Inside the building that once housed the iconic Don’s Restaurant, then Max’s Café, and later the Tutor Time childcare enter, a crowd of about 100 gathered for a ground-breaking ceremony that might have been more aptly labeled a “come-and-see-what-we’ve-done-so-far-with-the-place” event.
After a long and winding search, Ahavat Torah-Chabad at Short Hills closed in May on the property at the corner of South Orange Avenue and White Oak Ridge Road. Construction began over the summer, but a formal ceremony originally planned for July had to be postponed. The delay notwithstanding, the atmosphere was celebratory as Rabbi Mendel Solomon and his wife Chana introduced their community to the 13,000-square-foot interior — gutted and already redesigned — showing off what will become a sanctuary, a social hall, offices, and classrooms. The visitors, munching on doughnuts and drinking coffee, also got to see what would become a teen lounge, library, kitchen, conference room, coat room, and rest rooms.
Two local municipal officials — Mayor Cheryl Burstein of Millburn Township and Michael Silverman, Livingston’s former mayor and current town council member — welcomed the community to its future home. Though technically in Livingston, the site borders Short Hills, where Chabad at Short Hills has been located since its inception in 1993.
The congregational and civic leaders congratulated one another, donned ceremonial hard hats, took photos with gold-colored shovels, toured the space, and headed outside to light the large chanukiah, which cast its shadow over the construction trucks and equipment in the parking lot.
Solomon, who has led the congregation since 1995, joked that, like the oil for the menorah in the Temple that should have lasted only one day and burned instead for eight, “Something that should have lasted one year has lasted for 22,” he said referring to the wait time for the new building. He pointed out the auspicious nature of dedicating the new site during the holiday of Chanukah, whose name means “dedication.”
Solomon expressed the hope that the building would become for the community “a home of love, a home of light, a home of prayer, a home of study, a home of chesed and compassion.”
Long time Chabad at Short Hills member David Slater said, “We’ve had a strong community for many years. What this does is give it a ‘faceplate.’
“Now,” he added, “we have a home.”
Jared Berelowitz, 15, said, “It’s a big change,” while Jamie Kaplan, 14, added, “It’s very surreal. I remember when [Rabbi Mendel and Chana Solomon] were commuting to [the old location on] White Oak Ridge Road from Morristown, and now it’s like a real shul.”
Solomon promised that when the building is up and running, there will be “a glatt kosher, Don’s-sponsored kiddush,” meaning a meal serving up Don’s-style hot dogs and hamburgers, for the area’s old-timers who fondly remember the landmark restaurant.
A grand opening event will be held at the time of the building’s completion, now expected before Passover.