Dr. Joseph Caytak was taking a walk with his youngest daughter one Shabbat afternoon when they happened upon the future of Chabad in Ottawa West. It took the appearance of a stunning, century-old home built in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School style of architecture.
And there was a “For Sale” sign affixed on the front yard.
“We were at the point where many of our books were in boxes because we simply had no more room left for them,” Devora Caytak told Lubavitch.com. “And then my husband and daughter were walking by this house and saw it for sale and we realized, ‘this is gorgeous; this is a beautiful building.’”
Designed by famed Canadian architect Francis Conroy Sullivan—a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright—Connors House boasts the wide eaves and exposed woodwork and brickwork typical of Wright’s Prairie School style of architecture. Built in 1915, it is an Ottawa Designated Heritage Property. Now, Connors House will become home to the more than 10,000 volumes that make up the Jewish Youth Library.
But the historic property will not just contain books—it will be the home for the future of the Jewish community in the neighborhood, led by the Caytaks’ son and daughter-in-law, Rabbi Moshe and Sheina. While one floor will be used for the library, another will host the Shabbat services, adult education classes, Jewish women’s events and children’s programs of Chabad of Wellington West.
With zoning changes approved, permit applications are underway for the internal renovations needed to update the home and prepare it for its new role as a Jewish community center, while preserving the heritage architecture and design.
“When you reach the point that you can bring one of your children back to the city you serve, it’s part of your legacy,” said Devora Caytak. “It’s a beautiful statement to the community, saying, ‘We believe in you.’”
Moshe Caytak grew up helping his parents with their work in Ottawa. His familiarity with and passion for the city continued while he studied in yeshiva abroad, as he would return home during breaks and continue to be involved in local outreach activities. Shortly after he and Sheina—who hails from Pontault-Combault, France—were wed, they visited Ottawa to help the senior Caytaks organize the first-ever public menorah lighting in the Wellington West neighborhood.
“We were expecting 50 or 60 people to show up, but more than 400 came to the event,” Moshe Caytak said. “We saw the tremendous need that people in the local community need a place to connect with their Judaism.” And with that, the younger Caytaks made the decision to move to Ottawa.
While the younger Caytaks are serving a different demographic than their parents, they make a point of holding a number of events each year together with the families belonging to the preschool and library. The community has let them know how meaningful it is to them to witness this transitional youth movement led by one of Ottawa’s own.
“People feel the sense of community and unity that’s going on, and people appreciate that I grew up in the city,” Rabbi Moshe Caytak said. “It’s very rare for rabbis to stay in Ottawa for any length of time, and more rare yet for an Ottawa-born rabbi to move back to plant the seeds for the next generation.”