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Tenafly Chabad Seeks to Expand Facilities for 7th Time

The Record

Rabbi Mordechai Shain and his Chabad House in Tenafly, NJ

Lubavitch on the Palisades is preparing to seek expansion approvals, and history shows it’s gotten the routine down seamlessly, from passing municipal reviews to communicating with the community.

Seven times in the past 14 years, the center has filed applications before city boards to expand its Harold Street quarters. Each time, it was successful in earning official approvals.

The center’s executive director, Rabbi Mordechai Shain, is preparing paperwork to go before the zoning board for permission to expand by another 10,000 square feet on recently acquired property.

The 50,000-square-foot building now houses a sanctuary, playground, social hall and library and classrooms to accommodate a synagogue and preschool. This past year, the school added a first grade. In September, the school will launch a second-grade program and every year thereafter, a new grade will be added, said Shain, who dreams of extending the program through high school.

The expansion that Shain hopes to file for will likely include a gym and 10 classrooms to accommodate the growing elementary school, he said, adding that construction should be completed by September 2012.

Shain laments that after nursery, many local parents feel compelled to switch their children to Tenafly’s school system because it provides high-level education for free.

“Private school tuition is expensive,” he said. “My vision is to offer the best secular education and the best Jewish education together at a low cost.”

Tuition at Lubavitch, also called Chabad, for second grade is roughly $10,000, compared with other area Jewish schools that charge upward of $14,000.

In September, Shain will see the largest enrollment in his school’s 12-year history, with 260 students and a waiting list. Enrollment at the school is at a record high, said Sonya Solomon, the school’s assistant director, and the school tries to accommodate every student who wants to attend. “Every year, enrollment continues to grow and our wait lists grow longer.”

As for his approach to Tenafly’s review boards, Shain said, “I don’t fight them, I do whatever they tell me. If they want another drain system, I say fine. Another parking space? I don’t fight it, I work with them. We went through a lot of engineering the last time, but at the end, we were never rejected.”

As part of the previous agreement, Chabad repaved Harold Street, landscaped all around the building and constructed new sidewalks.

Mayor Peter Rustin attributed Shain’s success to his understanding of the system.

“He has come into Borough Hall,” said Rustin, “and says ‘This is what I’d like to do and how do I go about doing it?’ and that’s the right way. As a result, he figured out the path of least resistance.”

An examination of the zoning board minutes from 2004 indicates that some neighbors were concerned about the size of the facility and the traffic it would bring. Calls to some of those neighbors for this story went unreturned.

Shain confirms that some neighbors were opposed to his first expansion, “but we made friends with them,” he said.

Rustin agrees that the fears about the building have been put to rest. Pointing out that many of the lots and businesses surrounding the center are run-down, he said, “The appearance of his building is a lot nicer than what’s around it — it’s enhanced the area.”

The Chabad Center performs community outreach with children, teens and older adults, said Barry Rubin, administrator of the County Manor Rehabilitation Healthcare Center.

Rubin added that Shain visits the residents of his nursing home weekly to provide counseling, and the children of the Chabad school come for programs.

“It’s a very welcoming type of center that reaches out to various parts of the community,” he said.

The Chabad center also has offered its building to County Manor for emergency evacuation purposes, he added, concluding, “They are great neighbors.”


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