Monday, December 5, 2022
Home Community Rabbis of LA | Rabbi Eli Gurary: Serving an Up-and-Coming Community

Rabbis of LA | Rabbi Eli Gurary: Serving an Up-and-Coming Community

by admin
0 comment

Pico-Robertson. La Brea. Valley Village. Lake Balboa?

Lake Balboa, the Van Nuys-adjacent neighborhood, isn’t exactly a thriving Jewish community … yet. But as housing prices continue to rise in traditionally Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles, young families are making their way into this up-and-coming area. And Rabbi Eli Gurary, the rabbi at Chabad of Lake Balboa, is there to serve them.

Gurary, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, always wanted to be a rabbi and Chabad shliach (emissary). Though his father and grandfather weren’t rabbis, they were actively involved in their community. 

“They were very devoted Chasidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” Gurary said. “Every step they made in life was not without the Rebbe’s consent or blessing. Everything I grew up with was all geared towards making the world a better place and bringing it closer to a time of Moshiach, and the way to do it was going out and inspiring people and bringing people closer. There was nothing more rewarding than this.”

With that in mind, Gurary was eager to find a community to help once he married his wife, Mushkie. In 2017, they found one: Lake Balboa. They moved from Crown Heights to Los Angeles and subsequently bought a house, which doubles as the synagogue.

There is no eruv yet, but the closest kosher food is only four miles away, in Encino or Tarzana. According to the rabbi, his community is a diverse mix of Jews.

“I like to call my Chabad house a little United Nations,” he said. “We have Jews of all backgrounds, including Iranian, Russian, Spanish, Israeli and American Jews.”

Over the past few years, Gurary and his family have had to do some legwork to figure out how many Jewish people live in Lake Balboa. They knocked on the doors of close to 4,000 homes and asked if anyone was Jewish.

“We told them we were here for them,” he said. “I estimate that 10% of the homes were Jewish, or at least one person in them was Jewish.”

Gurary isn’t afraid to talk to people, which comes in handy for the rabbi. He said that through this on-the-ground work, he meets incredible people. 

One time, he knocked on someone’s door, and a woman answered. She said her husband was in hospice, so the rabbi came in and put tefillin on the man, recited some prayers and sang with the family. 

“It was the miracle of miracles, because I kept in touch with him, and he’s still alive,” Gurary said. “This is going on for almost half a year. They came to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. I was so amazed by their determination to make the trip. It shows the impact you can make on people’s lives.”

Another time, the rabbi was at a gas station on a Sunday morning when he saw an older man standing in front of his vintage car.

“I said ‘Good morning. Are you Jewish?’ He said he was. I asked him if he put on tefillin, and he said he never did. I said ‘Let’s do it right now.’ We had a bar mitzvah on a Sunday morning in a gas station.”

“I said ‘Good morning. Are you Jewish?’” he said. “He said he was. I asked him if he put on tefillin, and he said he never did. I said ‘Let’s do it right now.’ We had a bar mitzvah on a Sunday morning in a gas station.”

Chabad of Lake Balboa currently has 75 families, but it’s growing rapidly as more people move to the neighborhood. 

“The need is here,” Gurary said. “There are many Jewish families here, especially younger families, and there isn’t much Jewish infrastructure. It’s up and coming. It’s more affordable than Encino, Tarzana or Sherman Oaks.”

The Jewish teaching that guides Gurary in his work is from Proverbs Chapter 3, verses 5 and 6: “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

“Every day I wake up and remember that I’m here for a reason and a purpose,” he said. “I need to do whatever I need to do today to fulfill my purpose and make the world a better place. No matter what comes, it’s all meant to be in every situation. Every step I take and experience I have is for a reason.”

Fast Takes with Eli Gurary

Jewish Journal: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Eli Gurary: My wife’s challah. 

JJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t a rabbi?

EG: I would be in business, probably doing something in finance.

JJ: What’s your favorite spot in Los Angeles?

EG: Lately we’ve been taking in nature as much as possible. There are some really amazing trails in Burbank, Topanga and Agoura Hills.

JJ: What figure in Jewish history would you like to sit down and have a meal with?

EG: It would be Moses, for his unbelievable courage and unwavering faith in God. He dealt with all kinds of trials and tribulations in his life, but nonetheless led the Jewish people with devotion, care and love. 

Leave a Comment