The simcha was 25 years in the making. On Sept. 6, Rabbi Mendel and Chana Devora Solomon cut the ribbon on the new building of Ahavath Torah-Chabad at Short Hills (Center for Jewish Life). The synagogue is located on 14.2 acres at the corner of South Orange Avenue and White Oak Ridge Road, the former site of a Tutor Time day-care center.
More than 250 guests came to celebrate the occasion. It felt more like a wedding than a ribbon cutting, as one guest
“This is not just a fancy new building,” said Sherry Izak of Livingston. “Everyone is so personally happy for Rabbi Solomon and for Chana. Everyone loves them and wants to share the joy and be a part of the community. They are the most special people. There’s so much love. That’s why it feels like a wedding.”
The new building is technically in Livingston, at the Short Hills border, but no matter. The mayor of Millburn was among the guests along with the mayor of Livingston, the entire Livingston town council, and a bevy of local rabbis, including Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of the modern Orthodox Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz of the Reform Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, as well as Rabbi Moshe Herson, Chabad Lubavitch’s head shaliach for the State of New Jersey.
In his remarks at the evening’s ribbon cutting, Solomon tipped his hat to the site’s popular history, calling the building “Don’s: The Remake.” (For decades, it was the site of Don’s Restaurant, a beloved burger place that closed in the mid-1990s.)
“It’s the heart of a new community,” Izak told NJJN.
The Solomons’ entrée to Short Hills began in 1993, when they drove past what was known as “Izzy’s shul,” then a small Orthodox minyan located at the home of Isadore Spiegel. Solomon came to lead the group part-time in 1995. That handful of families slowly grew to several hundred members under Solomon’s eventual full-time leadership. In 2000, the congregation moved to a home at 320 White Oak Ridge Rd. in Short Hills.
The search for a bigger site for the congregation began in earnest about five years ago when they realized they were outgrowing their space. A long court battle over tearing down the existing 2,800-square-foot building and replacing it with a 7,000-square-foot center ended with the denial of a zoning variance.
Chana, ever optimistic, recalled in her remarks that at the time, “I said, ‘God must have another plan.’” And then in 2016, they found the Tutor Time site. They closed on it in May 2017 with a $3.5 million price tag and began renovations that summer.
Both Solomons have referred to their new location as a “miracle.” “God had indeed chosen a home for Himself in Short Hills,” said Chana. “He wasn’t satisfied with the little home on White Oak Ridge Road … This, here, is what He wanted, and this, here, is what He got … Every one of us in this room today are part of this miracle.”
The first round of renovations, focusing on the 13,000-foot ground floor, included creating a sanctuary, grand lobby, social hall, four classrooms, teen lounge, administrative offices, coat room, and storage space.
“It really is to see a dream fulfilled and witness the perseverance,” said Taryn Berelowitz of Livingston. “I’m so excited to see all these faces and the community that Rabbi Solomon and Chana are inspiring. He’s a rabbi with a following, not a synagogue with a rabbi. I’m so proud to be a part of it.”