Chabad of West Orange launched a $3 million capital campaign to purchase a larger building just next door to its current space on Pleasant Valley Way.
Announced at its annual dinner on June 2, a successful campaign will enable the organization, affiliated with the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic outreach movement, to move into a larger space for worship, lectures, and other programs.
“This past Shavuos, we ran out of chairs,” said Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, program director at Chabad of West Orange, in an interview. “Every week, from Hanukka until just before Pesach, it’s been so full we’ve had to buy more siddurim and humashim….
“Thank God the community is growing so much.”
In order to meet its goal of closing on the new building at the beginning of January 2015, Chabad will have to raise a $500,000 down payment. The campaign launched with pledges totaling about $166,000. The lease on the current Chabad building ends in June 2015.
In 1996, before founding West Orange Chabad, Rabbi Boruch Klar and his wife, Devorah, opened a store, Lubavitch Center Judaica, at 456 Pleasant Valley Way. Three years later, they began running a beginners’ service at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David, just up the road from the store. Within two years the service outgrew its space in that synagogue and moved to the store’s basement, and Rabbi Mendy and Altie Kasowitz were hired to help grow the shul, adding events and classes.
Rabbi Kasowitz estimated that when he arrived, 30-40 people attended on any given Shabbat morning, while the crowds at their Friday night dinner “probably were a fire hazard,” he quipped, with 70-80 people.
In 2005, Chabad of West Orange moved into space across from the store, at 395 Pleasant Valley Way, a low-slung professional building. Currently, about 100 people come every Shabbat, according to Kasowitz, and more on holidays.
When the new building — at 401 Pleasant Valley Way — became available, Chabad of West Orange jumped, largely because of the location. “We’ve been looking and looking. When this presented itself next door, well, moving will be relatively easy,” Kasowitz said.
The new building, a 13,000-square-foot structure divided into several offices, is currently leased by a variety of tenants. Chabad will move into one large space, occupied now by the West Orange Blood Center. The other tenants will remain for at least the next five years, as will the blood center, which is moving into an adjoining office. At that time, Chabad plans to take over that space as well and knock down the wall in between.
Ultimately, Kasowitz said, he would like to see the entire building as a Chabad house. In 10 to 20 years, he said, he’d like to renovate the building so that it includes a synagogue, senior center, school, youth lounge, kitchen, and lecture hall.
Initially, however, no substantial work will be done beyond adding some outside lighting and working on ceilings and floors, he said.
As for raising $500,000 in six months, Kasowitz said, “It’s a challenge, and I know what I’m up against. There are so many worthy causes. But people are extremely excited about our plans, and they are getting on board.”
As an independent entity, Chabad of West Orange will not receive funding from the Lubavitch Center of Essex County or the Rabbinical College of America. “The full responsibility falls on our shoulders,” he said.
When it started, Chabad of West Orange attracted mostly unaffiliated families with little formal Jewish education. Over time, according to Kasowitz, it grew and as more people came it “transformed into a more traditional service. Then some Orthodox people started to come.”
Today, it attracts people from across the denominations, according to Kasowitz. “It’s a melting pot of a wide spectrum of Jews,” he said.