By Nicole Cardos
Business owner Avrom Fox said his religious bookstore Rosenblums World of Judaica is a social gathering spot.
“We have everything that one needs to celebrate the entire Jewish life cycle, from birth to death and all the holidays in between,” Fox said, adding that there are also books for those interested in the religion from a historical and cultural point of view.
Now in its sixth year of residence in Skokie, Illinois, Rosenblums was previously located on Devon Avenue in West Ridge in Chicago. Fox said he purchased the store from its previous owner in 1990 at its Devon Avenue location, when the Jewish community was reflected in the storefronts on the now-majority South Asian shopping street.
For years now, businesses, like Rosenblums, that catered to the surrounding West Ridge Jewish community have been moving out—so much so, that the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park has named “the rebirth of Devon Avenue between California and Kedzie as a unique urban destination serving Jews throughout the city and suburbs” as one of the organization’s goals on its website.
Fox said he moved Rosenblums to follow the Jewish community that was migrating toward the suburbs, and because he considers Devon Avenue “dead” as a shopping district.
“Devon is no longer commercially viable,” he said.
But it’s not only Jewish-owned businesses that are closing or relocating. The CVS store and pharmacy at 2825 W. Devon Ave. announced its springtime closing late February. The decision was made in part of the company’s plan to shut down dozens of its storefronts.
“Everybody is dormant—we’re dormant now too,” said Irv Loundy, senior vice president of Banking Services and Community Relations at Devon Bank.
Loundy, an employee at Devon Bank since 1958, said he has seen tremendous change in the area. Loundy remembers Devon Avenue as a home to high-end ladies fashion and kosher delicatessens and grocery stores in the 1970s and 1980s. But as the community changed to include an Indian-Pakistani population, and nearby young Jewish families started relocating to surrounding suburbs, Jewish businesses followed suit.
What also pushed storeowners to move away from the area was the lack of parking space, said Loundy, who’s active in the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to create the presence and make it attractive for people to want to come here,” he said.
One of the ways to revitalize the area is to work on collaboration among the existing community groups, said Scott "Shalom" Klein, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park.
The goal of JCCWRP is to advocate for and improve the lives of residents and businesses in West Ridge, commonly referred to as West Rogers Park.
Although the Jewish community has a longstanding history in the area, the organization isn’t only catering to that group of people, Klein said.
“We’re committed to a beautiful West Rogers Park, meaning it doesn’t need to be a beautiful Jewish neighborhood,” he said. “We want it to be a beautiful neighborhood which happens to be home to the Jewish community, and living and working together with many other cultures.”
After having conversations with West Ridge residents, Klein acknowledged that there was a need for an updated or new library in the area. The Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library located at 6435 N. California Ave. currently serves the community, but Klein said it’s outdated.
“The library is not equipped,” he said. “It doesn’t have the meeting space, the technology for kids to do their homework.”
So Klein and other JCCWRP organizers, along with members of other ethnic communities in West Ridge, recently launched a petition called LEARN—Library Enhancement And Renovation. After having earned thousands of signatures, LEARN has been approved to open a new library in West Ridge.
“So those are the types of things that by coming together, by organizing, we’re able to make a difference,” he said.
SKOKIE, IL — Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning that falls each summer, is a sober and difficult day of remembering the brokenness and suffering of the past and of today. This year, Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob (SVAJ) and the broader Skokie Jewish community reflected on recent terror attacks in Israel and on the ongoing gun violence in Chicago.
“Tisha B’Av is a time when we reflect on the destructive power of hatred in our history and around the world,” said Rabbi Ari Hart, head rabbi of SVAJ.
“This day is about remembering the suffering of our past and moving forward with love and light in whatever ways – both big and small – that we can.”
On Monday, July 31st at 8 p.m. the synagogue held a vigil for recent Israeli victims of terror, remembering their lives, their stories, and their heroism.
Following the vigil, the community read from the book of Lamentations, which describes the pain and suffering of Jerusalem when the holy city was destroyed 2,000 years ago.
Afterwards, Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killing (MASK) and Chicagoan of the year in 2016 spoke about her work fighting against gun violence on the South Side of Chicago.
The next day – Tuesday, Aug. 1st at noon – prepared a BBQ meal with toys and games to support the work of MASK. Though the Jewish community itself was fasting, they delivered the meal and supplies to MASK volunteers on the South Side and joined in the spirit of fellowship and love that MASK is creating.
“MASK does incredibly important and effective work in curbing gun violence in Chicago neighborhoods”, said Skokie resident and SVAJ member, Adrianne Burgher. “I am so proud of this partnership and truly grateful for the opportunity to lend our support to the greater Chicago community.”
The event took place at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, located at 8825 E. Prairie Road in Skokie.
Members of Chicago’s Jewish and African-American communities will gather to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at Stone Temple Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.
The program will feature speakers on the theme “United in Hope, Standing for Justice,” including a keynote from Shari Runner, president of the Chicago Urban League, and an invocation from Rabbi Seth Limmer of Chicago Sinai Congregation.
The event is free and open to the public.