Located in the heart of downtown, Silverstein Base Hillel's new South Loop site takes meaningful Jewish programming for students and young adults high into the sky.
Rav Ezra Balser and his wife, Laura Elkayam, an attorney at Much Shelist P.C., welcome students and young adults into their home in a high-rise for nightly events.
Base Loop serves undergraduate students from UIC, Columbia College, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IIT, and Roosevelt University, along with more than 1,000 Jewish graduate students and a growing population of young adult Jews in the Loop area.
From "Pasta and Parsha" -- a weekly Torah portion study -- to Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations, including a recent "Sukkah in the Sky" on their rooftop balcony, Balser and Elkayam engage their guests in a vibrant, food-filled exploration of Jewish life.
"It is important for us to open up our home for people who want to celebrate the holidays and want to do so in an authentic and home-based environment," said Balser, who is called Rav Ezra by everyone who comes into their home.
Creating meaningful connections to Israel is also core to the work they do at Base Loop. "We are deeply connected to the mosaic of Israel's history, language, music, and cuisine," Elkayam said.
Base Loop follows in the footsteps of the first Silverstein Base Hillel in Lincoln Park, an initiative of JUF's Metro Chicago Hillel generously underwritten by brothers, Bill, Ted, and Tom Silverstein and led by Rabbi Megan and Paige GoldMarche.
"The expansion of Silverstein Base Hillel to the Loop is an incredible opportunity, and we're already seeing the impact on our participants," said Charles Cohen, the executive director of Metro Chicago Hillel. "It's created a whole new dynamic in the Loop, transforming Jewish life for the students and young adults who connect with Laura and Rav Ezra."
Since opening Base Loop in August, Balser and Elkayam have worked closely with the GoldMarches to align their mission and programming. "We are really continuing the work that Rabbi Megan and Paige were doing for two years before we arrived," Balser said. "They worked tirelessly to foster relationships with many students and young professionals. They were so successful, that they championed what has become the new Base model: to create a dynamic and meaningful Jewish community for both undergraduates and young professionals."
Balser and Elkayam are drawn to the three pillars of the Base Hillel program: learning, service, and - especially -- hospitality. They aim to help their guests make a seamless transition from Jewish student to Jewish young adult by providing an authentic model of Jewish living with a priority on pluralism.
In the few months since Base Loop's inception, they have shared hundreds of homemade meals with their guests, creating a gathering place for students and young adults in the area to eat, worship, celebrate, and learn together.
"During the holidays, we sort of played Base and synagogue," Balser said. In fact, they held Yom Kippur services in their home with 80 people attending the morning of the holiday. They closed Yom Kippur with about 30 guests attending a break-the-fast and Neilah (closing Yom Kippur service) reading on the balcony surrounded by spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the city all around.
"Our goal is to offer ourselves as a model of Jewish living in a way that fosters acceptance of other people's lives and their choices," Balser said.
By opening their home, Balser and Elkayam invite guests to experience Jewish life and encourage them to explore their own Jewish journeys in the safe, welcoming environment they provide.
Base Loop also engages guests through learning events like a monthly mysticism class. Balser led the first "Mystical Kiddush in the Enchanted Forest" in October. Participants gathered for a lunch picnic in the Enchanted Forest at Maggie Daley Park to learn about kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).
Through events like these, students can "access to serious content and authentic Jewish life no matter who they are or where they're coming from," Balser said. "Our goal is to offer ourselves as a model of Jewish living in a way that fosters acceptance of other people's lives and their choices."
For more information, visit www.basehillel.org/Loop. The Silverstein Base Hillel is made possible through generous support from the Silverstein Family, the Crown Family, and Anonymous.