Tag Archives: Chabad of Westport

Downtown Menorah Lighting Set For Monday

On Thursday, Westport lit the Town Hall Christmas tree.

This Monday, the Hanukkah menorah lights up downtown.

Four Jewish congregations — Beit Chaverim, Chabad of Westport, Temple Israel and The Conservative Synagogue — will gather at the corner of Main Street and Post Road East. Everyone — of any faith, or none at all — is invited too.

At 6:15 p.m. — on the 2nd night of Hanukkah — candles will be lit. Holiday songs will be sung, sufganiyot (jelly donuts) will be eaten, and dreidels will be spun.

Last year’s menorah lighting. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Kane)

It’s an important event.

“During a time in which we have seen a rise in anti-Semitism and darkness in the world, Hanukkah celebrates our survival against all odds,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue.

“But it also reminds us of our responsibility to increase the light in our world.”

The 5th annual celebration is organized in cooperation with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

 

Anne Frank’s Step-sister Brings Holocaust Education Here

With a fading generation of Holocaust survivors — and a rise in anti-Semitism, both here and abroad — the need to educate the next generation about that horrific chapter in history is crucial.

Chabad of Westport is doing its part. The Jewish outreach and social service organization sponsors “Holocaust Studies” for teenagers. Alexander Troy — a Holocaust studies teacher at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford — is the teacher.

Eva Schloss after Auschwitz.

Part of the 4-session curriculum — which examines Jewish life in Europe; what happened in Germany; the world’s reaction, and lessons learned — is a meeting with Eva Schloss. She’s a Holocaust survivor, world-renowned Holocaust education advocate — and Anne Frank’s step-sister.

But teenagers are not the only ones privileged to hear Eva Schloss. This Sunday (October 28, 5 p.m., Klein Memorial Auditorium, Bridgeport), she’ll speak at a public event.

It’s a rare opportunity for area residents. And it could not come at a more important time.

(Tickets for Eva Schloss’ talk are $25 for adults, $10 for students. Premium seating and VIP tickets — which include a private reception — are also available. For details, click here.)

Pics Of The Day #400

Talented Bridgeport artist Cleiton Ventura painted this mural, at Long Lots Elementary School. He worked on it with assistance from 5th graders.

He also painted this, at the newly opened Chabad of Westport — the former Three Bears restaurant.

L’Chaim, Chabad!

In early 2012, “06880” reported that the former Three Bears would turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. It would be used for prayer services, educational programs and other meetings.

The 9,180-square foot property sat on 2.73 acres, at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike. It was a historic site.

Three Bears Inn, in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

That’s where the Three Bears — with 6 fireplaces — operated from 1900 until 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site — parts of which still stood from its days as a stagecoach stop, 200 years earlier.

The story noted that complaints had been made by a neighbor about work being done without permits, and bright security lights infringing on neighbors.

Other concerns included traffic, wetland impacts, and exterior alterations to a historic building.

The interior of the Three Bears, from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

That story ran when I still permitted anonymous comments. It drew the most responses ever: 217. (The record still stands.)

They ranged far and wide. Readers waded in on Chabad’s mission, good works, and religious tolerance/intolerance in general; zoning issues like the permit process, residential neighborhoods, traffic, historic structures — even the pros and cons of anonymous comments.

What a difference 6 years makes.

As Chabad of Westport prepares for its grand opening celebration May 3 — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — the neighborhood has changed hardly at all.

The Chabad of Westport exterior, on Newtown Turnpike.

The exterior of the Three Bears has been preserved. Some of the interior wood beams and other features remain too. More than 10,000 square feet have been added, but it’s in the back, barely visible to anyone. It’s all done in traditional New England style, with a barn-type feel.

Even the parking lot has been redesigned, eliminating a dangerous entrance near Wilton Road.

The renovated space — designed by Robert Storm Architecture, and carried out by Able Construction — includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; 8 classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library, and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen.

The synagogue in the back includes plenty of light.

Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers, and Orthodox observers attending events on the Sabbath who are too far away to walk home. (The apartments — completely renovated — were once leased to 3 Bears dishwashers.)

A large mural gives energy to the teenagers’ space.

The building process has reinforced for local Chabad leaders the importance of its site. Over the centuries, the property has been not only a restaurant, inn and stagecoach stop, but also (possibly) a house of ill repute, says congregant Denise Torve.

To honor its history, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor and Torve are seeking artifacts to display, and memories to showcase. Photos and recollections can be sent to DeniseTorve@aol.com.

An old sign hangs proudly in the new library.

Chabad has come a long way from the days when members met in the basement of the rabbi’s home, and rented the Westport Woman’s Club for High Holy Days services.

Of course, zoning issues continue to provoke intense Westport controversy. Only the location changes.

(Chabad of Westport’s grand opening celebration is set for Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. at 79 Newtown Turnpike. It includes a ribbon cutting, mezuzah affixing, ushering in of the Torahs, buffet dinner, music and dancing. The entire community is invited.)

Mitzvah Heroes Earn Honors

Financial support is vital to most non-profits — especially those that fund causes those groups support.

So organizations tend to honor men and women who donate the most money. It’s the way the world works.

But, David Weisberg realized over a decade ago, plenty of good people do great deeds that have nothing to do with fundraising.

At the time, he was working to make the Jewish community of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a better place. “Mitzvah Hero Awards” was born. (“Mitzvah” is a Hebrew word meaning “a good deed done from religious duty.”)

When David moved to Westport, he brought her idea along. Which is why this Sunday (January 28, 5 p.m., Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus, Bridgeport) the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County will present its 1st-ever Mitzvah Hero Awards.

There are 14 honorees, from throughout the county. Four are Westporters. That’s plenty of mitzvahs.

Robert Bolton

For example, after his bar mitzvah (which means, literally, “son of the commandment”) 2 years ago, Robert Bolton vowed to attend Beit Chaverim every Friday night and Sunday morning. The small Westport synagogue does not always assemble a minyan (quorum of 10 men age 13 or older).

“Robert’s warm and caring personality raised the experience for all attendees as well,” praises Rabbi Greg Wall. And the teenager has the best attendance record of any congregation member.

Allyson Gottlieb

Allyson Gottlieb chairs Temple Israel’s Social Action Committee. Leading with energy, enthusiasm and insights, says Rabbi Michael Friedman, she often asks, “How can we do more?” Among the activities: strengthening the temple’s commitment to Homes With Hope, expanding its regular food drives, and revitalizing the annual Mitzvah Day, engaging hundreds of congregants in projects of every stripe.

Marilyn Katz

Since joining the Conservative Synagogue as one of its early members, Marilyn Katz has volunteered in many ways. Most outstanding, says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, is her 30-year commitment to the Sunday morning minyan.

Every Sunday she is the first person in the building, opening the kitchen to prepare breakfast. She makes the congregation “a caring community committed to taking care of one another.”

Howie Schwartz

Chabad’s Howie Schwartz serves special needs families through the Friendship Circle. He is a role model and inspiration for other adults and teens — including his own children — says Rabbi Yehuda Kantor, thanks to his hands-on help, and his “heart and soul passion” in projects like the Friendship Walk, family bowls, holiday parties and Pump It Up.

The honorees’ award quotes Pirkei Avot, the sacred Jewish text on ethics: “It is not what one says, but rather what one does, that makes all the difference in the world.”

Mazel tov!

(For more information on Sunday’s event, click here.)

Chabad Grows Into Its New Home

Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.

Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”

Chabad Lubavitch's home -- formerly the Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.

It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.

Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.

The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.

The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.

A rendering of the addition.

A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.

The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.

The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.

Another rendering -- parking lot view.

Another rendering — parking lot view.

Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.

A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.

“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.

Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.

From their lips to you-know-who’s ears.

Chabad To The Rescue

When Sandy slammed into Compo Beach Monday night, the playground took a direct hit.

Tons of sand covered one of the most popular places for kids, even in fall and winter.

Cleaning a playground is low on the town’s priority list. So when Chabad of Westport Rabbi Yehuda Kantor offered the services of his Hebrew School class wherever it was needed, Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy mentioned the playground.

Starting at 10 this morning, 60 children and parents worked as ferociously to restore the site as Sandy had to wreck it.

Rabbi Yehuda Kantor (left) and some of his Chabad helpers.

Tim Burke from Parks and Rec supervised the effort. Pete Romano supplied a trailer filled with shovels and other tools.

Thanks to the great Chabad/Parks and Rec/Pete Romano partnership, the “play” is already back in playground.

Pete Romano supplied a trailer filled with tons of tools. (Photos by Avi Kaner)