Chabad center at 655 W. Irving Park Rd. — because it was Shabbat, the weekly Jewish holiday when Orthodox Jews are forbidden to operate machinery, turn electricity on or off, or drive.

So they set out on foot, in the bitter cold, from a Shabbat dinner at the center — which also teaches Hasidic values and customs to children and adults — to their home in West Rogers Park. There, Hertz has headed the Congregation B'Nei Ruven for nearly 21 years and serves as the dean of students at the 90-pupil Lubavitch Girls High School, which are both located at 6350 N. Whipple St.

 Rabbi Baruch Hertz (top row, fourth from left) poses for a photo with his family, which includes 11 children, during the wedding of one of his daughters.
Rabbi Baruch Hertz (top row, fourth from left) poses for a photo with his family, which includes 11 children, during the wedding of one of his daughters.
View Full Caption
Baruch Hertz

"Almost, it's if I wish I could do the walk every day," Hertz, 47, said last week in the days before the walk. "When you walk, I get energized. We enjoy what we do."

Hertz agreed to allow a reporter to join his group on the nearly two-hour journey on the condition the reporter not take notes or photos or do any sort of work during the actual walk.

The journey took the group west on Irving Park through Lakeview and North Center, northwest on Lincoln Avenue into the heart of Lincoln Square and finally north on California Avenue past Mather High School into West Rogers Park.

In that time, the group — which included three of Hertz's sons, the oldest 12 years old — shared jokes and told Jewish stories. Discussions about Hanukkah, which begins Wednesday night, was one of the main themes.

There was only one stop. One of the friends had to use the restroom, and it was somewhat difficult to find one that was located in a business that had late-night hours and didn't use electronic sliding doors. Finally, a Dunkin Donuts was found.

Hertz said he had made the walk once or twice a month for the last eight or nine years, regardless of the weather. During the High Holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, he will do it twice in one day. During some Shabbats, if he's too tired or the weather is too dangerous, he will stay at a condo he owns in Lakeview.

"It's an hours-long walk, but it's not a big deal for him like it would be for many people," said Amanda Swart, the office manager at B'Nei Ruven, who has yet to participate in the walk. "It's routine for him."

Hertz, who was born in the United States but grew up in London, has made many friends along the route of his walk. At Lincoln Square's Le Cafe, which was closed by the time the group passed it Friday, employees have given them glasses of water, which can't come from electric water fountains. Hertz also knows many workers who let him and guests use their businesses' restrooms.

When told about the many great restaurants along their path, Hertz said he and his group are always oblivious to them and would never think about eating at any of them because they aren't kosher.

The group also passed the McDonald's parking lot in which a fatal shooting occurred last week. The rabbi did not know of the circumstances until being told by a reporter. He then whispered the information to his wife.

Chanie Hertz said she is not worried about the group's safety and believes god protects them on their walks.

After passing the Hidden Cove bar at 5338 N. Lincoln Ave., a bar known for its karaoke, Hertz said he didn't know was karaoke was.

Hertz said he and his wife, the head instructor at the Lakeview Chabad, work religiously — literally. They sleep about 3-4 hours a day; the rest is dedicated to serving their congregation and, of course, their very large family.

Their children — six boys and five girls — range in age from 2 to 24. The two oldest children, both daughters, are married. The rest either live at home or attend various religious schools around the country. Hertz said he would not be surprised if all six of his sons become rabbis as well.

The walk, Hertz said, represents some of the little quality time he can save for his family.

"I love the time with my kids," he said last week. "It's really focused on my wife and kids, and it's a really special walk.

"I also love it because Chicago is a beautiful city."

By the time they reached their home north of Devon Avenue, the Hertzes and their friends were among few people on the streets in the area. It had been nearly two hours of nearly nonstop walking, but none of the group was tired. As they entered their home, the Hertz children still had oodles of energy as they buzzed around the living room.

Everyone immediately drank big glasses of water, and Hertz, who said he had a long day of prayer and spiritual leadership on Saturday, noted it was time for some shut-eye.

"Good Shabbos," he said.