New Jewish center opens arms to students, community
Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 9:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 9:11 p.m.
Moshe Tabacinic wielded a screw driver as Rabbi Berl Goldman pushed firmly on the mezuzah, a Hebrew prayer traditionally hung from the doorframe of Jewish homes. Working together, the two affixed the sacred box on the entrance of the Lubavitch-Chabad’s new Tabacinic campus during the center’s grand opening Sunday evening.
The crowd pushed in to witness the scene, cameras and iPhones held above heads to capture the moment.
The new Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center, at 2021 NW Fifth Ave., spans 23,000 square feet, and includes a synagogue, kosher café, guest lounge, fitness room and laundry facilities.
The $4.8 million center, a project that has been underway for more than two years, was designed and built in accordance with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
The building’s construction was facilitated by support from benefactors of the College of Law at the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin and family, local software mogul and spiritual author Michael A. Singer, and Moshe and Lillian Tabacinic, for whom the campus is named.
Goldman, who co-directs the center with his wife, Chanie, said the center is steered by the vision that: “Judaism should be available for every Jew, from every background, on every level.”
“Gainesville has always been a community of proud and involved Jews,” Goldman said at the Sunday night opening ceremony. “It is our hope and prayer that this campus and building will be a shining example, enabling Gainesville to continue to grow and thrive as a beacon of light for Jewish communities, and specifically college students, everywhere.”
A red carpet guided guests to their seats as trays of hors d’oeuvres streamed out of the Chabad’s kosher kitchen.
Guests yelled the occasional “Mazel Tov!” as the festivities unfolded.
The Gator Marching Band serenaded the crowd immediately after the orange and blue ribbon at the entrance of the center was cut.
Inside the lobby, a glass harpist played a collection of crystal wine glasses, some so small they couldn’t hold much more than an ounce, while others looked to be the size of big salad bowls.
Lawyer Jeff Meldon, who served as a co-host of the event, said of the thousands of Chabad houses across the world, the new Gainesville center is one of the most incredible.
“Every little detail, Rabbi Goldman and Chanie put their attention and their thought into,” Meldon said.
But despite the building’s impressive array of amenities, Meldon said the center has much more to offer.
“The most important is thing is the soul of the building, and you can be assured that with Rabbi Berl Goldman and Chanie Goldman, the soul of this building will be immense,” he said.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a representative of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation, expressed his amazement at the attendance during the center’s first Shabbat, held days before the grand opening.
“This place was packed, there were 350 students,” Kotlarsky said. “The love and the care and the concern that I felt here, the friendship — I don’t know what your thinking is, but you need the stadium.”
University of Florida President Bernard Machen said he hopes students grow intellectually, form life-changing friendships and deepen their spirituality at the center.
Machen said he has been told that UF boasts the largest population of Jewish students at any university outside of Israel.
“Today these students gained a center that is part student union, part home away from home, and part place of worship, and 100 percent a sanctuary,” he said.
Erica Freeman, UF senior and member of UF’s Lubavitch/Chabad Student Group, described her dedicated involvement with the center over the past few years.
“It wasn’t until I came to Chabad when I really started to find my place,” she said.
Freeman said she was shy at first attending Chabad services but quickly became deeply involved with the community. Since then, she has witnessed the same progression in multiple new student members.
“It really is just a vessel,” she said of the new building. “The people here really make the Chabad house what it is. Students come and go every year, but for some reason the feeling I get when I come here never changes.”
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