Each day almost 40 children gather at Cheder Menachem in North Brunswick to learn the teachings of the Rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that are so central to the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
On Jan. 25 they were joined by students from five other Chabad day schools in the metropolitan area to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Schneerson’s ascension as leader of the hasidic movement. The enjoyed playful sketches, spirited prayer, singing, and a kid-friendly lunch.
Like the children who attend the Cheder Menachem school, the other 85 youngsters who took part in the celebration are the children of Chabad emissaries serving at outreach centers throughout Middlesex and Mercer counties and Bucks County in Pennsylvania. While the Chabad movement is committed to performing outreach to Jews of all backgrounds, the schools provide a setting for the emissaries to educate their own children according to Chabad’s tenets.
Cheder Menachem is directed by Chanie Zaklikovsky — who runs the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe with her husband, Rabbi Eliezer — and Goldie Azimov — who runs the Chabad of South Brunswick with her husband, Rabbi Levi.
The school was established seven years ago in the Princeton basement of Rabbi Dovid Dubov of the Chabad of Mercer County. It ended up last year in rented space at Congregation B’nai Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue in North Brunswick.
“This was the best option for us,” said Chanie Zaklikovsky. “We were in a crisis, but we’ve found a wonderful home at B’nai Tikvah. This has worked out for everybody.”
Mendel, Goldie Azimov’s fourth-grade son, said he liked the school because “I have other rabbis’ children in my class and these other kids are just like me.”
Such Chabad schools have been springing up in various spots across the country, Zaklikovsky said. Cheder Menachem was one of the first, and other schools have used it as a model.
Rabbi Zalman Markowitz, an educational consultant based at Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said the schools were especially necessary in areas where “a strong Orthodox education is not available.”
The pre-K through fourth- grade school is registered with the state, has a staff of seven, and offers both Judaic and secular instruction. While Zaklikovsky said that all Jewish schools instill the importance of tikun olam (repairing the world), Cheder Menachem focuses on “giving back to the community from a young age.”
“We teach the same math, social studies, science, and Torah as any other school, but here the Rebbe’s teachings are a large part of the curriculum,” said Zaklikovsky. “We only go up to the fourth grade because we’re just doing this until our children are old enough to travel to other schools.”
Student Uziel Weinstein, whose father, Rabbi Aryeh, is adult education director at the Chabad of Bucks County in Newtown, Pa., said he comes to Cheder Menachem to learn to “bring people closer together and to bring more Yiddishkeit to our communities.”
Rivka Goldenberg, a third-grader whose mother, Dina, is a teacher at Cheder Menachem and whose father, Rabbi Yitzhak, is director of the Chabad/Young Israel of Lawrenceville, said she liked the school, especially art, but had nothing to compare it with.
“It’s where I went my whole life,” giggled the eight-year-old.