Hailing the occasion as one imbued with “pride and joy,” Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz helped wield a giant pair of red scissors to cut a yellow ribbon to officially open the new home of Chabad of West Orange.
The town’s Mayor Robert Parisi; Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown; and philanthropist Jed Katz of Fort Lee joined the rabbi in the June 14 ceremony at the new facility at 401 Pleasant Valley Way some six months after services, meetings, and parties began there last December.
The 13,000-square-foot building “will give us a lot more space than the place we had next door at 395 Pleasant Valley Way,” Kasowitz told NJ Jewish News a few minutes before the ceremony began. “We have been growing by leaps and bounds.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of support that the community has shown us, and we are so excited. We welcome everyone to come and join us.”
The new building, which Chabad owns, includes a large multi-purpose room that will serve as a sanctuary, a party room, and a meeting space. In addition there is a children’s room, a kitchen, and a classroom.
Chabad actually moved into the new quarters after receiving a certificate of occupancy from West Orange a month ago but “we decided to hold our ceremony after we were finished doing work on the building,” Kasowitz said.
Currently the organization shares space with two tenants, Dr. Vitaly Fishbein and a real estate firm called the Silverman Group. Although Chabad intends to continue renting to these concerns “for the foreseeable future,” Kasowitz said, “We hope someday to have room to expand our activities.”
The rabbi expects to accommodate “on the other side of 500 people” for High Holy Day services, but “the 250 mark will be a step up from where we were in the past. We had an average of 200 people for the High Holy Days, but that space was too small.”
“This is a day many of us have been dreaming about for a long time. It is a very special day and a very special moment,” said Kasowitz as he opened the ceremony. Then he introduced Parisi as “a longtime friend of Chabad and the Jewish community.”
“I cut the grass and shoveled the snow at the building here long before I entered into public service,” Parisi said. “I saw this project unfold. It wasn’t so long ago that the rabbi came to my office with a picture and a plan and high hopes of making this happen. We are thrilled to officially welcome you to your new home.”
Kasowitz called Katz “a man of kindness and generosity who is a longtime supporter of Chabad and the Rabbinical College of America,” the Lubavitcher seminary in Morristown. He has pledged to finance the Holy Ark in the new West Orange facility.
In order to buy the building, Chabad had to raise $500,000 up front, and Katz “came up with a very large check” to help subsidize the down payment, said Kasowitz. “When I asked him, he said ‘Let’s do it, rabbi.’”
In brief remarks, Katz saluted fellow benefactors as “lamplighters of Chabad West Orange who are keeping the eternal lamp of this shul lit for all Jews — even for a wandering Jew like me.”
Once the ribbon was cut, many of the onlookers joined the dignitaries at the top of the stairs to pose for a group photograph.
Following the ceremony, some 230 guests took part in a dinner and awards presentation. Among the honorees were Chaim and Pnina Massoth, longtime members and supporters of Chabad of West Orange, and Dr. Vitaly and Nina Fishbein.
“Chabad West Orange has been a major part of our lives for almost 12 years,” Nina said. “We are truly one big family.”
She was followed at the podium by her husband, who told the gathering, “There is much more to accomplish, including new doors to the sanctuary, new carpet, and a new ark for the sanctuary. With your friendship and support we will do all this and more.”
The Ukrainian-born Vitaly Fishbein, a gastroenterologist, said he initially feared what might happen when Chabad bought the building that houses his medical office, “but Rabbi Kasowitz and his wife, Altie, made me feel at home.”
Describing the persecutions faced by Jews in his native land under the rule of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Fishbein said, “My father was imprisoned under the so-called ‘Doctors Plot’ and threatened with death. But after the dictator died in 1953, thousands of Jews were released from prison.
“While we suffered, we still managed to maintain our Jewish identity, and through Chabad and Rabbi Kasowitz, my family and I have been able to get closer to our Jewish roots.”
Among others saluted at the event were real estate broker Susanne Newmark, West Orange businessman Murray Palent, financial adviser Avi Laub, attorney Lawrence Levitt, project consultant Moshe Gutman, and architects Stephen Schwartz and Howard Coopersmith.