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Be’er Sheva’s Largest, Newest Jewish Center Draws Crowds

Chabad of Beer Sheva has a new, four story home. Dedicated earlier this month, the interior, tiled in desert palette of neutrals, fitted with fixtures that would be at home in a Vegas hotel, is the the fulfillment of a twelve-year fundraising campaign. Judging by the crowds flocking to it on a recent Wednesday, the effort is paying off.

“Be’er Sheva is the city of Abraham our forefather. Three thousand years ago, he welcomed strangers into his tent provided for their needs and taught them. Now this beautiful Chabad house will be used for the same goal,” said Rabbi Zalman Gorelick, Chabad’s senior representative in Beer Sheva for over two decades, and the flagship of Beer Sheva’s 11 Chabad centers.

Called “Moses’ Tent” both in honor of donor Michael Miriashvilli’s father and a nod to Abraham, the ivory building easily outclasses its patched stucco surroundings. In honor of the new landmark, municipal authorities of Be’er Sheva renamed the block Lubavitcher Rebbe Lane. Other surrounding streets are named for socialist philosopher Moses Hess, Zionist leader Menachem Ussishkin, and kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchok Kaduri.

Pausing alongside the street sign, Simona Turgamon says she comes to Chabad just about every week to use the Jewish library. She used to visit Chabad’s library when it was in old building, a small two-story home across the street.

“The library was in the bomb shelter. It was small and tight,” said Mrs. Turgamon.

In its new incarnation, the library is sunlit with enough shelves to house the 10,000-item collection. Each month librarian Mira Druk makes the 2-hour trip to booksellers in Jerusalem’s Geulah neighborhood to buy the newest in Hebrew-language juvenile and adult Jewish fiction, non-fiction and comics. French and Russian titles are available, but in smaller numbers.

Ora Sara Salam, 11, says she comes at least a few times a week to meet new friends. “Otherwise summer is so boring that I’d rather be in school.”

Nine years ago, the library opened with 17 members. Today there are about 800, a number Mrs. Druk expects will grow as word about the library’s new location spreads.

A group of Russian-speaking seniors amble past the library and the synagogue where an afternoon prayer service is about to start and climb the stairs to the second floor. They wait for Rabbi Leibel Artovsky’s weekly Torah class in Russian to begin.

Leah Finkelstein formerly of St. Petersburg attends assiduously. “When I lived in Russia all I knew was I had a Jewish name and that I was Jewish. We are always thankful that there is a man here to teach us.”

Until Jews from the former Soviet Union immigrated to Israel en masse in the 1990s, Beer Sheva’s population was dominated by Jews with middle eastern and north African roots. Out of the 250 or so synagogues in the city, fewer than 10 percent are Ashkenazi, according to Rabbi Gorelick. Today a quarter to a third of the population is Russian speaking. Ethiopian Jews are another significant minority in the city, Israel’s seventh most populous.

On the third floor of the building, Tzippy Bazel hurried around a classroom, draping tables with gold damask cloths. As the administrator of Ohr Chaya, a Jerusalem-based women’s study program whose Beer Sheva branch is headquartered in the center, Mrs. Bazel rushed to ready the room for that evening’s class. Over the course of the year, 800 women participate in the programs. The lecture material and PowerPoint for the lecture series about the history, appearance and meaning of the Holy Temple were developed by Chabad of Beer Sheva think tank.

At the head of the “Secrets of the Torah” think tank is Rabbi Yisrael Haber, a Chabad representative devoted to adult education hired through a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation. He, local Chabad rabbis and lay scholars have developed course material, presentations, videos and workbooks for classes now being used in Chabad centers across Israel, Russia, France, and Argentina. One of their latest releases, a 10-part Tanya course, was translated into German.

Alongside the tables where the think tank meets, workers hoist coils of wire. Wooden shelves, lighting fixtures, containers of hardware are stockpiled to finish off the youth activities room, mitzvah campaign center, screening room, and lecture hall.

“The completion of the center will allow a manifold increase in our activities, all for the betterment of the community,” Rabbi Gorelick said.

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