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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Chabad Richmond Hill opens new building

TORONTO — After 11 years in temporary quarters, Chabad Lubavitch of Richmond Hill is gearing up for an inaugural banquet Jan. 15 and an open house three days later, featuring food, crafts, music and dancing at its new 10,000-square-foot building.

Chabad Lubavitch of Richmond Hill’s new building, the Chabad Romano Centre, features windows in the shape of a menorah. [Frances Kraft photo]

The open house will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18.

The Chabad Romano Centre is located at 10,500 Bathurst St.on a 2.5-acre tract of land south of Teston Road.

Land developer Mario Romano, who is also contributing to the cost of the synagogue, donated the land to Chabad. In a 2006 article, Romano told The CJN that when he was growing up in Buenos Aires, most of his neighbourhood friends were Jewish, and that he wanted to “have respect for” the Jewish community in the area of the new centre.

The building’s sanctuary, featuring a dark-stained ark and windows forming the shape of a menorah, can seat “300 comfortably,” according to Rabbi Mendel Bernstein, spiritual leader of the congregation.

At 10,000 square feet, the $3 million building is more than triple the size of the 3,000-square-foot space Chabad occupied in rented premises diagonally across the road, at the northeast corner of Bathurst Street and Elgin Mills Road, for the past half-dozen years.

Rabbi Bernstein said that there is enough land to more than double the current size of the new synagogue, but that finances did not permit a larger building right now. “This is phase one,” he said.

“It’s absolutely a dream come true. A real shul is something we’ve looked forward to from the day we moved here,” said Rabbi Bernstein in an interview in a basement classroom of the the new centre Dec. 22, as construction continued upstairs.

Sitting in the as yet unfurnished classroom, its floor covered with fine dust from the ongoing work, the rabbi recalled that after he and his wife Toby first moved to Richmond Hill in 1997, their basement served as the synagogue for almost five years.

The congregation’s growth is also reflected by the hiring two years ago of Rabbi Shlomo Vorovitch as program and youth director.

Rabbi Bernstein said the new shul’s four classrooms would serve Chabad’s preschool students and “hopefully also [part of] the Hebrew school.”

Almost 250 children from senior kindergarten through Grade 7 attend Chabad’s Hebrew school in Richmond Hill. Classes are currently held in rented public school premises.

The new building had its ground-breaking on June 15. Its lease expired at the end of December.

In the rented premises, a large preschool classroom doubled as the sanctuary, which served about 100 worshippers on an average Shabbat morning.

“We had to fold away our small shul after every Shabbos,” said the rabbi. “Everything had to be on wheels.”

Chabad Richmond Hill also holds twice-daily services, mornings and evenings.

For further information about the synagogue or its opening events, go to www.chabadrc.org., or call 905-770-7700. Tickets for the banquet cost $150 per person; the daytime event is free.

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