Chabad Opens Center For Jewish Life for Memphis Jewish Community

Chabad Opens Center For Jewish Life for Memphis Jewish Community

The new Chabad Center for Jewish Life, a place for Memphis's Jewish community.

by Dvora Lakein - Memphis, TN

September 24, 2008

( As in years past, two Memphis day schools and the community high school will be slicing and polishing rams’ horns as they participate in Chabad’s pre-Rosh Hashana Shofar Factory.  Unlike years past, this time the students will be making their shofars at Chabad’s own building.

Chabad of Tennessee’s director, Rabbi Levi Klein is thrilled with the new acquisition. “Finally we have a home to bring it all together.”

In the 14 years that the Kleins have been serving this city on the Mississippi River, they have become a “big part of the broader Jewish community.” But until now, the couple has been operating out of their home and several rented spaces. Now, just in time to ring in the new year, Chabad has purchased and renovated a building of its own. The 10,800 square foot Center for Jewish Life was dedicated in late August.

Jewish Memphis, its community members proudly say, is a city united. A scan of the crowd at the recent dedication revealed the directors of all of the local Jewish institutions clinking glasses and nibbling desserts., Chabad’s website, encourages new residents and visitors to “take a look at the Jewish resources and organizations” serving the area.

“We are a true community organization,” explains Klein. “There are 10,000 Jews in Memphis and 10,000 Jews who belong [in some way or another] to Chabad.” Locals credit Chabad’s sincerity and kindness in bringing together previously segmented factions in the community.

Kara Bierman, who is now an active member, explains what initially attracted her and her husband, Paul. “It was the unique warmth and sincerity,” she says. “Chabad really cares about every Jew.”

Alvin Gordon, a lawyer and the former president of another local synagogue, agrees. Last month he helped cut the red ribbon at the building’s entrance. It was several decades ago, he reminisces, that he was standing on a long, snaking line to greet the Rebbe in Brooklyn. Knowing that he was a president of a Memphis congregation, the Rebbe asked him: “What are you doing for Torah Judaism in Memphis?” Thus began Gordon’s long journey towards becoming observant, and his eventual involvement in bringing Chabad to town.

It has been a long trip indeed for this vibrant community, with many small miracles along the way. The building’s previous owners were in severe debt and needed to sell immediately in order to recoup some cash. They offered an excellent price, went into contract with Chabad, closing quickly on the deal. Immediately afterwards, their attorney contacted Klein. A centenarian had just died leaving the sellers a large chunk of money in her will. Had the deal not gone through when it did, the owners would never have sold.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, and Rabbi Binyamin Klein, a member of the secretariat of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, represented Lubavitch World Headquarters at the occasion. Rabbi Kotlarsky spoke about the event’s significance to the broader Memphis community, promising that the new structure, “will bring Judaism to the next generation.”

The new property is already booked with events in the coming weeks. Memphis women from all segments of the community are eagerly looking forward to a banquet next week. The food will be prepared in Chabad’s gleaming commercial kitchen with a kosher menu created by a local celebrity chef. Reservations have passed 100 and are still coming in. A few nights later, the kitchen will be in use again. The Federation’s Young Adult division will be catering their event with Chabad’s kosher pots and pans.

The Kleins are eager for the new building to enhance their current programs and inspire more. “For 14 years,” says Klein, “Chabad has had a great home; we just didn’t have a house. Now we have a house to put our home in.”

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