After a decade of local wanderings, Chabad Jewish Center of Northwest Bergen County is in contract to purchase a former church as its permanent Franklin Lakes address.
“The building fits us like a glove,” says Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan, director since the inception of this Lubavitch center in 2000. “We’ll have classrooms, a 200-seat sanctuary that will double as a space for programs and celebrations, and office space.”
Until now, the center’s growing roster of programs has been housed in several locations. High Holiday services have been held in Ramapo High School’s 650-seat auditorium for the past two years. A Hebrew school, directed by Kaplan’s wife, Mimi, meets at a rented facility in Oakland. Community holiday programs are held at the Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School of North Jersey in Oakland, and Kaplan teaches classes at his home in Franklin Lakes.
The leadership of the Chabad Center expressed interest in the property owned by Reformed Bible Fellowship three years ago, but until now a tenant church has been renting it. In the fall, Chabad received word that the tenant intends to move, and discussions began. Following the necessary approvals on both sides, the center expects to close on the sale at the end of June, do a bit of remodeling, and open in time for the start of the Hebrew school and High Holiday season.
“We have a committee guiding the process of fund-raising, and we are open to people wanting to make dedications in memory or honor of somebody or just to do something for the community,” says Kaplan. He estimates the cost of purchase and renovation to be about $2 million. In addition, the center will purchase a parsonage for the Kaplans, as their present home is not within walking distance of the new location.
Kaplan described a growing Chabad community, which draws about 250 active families mainly from Wyckoff, Franklin Lakes, Oakland, and Mahwah. Jews in this vicinity also are served by Beth Haverim in Mahwah, Barnert Temple and Temple Emanuel in Franklin Lakes, and Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, but Chabad is the sole Orthodox synagogue and community center in the area.
“We are here to bolster and augment the wonderful organizations already here, and add a special ingredient. My wife and I are full-time, 24/7,” says Kaplan. “We’re here to share our lives with the community.” They’re aided by volunteers and 13 paid staffers at the Hebrew school for about 100 children from pre-K to bar/bat mitzvah age. Mimi Kaplan, expecting the couple’s sixth child, also directs a summer camp.
“When we first came, we decided it was a great community with growth potential and open to what Chabad offers,” the rabbi says. “Our approach is unique – very open and engaging, actively reaching out to the community. For some it was tradition they were interested in, while others were seeking Jewish educational and cultural opportunities. People come to us for many different reasons and we try to accommodate everybody.”
Kaplan leads a public menorah-lighting on Chanukah at Wyckoff and Mahwah town halls. “In Wyckoff, we had 30 people at the lighting the first year, and now it’s upwards of 300,” he reports.
On rotating Friday nights, Chabad hosts Shabbat Around the World, a themed family dinner; an abridged beginners service; and Tot Shabbat for parents and young children. At weekly Saturday morning services, the congregation has celebrated bar and bat mitzvahs, baby-namings, and other lifecycle events.
In addition, the Kaplans have established local chapters of Lubavitch initiatives such as the multimedia Jewish Learning Institute adult education program; the Women’s Circle; Youth Zone, a social action club for third- to eighth-graders; a winter break camp; Cteen and JLI Teen groups; and Friendship Club, which pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children.
“Our primary focus with our Friendship Club is Sunday Circle, a light Jewish-education program for children for special needs, where the kids come together with the volunteers and a professional for crafts and songs,” says Kaplan.
For Purim, beginning at sundown March 19, Chabad of Northwest Bergen will host a Saturday night event for adults with a comedian; the next day, the Hebrew school families and community are invited to a “Purim in Israel” party featuring Israeli crafts, entertainment, and cuisine.
“The connecting theme of everything we do is Jewish-oriented and meant to inspire,” says Kaplan, who grew up in a family of Chabad emissaries in Maryland. “We were the pioneers there, and that’s the type of life in which I found meaning and fulfillment. Being a Chabad rabbi is an opportunity to teach my children what it means to give to others and the importance of every individual.”
|Rendering provided by Chabad Jewish Center of Northwest Bergen County|