Synagogue marks quarter-century as community center
Rabbi Eliezer Hershkovich, associate director of Chabad & FREE of Niles, and rabbi Naftoly Hershkovich pose for a portrait in their Des Plaines synagogue now under construction Sept. 4. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times
NAME: Chabad & FREE of Niles
SPECIALTY: Synagogue, community center
ADDRESS: 9401 Margail Ave., Des Plaines
INFORMATION: www.chabadandfree.com; (847) 296-1770
Updated: November 12, 2012 1:30AM
MAINE TOWNSHIP — For Rabbi Naftoly Hershkovich it was a truly heartwarming experience to see generations come together and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Chabad & FREE of Niles synagogue.
In 1987, Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman started the synagogue off with a prayer service in his basement. Hershkovich joined Scheiman in his efforts, and in 1990 they purchased a ranch home at Emerson and Margail that is now a full-service synagogue that meets daily and holds several classes and services.
Scheiman is busy as a full-time Jewish prison chaplain, but on the weekends he is dedicated to Chabad & FREE of Niles, located at 9401 Margail Ave., Des Plaines (unicorporated Maine Township). FREE, also known as Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, is a group that has been involved with the synagogue since the very beginning and helped refugees with their physical and spiritual needs. Lubavitch Chabad is an organization that is dedicated to the welfare of Jewish people around the world.
Naftoly Hershkovich’s son, Eliezer Hershkovich, said when he saw the thousands of people coming to his father for assistance with material and spiritual needs, he decided to get involved and start working on various projects to reach out to many people. He is now the associate director of the synagogue.
“We have a big responsibility to all the Jewish people living in this area,” said Eliezer, who explained that the synagogue is the only Jewish house of worship in the neighboring suburbs. “We have to make sure that they shouldn’t feel abandoned, they should not feel lost.”
Eliezer said some of the programs offered include: an adult-education program; Jewish Youth Zone with events planned for youngsters during the holidays; visiting the elderly and sick in their homes, and at local hospitals and nursing homes to bring them food and entertainment; and erecting a 9-foot-tall Menorah at the corner of Greenwood and Milwaukee during Hanukkah. The synagogue also operates a legal-aid clinic.
The renovation and expansion now taking place at the synagogue includes a new children’s room with access to a playground, a men’s ritual bath, kitchen and more.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Scheiman said. “This neighborhood really needs a boost and I think the new building is a step in the right direction.
“So many people live right in the area, and I think that a new-and-improved structure will be just the push that they need to take a step inside and discover the warmest community I know.”
The renovated building contains modern elements that will beautify the sanctuary space, Eliezer explained.
The synagogue had a celebratory luncheon to celebrate their special silver anniversary on Aug. 26.
“It was like no one really cared whether you were 6 or 60,” Naftoly Hershkovich said. “We were all there to celebrate and look forward to the future of this institution. It’s really the foundation of Judaism in so many people’s lives.”
Eliezer said synagogue leadership is open to all denominations and believe in helping everybody through weekly services, classes and spiritual support.
“We don’t believe in membership,” Eliezer said. “You don’t have to pay to pray.”
Valery Malinkovich, a community member, spoke highly of the synagogue.
“The Niles FREE Shul is a place where everyone feels welcome and is a valued member of the community,” she said. “It is a place that keeps our souls awake and our hearts and spirits on the quest for more knowledge.”
Eliezer encourages people to attend their high holiday services at 10 a.m. Sept. 17 and Sept. 18 at the Feldman Park Clubhouse, 8800 Kathy Lane.
Chabad & FREE of Niles, which also serves the communities of Des Plaines, Morton Grove and Park Ridge, has a satellite location at 701 Harlem Ave., Glenview.