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A Sanctuary of Light

By , WEST BLOOMFIELD, MI

Surrounded by wetlands and woodlands in the heart of suburban West Bloomfield, The Shul, Chabad’s newest project, was completed just a couple of hours before the new year set in. More than 600 people—triple the numbers of past years—walked through its grand doors on Rosh Hashana, dedicating this new 20,000 square foot edifice with prayers for the new year.

According to Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, Lubavitch representative to West Bloomfield, The Shul’s opening is “nothing short of a revolution” in a city that hasn’t seen such a magnificent traditional synagogue in decades. “The Shul offers people the best of both worlds: an experience that is spiritually enriching in an aesthetic setting that is simply inspiring,” says Rabbi Shemtov.

Founded by Mr. Martin & Phyllis Abel of West Bloomfield and Emma Lazaroff-Schaver of Southfield, the building’s miraculously swift completion took only a little over one year, thanks largely to Mr. Sam Blumenstein, an active member of Chabad.

Part of a grand building project that began in 1990 with the purchase of a 40-acre parcel of land, following the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s call in 5758 (corresponding to 1988) for “a year of building” to rejuvenate Jewish life, The Shul is the first building on the Lubavitch Campus of Living Judaism to be completed. The remaining buildings will house additional social and educational facilities, all part of Chabad’s effort to increase Jewish awareness and involvement among the area’s 10,000 largely unaffiliated Jews.

Chabad first came to Detroit, Michigan in 1958, and immediately began establishing centers in surrounding areas and suburbs. Chabad has been an active presence in West Bloomfield for a quarter century, with an increase of activities in the last eight years. Today, Rabbi Shemtov and the rest of the West Bloomfield Jewish community are grateful to finally have a permanent home at The Shul.

At 55 feet tall, the six million dollar building houses a spacious sanctuary with a retractable skylight to accommodate indoor chuppahs. The Shul also houses lecture halls and classrooms for the Michigan Jewish Institute, an educational program run by Chabad offering degrees in computers and business in conjunction with a wide range of Judaic subjects.

The Shul’s unique design includes glass paneling with a panoramic view of the beautiful outdoors, giving congregants like Martin Abel a sense of being in a “place of peace, of nature, a holy place, a house of G-d.” Indeed, The Shul was intended to reflect the contemplative prayer of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism. “The Baal Shem Tov would retreat to the forest where he would pray, surrounded by the wonders of G-d. Here at The Shul we want to capture that experience of communion with G-d,” says Rabbi Shemtov.

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