“Phenomenal” was the first word uttered by congregant Jack Tarica of Westfield to describe the Murray and Lucy Pantirer Family Building at the new Chabad at Short Hills-Center for Jewish Life. Multiple rabbis and dignitaries joined the community for the ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday, which marked the grand opening of the long-awaited new home for the growing suburban congregation located at 650 South Orange Avenue in Essex County.
Michele Patrone, COO, said she felt blessed to be a part of this amazing endeavor. Patrone spoke of the many steps the congregation took to reach this milestone, starting in the home of member Izzy Spiegel and predating Rabbi Mendel and Chana Solomon, who arrived in 1995. An attendee listening nearby interjected, “Just like all the moves it took to get to the Beit Hamikdash.”
The standing-room-only crowd filled the Kaplan Family sanctuary, donated by Ilana and Lance Kaplan and family in honor of their children and in the memory of their fathers. After everyone partook of the bountiful buffet dinner, the rows of hearty soft gray upholstered seats quickly filled, as spiritual leader Rabbi Solomon took to the mic. He quipped that after all the tedious and tiresome work involved in ensuring the new building opened in time for the holidays, he can’t wait to become a rabbi again. He chuckled, “They never taught about zoning laws in rabbinical school.”
The new home for the congregation was initiated by the Janoff and Pantirer families, who came to Rabbi Solomon and expressed the need for an Orthodox synagogue in town. In time for the chagim, the project came to fruition with the near completion of the $8 million building. The center is now home to 250 member families. Upon thanking everyone involved for their “sweat and tears,” Solomon chuckled, “If you don’t believe in miracles, you should now.”
After emphasizing the response, enthusiasm, commitment and generosity that all those involved gave to the project, Solomon amplified, “not just in dollars and cents, but time, effort and energy.”
The burgeoning donation wall of honor reads: “As My Ancestors Planted For Me, I Am Planting For My Descendants.” Making sure to announce that all the plaques are not yet posted, and many are in the process of choosing where they want their funds to go, Rabbi Solomon promised that over the holidays and in the coming weeks he will mention all donors by name. Solomon also joyfully announced the beginning of smachot on their first Shabbat at the center with the September 8 bar mitzvah of the Schlessinger family’s son, Daniel.
When the rabbi introduced his wife, Chana, she referenced the parsha: “You are all gathered together here today as one,” announcing, “Here we are gathered in our new building.” She was quick to acknowledge, “The people who started this community 23 years ago each contributed.” She and her husband each thanked their children, emphasizing how they learned what comes from commitment and belief from the years it took to see this project through.
The mayor of Millburn, Cheryl Burstein, referenced Rabbi Solomon as the rabbi of legendary humor, and thanked him for his vision, leadership and friendship. The Livingston Council was also on board, with Mayor Edward Meinhardt stating that all five council members were former mayors who welcomed him to Livingston, remarking that they were happy to have him in the community. Meinhardt ended by adding, “Welcome home.”
Solomon introduced his mentor, Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America and head of Chabad in New Jersey. Rabbi Herson praised Rabbi Solomon, former assistant dean, for his dedication and drive, as the crowd was led outside for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Nancy and Larry Pantirer were front and center, beaming as they participated in the official opening of the home that was built and named through the generosity of the Pantirer family in honor of their Holocaust survivor parents, Lucy and Murray Pantirer.
As she stepped back inside, Nancy was smiling broadly while handing out homemade honey cakes marked “L’Shana Tovah, Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, Sweet New Year, With love, ~Rabbi, Chana, Minna & Pinchas, Freida, Adina, Dovber, Maya and Coby Solomon.”
For more information, contact [email protected] or call 973-725-7008. To donate, visit their Facebook page at Chabad at Short Hills—Center for Jewish Life.
By Sharon Mark Cohen
Sharon Mark Cohen, MPA, is a contributing writer at The Jewish Link. Visit sharonmarkcohen.com.