The rebbe’s new soldier: Chabad to open in Old Tappan

The rebbe’s new soldier: Chabad to open in Old Tappan

Lubavitch on the Palisades, run by Rabbi Mordechai Shain, right, will sponsor the effort of Rabbi Mendy Lewis, left, to start a Chabad outpost in Old Tappan with part of the multimillion-dollar estate left to him by Herman Stern.

Chabad-Lubavitch will extend its New Jersey outreach later this summer when it opens a post in Old Tappan that will also serve Northvale, Rockleigh, and Harrington Park.

Once the Old Tappan outpost is up and running, Chabad will have six centers in Bergen County and one in Hudson County, in Hoboken, but the new center was needed, according to Rabbi Mordechai Shain, the director of Lubavitch on the Palisades in Tenafly.

At present, Shain’s Tenafly Chabad house covers the Old Tappan region, which ranges from Tenafly to Route 9W, but that area is too large and has too many Jewish families for one center alone, he said.

"We have around 4,000 families in the area," he said. "How am I ever going to have close relationships with 4,000 families? It’s impossible. In order to be successful, you have to be able to divide the area. Think of it like an army. You have to be able to divide certain locations. One general goes here, the other there."

Shain, whose center serves about 600 families, estimated that the four-town segment the new outpost will cover has about 900 Jewish families.

Lubavitch, a chasidic sect that was founded in 18th-century Russia by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, has its world headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. But spurred mostly by its last grand rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the organization has focused on outreach, setting up outposts in virtually every city in the world where even a few Jews may live. It now has upwards of ‘00,000 followers and countless others who visit Chabad centers, according to some estimates.

Chabad International dispatches young Lubavitch-ordained rabbis and their wives to areas with no Chabad centers to start outposts.

According to Shain, while Chabad International oversees the organization’s global outreach, the globe is subdivided into country, state, county, and region. He oversees the northwest New Jersey region, and therefore the genesis of this new outpost, providing seed money, and hiring a rabbi.

The Old Tappan area has no synagogues, despite the number of Jewish families there.

"The Chabad motto is that if [Jews] are there, we will find them," said Shain. "Hitler used that in a negative way. The rebbe [Schneerson] told us to use that in a positive way. We are going to find them and embrace them."

Shain enlisted Rabbi Mendy Lewis and his wife Devorah to start the new Chabad house. Lewis, who was raised Lubavitch in London, has been running a Hebrew school and a camp in an assistant’s role at the Chabad house in Port Washington, N.Y. He told The Jewish Standard that he plans to find a house that will serve as his center and move into it within the next month or so. His first project will be organizing prayer services for the High Holy Days.

From there, he will start networking, meeting with community members one at a time, and trying to assess what the area needs and wants in terms educational opportunities. He said that he will most likely give classes that start with a very basic introduction to Judaism.

"The ultimate goal is to try to bring a positive Jewish feeling to the community and to show that Judaism has a lot to offer the people of Old Tappan," said Lewis, who just turned 30. "The goal is to give them the opportunities, and when they are ready, we would love to see them grow in their Judaism. But we are not the pushy type. We’re not going to grab people by the neck. We’re not the missionary types. We will tell them what we have to offer, and when they are comfortable, they will get involved."

Typically, Chabad gives its rabbis a little bit of seed money to start centers, and then it is up to them to make the center financially viable through local fund-raising. In this case, Lubavitch on the Palisades will get Lewis started and will provide him with a salary for two years.

Lubavitch on the Palisades recently inherited the fortune of Herman S. Stern, who left his entire estate to the Tenafly Chabad when he died in February of ‘005. Shain said that the value of Stern’s estate was still being tallied, but that the real estate mogul, who didn’t believe in banks and used gold bars as door stops, left "somewhere between $1 million and $’00 million — and it’s not ‘ million" — to the Chabad center, which is now building a sprawling campus in Tenafly in Stern’s name.

Shain said that after he hired Lewis, he and his new charge went to the Schneerson’s gravesite in Queens, for final symbolic approval.

"We went to the rebbe’s kever, wrote the whole contract, and asked for a blessing," he said. "It’s not like we got a response…. We went to pray. It’s like going to the Western Wall."

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