LAKEVIEW — As he ventured outside late on a recent Friday night, Rabbi Baruch Hertz exclaimed, “It’s not that cold.”
But it was actually below freezing, at 10 p.m., and Hertz was getting ready to embark on a 5.5-mile walk with his wife, Chanie, three of their 11 children, and two of their kids’ friends.
The group was making the hike from Lakeview — where Hertz runs the Chabad center at 655 W. Irving Park Rd. — because it was Shabbat, the weekly Jewish holiday when Orthodox Jews are forbidden to operate machinery, turn electricity on or off, or drive.
So they set out on foot, in the bitter cold, from a Shabbat dinner at the center — which also teaches Hasidic values and customs to children and adults — to their home in West Rogers Park. There, Hertz has headed the Congregation B’Nei Ruven for nearly 21 years and serves as the dean of students at the 90-pupil Lubavitch Girls High School, which are both located at 6350 N. Whipple St.
“Almost, it’s if I wish I could do the walk every day,” Hertz, 47, said last week in the days before the walk. “When you walk, I get energized. We enjoy what we do.”
Hertz agreed to allow a reporter to join his group on the nearly two-hour journey on the condition the reporter not take notes or photos or do any sort of work during the actual walk.
The journey took the group west on Irving Park through Lakeview and North Center, northwest on Lincoln Avenue into the heart of Lincoln Square and finally north on California Avenue past Mather High School into West Rogers Park.
In that time, the group — which included three of Hertz’s sons, the oldest 12 years old — shared jokes and told Jewish stories. Discussions about Hanukkah, which begins Wednesday night, was one of the main themes.
There was only one stop. One of the friends had to use the restroom, and it was somewhat difficult to find one that was located in a business that had late-night hours and didn’t use electronic sliding doors. Finally, a Dunkin Donuts was found.
Hertz said he had made the walk once or twice a month for the last eight or nine years, regardless of the weather. During the High Holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, he will do it twice in one day. During some Shabbats, if he’s too tired or the weather is too dangerous, he will stay at a condo he owns in Lakeview.
“It’s an hours-long walk, but it’s not a big deal for him like it would be for many people,” said Amanda Swart, the office manager at B’Nei Ruven, who has yet to participate in the walk. “It’s routine for him.”
Hertz, who was born in the United States but grew up in London, has made many friends along the route of his walk. At Lincoln Square’s Le Cafe, which was closed by the time the group passed it Friday, employees have given them glasses of water, which can’t come from electric water fountains. Hertz also knows many workers who let him and guests use their businesses’ restrooms.
When told about the many great restaurants along their path, Hertz said he and his group are always oblivious to them and would never think about eating at any of them because they aren’t kosher.