Facility will house two new mikvaot, preschool wing, assembly hall, rooftop playground…
Houston, TX — On Sunday, Feb. 4, Chabad Lubavitch Center-Texas Regional Headquarters will take the first major step toward an extensive, expansive building renovation project. A special groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled to begin at noon at the Center, located at 10900 Fondren Road in Southwest Houston. Houston’s Jewish community is invited to join local dignitaries, Mayor Bill White, City Council member Anne Clutterbuck, Israeli Consul General Asher Yarden and Capt. Bruce Williams of the Fondren Police Division, in celebrating what surely will be a most memorable occasion. Chief among the festivities will be a special presentation by Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Fla.
Construction of the new Chabad Lubavitch Center building is projected to last one year. Official artist renderings show the state-of-the-art facility as an impressive display of modern architecture and ingenuity. Central to its design is a circular “Vessel Ramp,” which is situated purposefully at the building’s front entrance. This feature is symbolic of Chabad’s mission and, according to its philosophy, is life’s greatest challenge: “The molding of the world as a vessel for G-dliness.”
The Chabad Lubavitch Center is unique in that it serves both as regional headquarters for Chabad operations throughout the state of Texas, and is itself an institution for outreach, education and social services. Meticulous planning and preparations have gone into the renovation’s implementation so as to ensure that operations at the Center – synagogue, Torah Day School, Mikveh Taharas Yisroel, Camp Gan Israel and Collel Adult Education Institute – will continue functioning without interruption for the duration of the project. Upon completion, the facility will have literally doubled in size, to stand at an impressive 30,000 square feet.
According to the Center’s director of development, Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, Torah Day School will benefit most from the project, in terms of added square footage, as it stands to gain eight new classrooms; the expansion of all existing classrooms and library space, both Judaic and general; the addition of dedicated computer and science labs; the establishment of an 18-month-old early childhood development program, which will be housed in the all-new preschool wing; the creation of a new assembly hall and teachers’ resource room; and the building of a sheltered rooftop playground. Worth noting is that the current Center, which was founded in 1976, and was the first Lubavitch Center in the United States to have been built from the ground up, was not initially designed to house a full-time day school. This apparent problem was benign in the school’s infancy, when its student body was comprised of less than a dozen students. Today, however, that number has grown to more than 120.
Other notable additions to the Center will be the building of two new mikvaot (ritual baths). The Center’s current mikvah is unable to properly serve the growing number of people, both women and men, who today make regular use of its facilities. Therefore, it was decided that two new mikvaot would be added as part of the renovations – one especially for women, and a second specifically for dishes and cooking utensils. The new women’s mikvah is being touted as comparable to a five-star hotel spa, with three preparation rooms and a gardened pathway outside. The dishes mikvah will have a drive-up entrance for easy access and will be available for use at any time. The existing mikvah will be completely refurbished and designated as the men’s mikvah.
The Center’s synagogue, social hall and kitchen facilities also stand to gain additional square footage as part of the expansion. The only room slated to undergo a reduction in size is the already small office of the Center’s executive director and founder, Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff. The entire renovation project has been designed with security as a top priority, and thus will include an 8-foot security fence and special key-card access system.
The Center’s expansion project is a direct result of Chabad’s remarkable successes, both in Houston and throughout Texas, and is necessitated by the considerable growth of Houston’s Jewish community over the past several decades, both in its size and in its levels of observance. When Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Chiena Lazaroff arrived in Houston in May 1972 – sent as shluchim (emissaries) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory – they were charged with the task of “promoting Jewish pride” and “bringing Jews back to their Jewish roots.” Rabbi Shimon remembers vividly that Houston, upon his settling here, “was home to only three-and-a-half Shomer Shabbos Jews,” and that few Jews in Houston, bar from himself, his sons and a few other adults, would be seen wearing a yarmulke in public. Rabbi Shimon notes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe chose Houston for his (Rabbi Lazaroff’s) shlichus among other cities in the region for the expressed reason that Houston needed him most.
Houston has undergone considerable changes since the time of Rabbi Lazaroff’s arrival, in particular, with the number of frum (observant) Jewish families now living here, but also in the number of non-Orthodox Jews who have experienced a dramatic “reawakening” of their own Jewishness. As the pioneers of the Orthodox outreach movement – guided by the principle of Ahavat Yisroel, or love for one’s fellow Jew, regardless of a person’s religious background or affiliation – Chabad arguably is to thank for bringing about such remarkable changes, both locally and nationally, and even internationally.
Rabbi Lazaroff, some 36 years and 11 children later, contends that Chabad’s mission and that of the Center’s remains fundamentally unchanged – only now with new challenges. He has gone from building a new Lubavitch Center on an acre of land “in the middle of nowhere,” to having to cope with a whole myriad of challenges associated with any modern urban neighborhood today. With this renovation and expansion project, Rabbi Lazaroff says the Center will be well-equipped to handle such challenges and well-suited to meet the needs of its members – any Jew in Houston or throughout the Texas region.
More than just a synagogue, more than just an education and outreach center, the Chabad Lubavitch Center-Texas Regional Headquarters is viewed by its founder as an anchor of Jewish life, a vessel for G-dliness, and its new building project as an important milestone in the revitalization of the Fondren Southwest part of town. “This new Center will be a tremendous addition to the community, as a whole, and is a space Houston – and Texas – can be proud of,” Rabbi Lazaroff promises.