Less than two years after a beloved nine-year-old boy’s passing stunned the tight-knit Jewish community in Nassau County, N.Y.’s Five Towns area, approximately 2,200 residents joined friends and family to dedicate a one-of-a-kind library and media center in his memory.
Part library, part museum, the new Levi Yitzchak Jewish Children’s Library has something for everyone, said co-director and mother Chanie Wolowik, who also serves as program director at Chabad-Lubavitch of the Five Towns. The community-run facility targets children, but it also offers books on parenting and education, and its plethora of hands-on activities focuses on encouraging creativity among all visitors.
“This is a destination point for all the children of the neighborhood,” said Wolowik, who lost her son in February 2009. “We want them to want to come.”
With balloons overhead and the laughter of children in the background, a teary-eyed Rabbi Zalman Wolowik told the crowd gathered outside the library’s 5,000-square-foot storefront on Cedarhurst’s busy Central Avenue that Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was a proper tribute to his son, a boy who touched the hearts of all those around him.
“It is most fitting to replace a candle with a candle, [to ensure that] the flame should continue to burn,” said the rabbi. “This is through the candle of a [good deed] and the light of the teachings of the Torah, which will illuminate throughout.”
Chanie Wolowik and co-director Lisa Hawk envisioned the library as a resource for families from across Long Island. In addition to its Jewish-themed children’s and parenting books, it features a research center, computer lab, writing workshop, puppet theatre and multimedia collection.
“It’s open to everyone,” said Wolowik. “Anybody who wants to learn about Judaism is welcome.”
At the dedication ceremony, Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew J. Parise presented the Chabad center with a proclamation. He called the Feb. 28, 2009 passing of Levi Yitzchak Wolowik a “sudden, tragic loss.” But in the midst of his parents’ pain, he noted, they remained committed to nurturing the lives of those around them.
“Levi’s remarkable parents,” said Parise, “have decided to turn their tragedy into triumph.”
Janice Davis served as the library’s interior designer.
“I’ve been designing for more than 20 years, and this has been the most rewarding and wonderful project ever,” she enthused.
After Levi Yitzchak Wolowik’s brothers cut the ribbon, guests toured the new facility, passing through a long corridor representing the seven days of Creation before entering a large room sporting a giant train filled with children’s books and offering seats to young readers.
The train sported a hands-on Chanukah exhibit – the eight-day Festival of Lights begins Wednesday night – of handmade menorahs created by Five Towns children.
“The light shines brightly at Chabad of the Five Towns”, exclaimed Binyomin Muller, lay president of the Chabad House. “We are here dedicating a library to the memory of Levi Yitzchak Wolowik, who was also a light among people. We started with nothing and we now have an institution that will be a model for children’s libraries around the world.”
For her part, Hawk was overjoyed at its success.
“To me, it’s just so surreal,” she related. “We have been working on this for 20 months night and day. This is all we’ve been thinking about, and it’s just so special to see everybody coming out to join us, to be a part of it.”
Her husband, Barry Hawk, agreed.
“We are extremely thankful for everyone that has committed to the project and has worked on it,” he said. “An army of volunteers and a tremendous amount of donors stepped up to make this a success, and we just thank G-d for helping us pull off this great institution.”
For more information and to donate to the Levi Yitzchak Jewish Children’s Library, click here.
This article was originally published by Chabad Lubavitch Media Center / Chabad.org