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Wheelchair-Bound Donor’s Media Center Broadens Access to the World

by Eric Berger –

David Cohen, an investor and member of the Jewish community of Palm Beach, Fla., met Rabbi Nachman Zeev Schtroks about a decade ago. At that point, Cohen had been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life and no longer left the house much.

Schtroks, who co-directs Chabad of Royal Palm Beach with his wife, Leah, went to visit him. He recalls Cohen describing himself as “not very religious,” though “he appreciated the fact that we were helping and being there for the community.”

Cohen envisioned building a media room at Chabad so that he and others who were homebound—or anyone, really—would be able to participate in events via live stream, says Schtroks. It’s especially significant in an area with so many seniors, who often can’t make it to the building due to health, weather or other reasons.

For its establishment, Cohen donated more than $100,000.

The space, which features an 85-inch video screen, computers, gaming devices, a stereo system and equipment to broadcast events, took about two years to build. Shortly before the media room’s official opening in September, Cohen, who was in his 70s, passed away.

“But he was very involved in the planning,” Schtroks tells, “and he did get to see a lot of it.”

His sisters, Solette Cohen Taylor and Regina “Reggie” Cohen, filled in to cut the ribbon for the Cohen Media Room. “This is such a bittersweet day for us,” Taylor told the Sun-Sentinel. “My brother David was so looking forward to this day. But David wouldn’t want us to be anything but positive today. My brother was in a wheelchair for the last 47 years of his life, and I never heard him be anything but positive.”

‘A Living Religion’

Larry Robbins, a travel agent, has watched the Chabad center grow significantly in the last decade. When he moved to Southeast Florida, some neighbors asked if they wanted to attend a Purim celebration at Chabad. At the time, the Schtroks were in temporary digs, renting a store on a local strip mall.

Not long afterwards, Robbins attended Shabbat-morning services and received an aliyah. He had previously been a member of a large congregation, where, he said, “it was very rare, if ever, you got called up to the bimah for an aliyah.”

“I just connected with the rabbi,” Robbins, 69, says of Schtroks. “He makes the religion a living religion.”

He started to volunteer, providing feedback to the Schtroks on how the center could grow, and helped as they moved from the store to a former synagogue’s site on more than 2 acres of land. In the last few months, he has attended events in the sleek new media room, designed in warm brown and ecru hues.

In addition to serving as an event space, the room features a library of DVDs from Jewish Educational Media (JEM) for guests to watch. There is plenty of digital content out there, notes the rabbi, “but what we are able to offer, you can’t pick up at a local library.”

‘Draws People to Synagogue’

Marc Goldfarb stood in the new media room, wearing gloves and looking at a table with ground-up fish, spices, bread crumbs, eggs and water. He then mashed together all of the ingredients, placed the mixture in parchment paper and rolled it into a log. (Voilà: gefilte fish.)

As he did, the 55-year-old, who helps manage fiber-optic networking for Comcast, marveled at the potential work involved in making the dish on a large scale.

Shaul Levertov, owner of the Shabbos Fish Market in Brooklyn, N.Y., led the class, pointing to a video on the giant screen in the front of the room and walking participants through the process from raw fish to final product. He also explained how he makes different varieties of this ubiquitous Jewish dish.

“It was fun,” says Goldfarb, who frequents the Chabad center a few times every week and has attended other programs in the media room. “And I’m not a gefilte-fish lover.”

He notes that part of what made the program interesting was the fact that participants could actually see the hustle and bustle at the fish market in Brooklyn.

Schtroks adds that “it gives people an extra reason to want to come by and be at the Chabad House.”

“By utilizing the media room for cultural and learning events in the community, it draws people to the synagogue itself and gives exposure to everything else that is happening,” says Goldfarb. “I think it will have a tremendous impact on the perception and awareness of the many activities taking place here.”

David Cohen envisioned building a media room at Chabad so that he and others who were homebound—or anyone, really—would be able to participate in events via live stream.
A crowd fills the room for a visual presentation about the history of Jerusalem by visiting Rabbi Avraham Stolik, co-director of Chabad of Downtown Coral Gables, Fla. To his immediate right is Marc Goldfarb, a Chabad regular.
David Cohen, center, who donated funds for the media room and passed away a few weeks before its opening in September, is shown here during a visit with Rabbi Nachman Zeev and Leah Schtroks, co-directors of Chabad of Royal Palm Beach, and their children.

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