Rabbi Boruch Cohen
Rabbi Boruch Cohen PHOTOS BY Rob Streit

A place for Jews of all stripes to gather in Birmingham.

Rob Streit Special to the Jewish News

Fostering community is something of a Jewish specialty. Jews across the world have put down roots, bringing tradition and history in tow. Community provides a sense of place, self and continuity.

Rabbi Boruch Cohen and wife, Ita Leah, have staked their claim in the heart of downtown Birmingham. Their goal is to provide a place for all Jews to gather. The 36 Mystics Jewish Discovery Center is the manifestation of that goal.

“We wanted something where people would feel welcome and comfortable coming in. The tagline is ‘We’ve popped up, so you can drop in,’” Rabbi Cohen says.

36 Mystics is equal parts café, Judaica store, shul and community center. The center offers everything from Torah discussions to jazz nights. A toddler program even provides an early introduction to Hebrew. The Cohens stress that Jews of all denominations are welcome.

“It’s non-judgmental — Jews are Jews,” Ita Leah says. “It’s a place where they will feel at home to discover their Judaism, a local home away from home for everything Jewish.”

The playroom at 36 Mystics
The playroom at 36 Mystics
PHOTOS BY Rob Streit Rob Streit

The Cohens came to Birmingham in 2005 with the idea of growing the Jewish community in the city. Progress came in fits and starts, and finding a permanent location proved challenging. For the past three years, the rabbi has been working out of his house. In August, they moved into a storefront on East Maple Road. The original plan was to stay through December in a “pop-up” capacity, but 36 Mystics will likely remain for some time on a month-to-month basis.

Danielle Gill met Rabbi Cohen in 2012 when she and her husband moved to Birmingham from Miami. Gill has been a frequent visitor to 36 Mystics since its opening.

“We love being able to take our son to Shabbat services on Saturday mornings,” Gill says. “There is a children’s playroom adjacent to the prayer area where our toddler can both enjoy playing and listening to the morning services. My husband and I enjoy watching him get up from his toys to dance when he hears the congregation begin to sing.”

Gill also enrolled her son in the toddler Hebrew program. Her family has participated in Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot services. Rabbi Cohen even built a small sukkah in the alley behind the store for the occasion.

The Cohens want 36 Mystics to be a catalyst for cultivating community among Birmingham’s Jewish population. “Community is essential to Jewish identity and spirituality continuity. Community is person to person in the neighborhood,” the rabbi says. “To be part of the city was always the vision.”

The non-denominational approach is by design. By including Jews of various levels of observance, the Cohens make the center a spiritual hub.

“Jewish spirituality is very cool, very amazing, very inspiring. It covers all the things people do to try and see that part of themselves — the spiritual, the self, the balance. It’s all in Jewish spirituality,” Rabbi Cohen says.

Ita Leah echoes that sentiment. “Judaism is alive,” she says. “It’s not something you read in a book. You’re living it, you’re singing it and you’re dancing it. Judaism is rich.”

Holiday Events at 36 Mystics

Nov. 28
7:30 p.m. “The Miracle of Olive Oil in Dips & Dressings.” A perfect pre-Chanukah women’s evening. Learn about the amazing properties of olive oil along with a variety of ways to use it in dips and dressings, with special guest Naomi Elberg. $36 covers refreshments and take-home samples. RSVP to alcohen770@gmail.com.

Dec. 4
7 p.m. Join 36 Mystics at the annual community gathering to light the city menorah in Birmingham’s Shain Park.

Dec. 6
8 p.m. A live performance by the talented happy “Hassids,” the three-man acoustic band Simply Tsfat based in Safed, Israel, followers of the legendary Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Register at www.36mystics.org/thursday-registration.html.

36 Mystics Jewish Discovery Center is located at 361 E. Maple Road in downtown Birmingham. For more information, go to www.36mystics.org or follow it on Facebook.

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