HIGH POINT, N.C. (RNS) — The Jewish community in this Southern city is tiny and mostly elderly. Its only synagogue building was recently sold to a church.But twice a year the Jewish population of High Point expands exponentially for the High Point Furniture Market, the world’s largest home furniture expo, where industry manufacturers debut their latest in designs.
The five-day extravaganza draws an estimated 75,000 people from around the world, among them hundreds of Jews in the furniture industry — mostly from New York and other big cities with far larger Jewish populations.
For them, there is Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish movement that has expanded rapidly across the globe that has a knack for meeting the needs of observant Jews wherever they might need it.
For the past 10 years, Chabad of Greensboro — one of 12 Chabad centers across North Carolina — has been renting a showroom at the furniture market where Jews who make the pilgrimage to High Point can come to rest, pray and eat homemade kosher meals while they’re in town.
The International Home Furnishings Center during the High Point Furniture Market in High Point, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of High Point Market Authority
Evening prayer services this past Monday and Tuesday (April 24-25), on the market’s busiest days, each drew some 50 out-of-town Jews. But over the course of the day about 150 drop by the showroom for coffee, a bagel or a chance to schmooze or do business with fellow Jewish buyers and furniture reps.
“It’s changed the entire dynamic of the furniture market,” said Avi Schoenbrun, a sales representative from New York City, who has been attending the High Point Market for 32 years. “I know they’re gonna have a minyan (or quorum for prayer). They’re gonna have kosher food. And the rabbi is welcoming no matter who you are.”
That rabbi is Yosef Plotkin, a Montreal native, who with his wife, Hindy, established Chabad of Greensboro — less than 20 miles from High Point — in 2008.
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Plotkin, like all Chabad emissaries, is always looking for opportunities to broaden participation in Jewish life, even as he knows there are few strictly Orthodox Jews like him in Greensboro or its surroundings.
He had a mikvah, or ritual bath, built at his center in Greensboro to serve mostly women, who by Jewish tradition are required to bathe in its waters after their monthly period. He and his wife run a summer day camp for Jewish children and throw an annual Hanukkah party to benefit Jewish children with special needs. His cellphone number is widely shared and he makes himself available.
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