(lubavitch.com) A shuttered bankers’ training facility will soon reopen as Chabad’s Jewish community retreat center in Sydney’s North Shore. With 40 bedrooms, 4 guest apartments, a swimming pool and a multimedia room, the 35,000 square foot building is the first of its kind for this Australian Jewish community.
“We are creating a community center for the whole city. It will be a place that benefits Yiddishkeit and helps the local community grow,” said Rabbi Nochum Schapiro, director of Chabad House of the North Shore. On August 15, the community will gather at the new multimillion dollar center on 27 College Crescent in St. Ives to celebrate the community’s coup.
Teenagers will be the focus of the retreat center, alongside adult education courses, senior programming and Shabbat gatherings. In the growing Jewish community, bumped up by an influx of South Africans to 15,000 out of a general population 400,000, there are few Jewish places for teens to hang out, outside of Masada College, the local K-12 day school that stands adjacent to the new Chabad House.
Auryt Jacobson, Jewish Studies Director at Masada, sees great potential for the new center.
“It opens infinite possibilities for us at Masada College.” To make the most of the property’s potential, Rabbi Schapiro is seeking new Chabad representatives to serve as youth and teen directors.
Rene Gazzard, a mother of teenagers and a teacher at Masada College, believes Chabad’s record of working with teens is a strong predictor for success in the new venture.
“I have witnessed the incredible work of Chabad with our students over the years, and with my own children. I am thrilled that this center will provide Chabad with even more opportunities to expand their programs for the community.”
Other residents look at the new center, its swimming pool, tennis court, gymnasium and conference rooms, and see a way to fill a void on the North Shore.
“There is no Jewish community center here now. Shuls run functions for their members, but nothing being used as a community center for everyone,” said Stephen Katz of St. Ives, a member of the local orthodox synagogue.
“I think buying the center is a brave strategy. It could create a much more critical mass for Jewish life on the North Shore.”
A half kilometer from the new property, Chabad of the North Shore’s current location is a 6,500 square foot campus 40 minutes away from Sydney’s central business district. According to Tony Abbot, Leader of the Opposition, Federal Member for Warringah, “From its center in St. Ives, [Chabad] has added to the lives of thousands.”
In the neighborhood for twenty years, under the direction of Rabbi Nochum and Fruma Schapiro, Chabad’s center buzzes with a preschool, a Hebrew School, a 1500 volume lending library, and a mikva, open since 1999.
Jewish settlement in Sydney dates back even further. On the First Fleet, the first boatload of convicts sent in 1787 from England to Botany Bay, near Sydney, for permanent relocation; between 8 and 14 of the 759 prisoners were Jewish. By the early 1800s, a Jewish burial society and permanent congregation opened. Waves of anti-Jewish violence in Europe and business opportunities in Australia pushed the Jewish population up to 5500 in the mid-19th century. After the Holocaust, 35,000 survivors sought out a new life in Australia, setting down roots mainly in Melbourne and Sydney.
Chabad-Lubavitch sent its first representatives to Australia in the 1950s. Since then Chabad’s presence has grown exponentially. In 1968, the Lubavitcher Rebbe appointed Rabbi Pinchus Feldman to Sydney, where he established Chabad of the North Shore among numerous other Chabad centers in Sydney.
Today, the island nation has Chabad centers in 35 neighborhoods. Graduates of Chabad’s nursery through rabbinical college and women’s seminary educational system have gone on to pulpit positions in many of the country’s established synagogues. Chabad rabbis also head national rabbinical councils.
Positioned in the mainstream of Jewish life, Chabad House of the North Shore is readying its new, vast home to bring greater life to the North Shore. Millions of Australian dollars are yet to be raised for the mortgage, but locals have faith in Rabbi Schapiro’s ability to bring the community together for the cause.
James Stock, a member of the local community says he is confident that “Rabbi Schapiro will achieve this with the same dedication, enthusiasm and love that he invests in all the things he does.”