Residents of Dix Hills, New York, have a new signpost they use when giving directions. “Just turn right at the Chai Center to get to the library,” they’ll say.
The magnificent new Lubavitch Chai Center is located at a major intersection on the corner of Vanderbilt Parkway and Deer Park Avenue. The 12,000 square foot contemporary building, with a faÃ§ade of pink brick, is built on a hilltop and is visible from just about everywhere in this booming Long Island community.
Rabbi Yaakov Saacks and his wife Zoey are the directors and the moving force behind the expansion of Chabad in Dix Hills. They arrived in 1993 and began activities in the living room of their home. Growth was inevitable and exponential, and construction on the building began about three years ago.
“We only got our certificate of occupancy this past April,” says Rabbi Saacks, “and we are already out of space. There were about 600 people here for the High Holidays and it was standing room only.”
The building features a shul that doubles as a social hall, six classrooms for Hebrew school, three for preschool, administrative offices, a kitchen, Judaic library and state-of-the-art playground.
The centerpiece of the shul is a modern “floating ark” that seems to be suspended in mid air. Rabbi Saacks says some of the older members do a double-take when they see it. “That’s an ark?” they’ll say with a smile. Even the ner tamid, the eternal light is made of contemporary crystal.
The only thing missing was a mikvah because there was not enough space and financial resources. Recently however, a member of their shul came to Rabbi Saacks and told him he had read the new book “The Rebbe’s Army” where he learned that it is a religious requirement to build a mikvah even before a synagogue.
“When I told him he was right, he said ‘build one, whatever it costs, I’ll pay half’” said Rabbi Saacks. “So now we’re in the process of looking for land. There is a mikvah in town, but it’s about eight miles away and one closer to us would be a real boon for the community.”
The new building is bursting with activity: Mommy and Me, Baby and Me, a bar and bat mitzvah club, JAM Jewish Action Movement for teens, university of Judaism continuing education courses, and a Café Chabad once a month with a ‘theme and cuisine’ program.
“One of our supporting members is the actor Jon Voight. He’s a buddy of the Chai Center and we are attracting families across the age and religious spectrum,” Rabbi Saacks notes. “For our grand opening, all of the town board members were there and although they are not Jewish, they joined us in reciting the “shechiyanu” blessing.”
“The new building gives the community faith in the stability of Chabad. Everyone’s confident that we are here to stay.”