Richmond Hill, Ontario — Chabad Lubavitch of Richmond Hill will break ground for a new building on June 4.
It’s evident that larger quarters are needed as director Rabbi Mendel Bernstein gives a visitor a tour of the current 3,000-square-foot storefront at Bathurst Street and Elgin Mills Road on a recent weekday morning.
As preschool children are happily occupied with arts and crafts projects, Rabbi Bernstein opens a door into a modest-sized adjacent storage room. “On Shabbos, all the preschool stuff goes in here, and we take out the tables and chairs [for services],” he said.
On average, the Saturday morning service draws between 70 and 90 people, he added. “There is a real mix – Canadians, Russians, and a few Israelis.” Services are also held Monday, Thursday and Sunday mornings.
The rabbi and his wife, Toby, moved to Richmond Hill in 1997, and got the local Chabad off the ground in their home, using it as synagogue and preschool.
The 40-year-old father of nine – a native of London, England, who left there at age 15 to study in Israel, New York and South Africa – said he realized Richmond Hill was “underserved” when he ran a Chabad day camp in Thornhill and saw an increasing number of children from the area.
Currently, the closest synagogue in the area is Beit Rayim, a Conservative egalitarian congregation at Bayview and Weldrick avenues, about seven kilometres away, he said. It’s expected to move to UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s 50-acre Lebovic campus, about 3 kilometres south on Bathurst Street, in 2008.
Before Chabad moved to its current Richmond Hill quarters, the organization rented space at Yonge Street and Elgin Mills, but it “wasn’t practical,” according to Rabbi Bernstein, because most of the Jews in Richmond Hill live closer to Bathurst Street.
Chabad’s preschool has grown from 10 children the first year to a total of 100. The organization also runs a Sunday Hebrew school from senior kindergarten to Grade 7 at Silver Pines Public School, with just over 200 students.
The new Chabad Romano Centre will be located diagonally opposite the current location, on the west side of Bathurst, just south of Teston Road (the continuation of Elgin Mills).
The building, which Rabbi Bernstein expects will be open in late 2007, will have 25,000 square feet of space to house a school, a mikvah, and a sanctuary and auditorium that – combined – will accommodate more than 600 people. It will be located on a 2.5-acre site donated by land developer Mario Romano of Castlepoint Development.
Romano told The CJN that, when he was growing up in Buenos Aires, most of his neighbourhood friends were Jewish. Today, he added, his friends and the people he works with are also predominantly Jewish.
As well, he said, the Bathurst Street area around the planned centre is “basically… a Jewish community. I wanted to have respect for that.”
Chabad’s growth in the area is evidenced, among other things, by the recent hiring of Rabbi Shlomo Vorovitch as youth director.
The native of Siberia, who spent the past dozen years working at the Jewish Russian Community Centre, will be responsible for the Hebrew school and youth programs, including children’s Shabbat programs and a monthly “Youth Zone” program for children from ages six to 11.
Although he’s 38 years old and a father of five, Rabbi Vorovitch, a hockey buff who studied education in Moscow, says he’s “still a child inside.”
He is, however, planning to institute programs for parents next year as well.
“It’s important that parents know what their kids are learning,” said Rabbi Bernstein.