Ahavath Torah: Chabad at Short Hills has acquired a new home on South Orange Avenue in Livingston, the site of the former Don’s Restaurant. Religious leader Rabbi Mendel Solomon called it “a dream that has been a long time coming.”
After the May 26 real estate closing, Solomon, who has led the congregation along with his wife, Chana Devorah, for 22 years, said, “We are absolutely elated. On the one hand, we are overwhelmed by the enormous task ahead; on the other hand, we are energized for the task ahead.”
Between its earlier incarnation and what will become a Chabad center, the 4.2-acre property, at the corner of White Oak Ridge Road and South Orange Avenue in Livingston, housed a Tutor Time day care center, which closed in 2014 and moved to West Orange. Solomon said plans call for the congregation’s new home to be ready in time for Rosh HaShanah, which begins the evening of Sept. 20. There are no plans to change the current footprint of the building.
Calling the $3.5 million purchase from TMB Partners “a miracle and a blessing,” Solomon said, “It’s a milestone for the community, for everyone who has believed in the cause and stuck with it.”
The interior is well on its way to its transformation from a day care to a Jewish community center serving about 160 member families plus another 65 or so who are affiliated in some way short of membership. The space is being renovated and retrofitted in two phases. The first focuses on the main floor, encompassing about 13,000 square feet, where a sanctuary, social hall, and teen and youth minyan room will be located, along with multiple classrooms and offices, bathrooms, and a coat room. A second phase at a later date will take on the building’s lower floor, with approximately the same square footage.
Some external changes are also in the works, including new landscaping, signage, and an enlarged entrance.
The purchase was completed in part with proceeds from the sale of two properties, 316 and 320 White Oak Ridge Road in Short Hills. The Chabad group had been operating as a synagogue and community center at the latter address since 2000. Before finding the Livingston location in November of 2015, the community had acquired the second property in Short Hills and had filed for zoning variances to create a larger building at that site.
To add to the proceeds from the sale, the Chabad has launched a fundraising campaign with a $3 million goal.
“We want to create a beautiful, intimate, heimish space,” said Solomon. The aim is to achieve “a balance between being intimate enough to feel close-knit, but to be able to expand for High Holy Days and special occasions.”
The site requires no variances and no additional restrictions.
Earlier plans for the site stirred controversy. The previous owner of the property, TMB Partners, had planned a development with over 60 units, 12 set aside for affordable housing. It was met with opposition from area residents and fell through. The current agreement will divide the property into the Chabad area and an area where the affordable housing units will be built by TMB.
Ahavath Torah began in 1993 as “Izzy’s Shul,” a small Orthodox minyan started by Isadore Spiegel in his Short Hills home. Solomon began leading services in 1995, originally on a part-time basis.
A ceremonial ground breaking will be held in July.