Hundreds of Chattanooga Jewish community members, visiting dignitaries, and other well-wishers celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Chabad Center for Jewish Life in historic Fort Wood.
The Center, which features a synagogue, a library, and other spaces for learning and special events, is housed in a grand 10,000-square-foot building constructed in 1914. The Fort Wood neighborhood itself is one of the city’s historic districts, renowned for its beautiful old Victorian homes.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Mayor of Chattanooga Andy Berke, and Congressman Chuck Fleischman participated in the opening. Mr. Michael Dzik represented the Jewish Federation of Chattanooga. Rabbi Sholom Duchman, head of Colel Chabad, was also in attendance.
Tennessee Governor Bob Haslam offered Chabad his congratulations. “For the past seven years, you have touched the lives of thousands of Tennesseans by providing social services and family education, as well as enhancing the experience of Jewish life,” he wrote. “I am certain that the new facility is a welcome addition to the great work that Chabad is already doing.”
In addition to serving the some 3000 Jews who call Chattanooga home, shluchim Rabbi Shaul and Rosie Perlstein have established a close rapport with many of the Jewish college and medical students from both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Erlanger Hospital. They also lead the the Jew-TCgroup, the only program in the area for Jewish students at UTC. The new Chabad Center features a spacious new lounge designed to serve the students.
One of the first persons to take advantage of the new facility is a Jewish German exchange student living in the nearby UTC dorms. He arrived at the Perlstein’s doorstep a few weeks prior to the official opening, saying he was looking for a place to enjoy an authentic Jewish experience and has been coming back ever since.
“Now we will have a religious and cultural center right here so that students at UTC can be at home and grow and prosper and learn,” said Congressman Fleischmann.
Mr. Kevin Spiegel, president and CEO of Erlanger hospital, has been working closely with Chabad to help them in their work with Jewish medical students. The hospital is currently expanding their stroke unit and the Perlsteins plan to make programs for the influx of Jewish students and professionals who will come to work there.
“It’s always been our vision to create a Jewish home, a place for everyone to experience Judaism in an inclusive and vibrant way,” Rabbi Perlstein said.
The Perlsteins arrived in Chattanooga in 2009 with a mission to enrich the Jewish experience for Chattanooga area’s Jews. It did not take long before they outgrew Chabad’s first place on Pisgah Ave. Chabad’s new home is at the site of former Masonic Lodge minutes away from the UTC, Erlanger Hospital, and downtown Chattanooga. The new building required extensive renovations. Rabbi and Mrs. Perlstein enlisted the help of Mr. Jay Goldstein, a friend and contractor, to restore the building and preserve its historical integrity.
Joe Lipsey of Lipsey Logistics was also instrumental in helping the Perlsteins make the move to the new building.
“Now that the building is complete, I find myself finding reasons to stay there because it’s so beautiful and full of life,” said Goldstein. “When I come to drop my daughter off for Hebrew school, I see that the building is full of people who stay to hang out, whereas in the previous location, people would drop their kids off and leave. Now, there’s a place for them to study, learn, and socialize.”
Mayor Berke agreed. “In our community we want people to be able to live the life of their choosing,” he said. “We are happy that the Jewish community now has a beautiful place to go to call home.”
Opened in time for the upcoming High Holidays, the center will serve the entire community with myriad opportunities for Jewish learning and celebration, the first of which will be a community Rosh Hashanah dinner next week.
For more information, visit www.JewishChatt.com.