Students and administrators at Detroit’s primary Chabad-Lubavitch run educational institution for boys are looking forward to their new home in the heart of the local Jewish community after securing a substantial donation that will help fund a custom-built modern facility.

Currently located in the antiquated building of the Mishkan Israel synagogue, the family of schools known as the Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch Mesivta middle school and the Yeshivas Menachem Mendel Lubavitch high school and rabbinical school will move following development of a nearly-empty plot of land on 10 Mile Road. Construction on the building, which will sit not far from several synagogues, kosher restaurants and the Detroit Jewish Community Center’s Oak Park campus, will begin this spring.

According to officials, the elementary division known as the Lubavitch Cheder will remain at its original locations. Founded in 1965, the institution expanded in the 1980s to include a middle school; the high school was established in 1995.

“Local boys from all around the world come here to get a top-notch education immersed in Chabad-Lubavitch teachings,” said Rabbi Bentzion Stein, director of the elementary and middle schools. “The long-term goal is for our students to help Jewish men, women and children get involved in the Jewish community.”

The school has never depended on its external veneer to attract its pool of dedicated students, but four years ago, longtime donors Alan and Lori Zekelman of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., resolved to help it upgrade its facility. But after planning began, it soon became clear that no amount of remodeling could transform the 12,000 square foot building into a proper home.

The Zekelmans and administrators began searching for a suitable property nearly three years ago, and in November 2010, purchased the 3.7 acre plot on 10 Mile Road. According to current plans, life at the schools will change dramatically. Whereas more than 120 students ranging from grade school age to their late teens have had to rotate between three classrooms, the new building will keep the middle school and yeshiva completely separate; each division will make use of a large study hall and four classrooms. A common dining room will serve all students, and the building will also house a teacher’s lounge and staff offices.

“Students are here nearly 24/7, sometimes for six years straight, so they do need a little breathing space,” said Rabbi Mendel Shemtov, director of the yeshiva. “The students and staff will be more comfortable and the environment will be more conducive to learning.”

After the first phase of construction, a two-story dormitory behind the educational building will contain 40 rooms for a total of 120 students. Basketball courts and a courtyard will round out the space.

“I think it gives us a sense of establishment: We’re here to stay and grow,” said Shemtov, who added that the overall cost of the new campus will range “in the millions.”

After the first phase of construction, the campus’ dormitory will house upwards of 120 students.
After the first phase of construction, the campus’ dormitory will house upwards of 120 students.

Eighth-grader Yehuda Namdar arrived in Detroit less than a year ago from his native Gothenburg, Sweden, where his parents, Rabbi Alexander and Leah Namdar, run the city’s Chabad House. Namdar said he is looking forward to seeing the new building.

“It will be an expansion for the whole yeshiva,” he explained. “We’ll be able to have new students and everyone can live together [in the dorm]. A new place is pretty exciting.”

The Detroit institution has one of the highest rates of graduates going on to become Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, said Shemtov. Its alumni include Rabbis Avraham Greenberg, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Pudong in Shanghai, China; Yossi Charytan, principal of the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder Day School in Washington State; and Shua Rosenstein, director of Chabad at Yale.

Zekelman, who along with his wife Lori has supported the institution for more than 25 years, wants the building to be named after his late parents, Harry and Wanda Zekelman of Windsor, Ontario. He said that he views his family’s support of the school as recognition of its global reach.

Its alumni, “each and every one of them, are scattered around the globe on a mission of bringing Judaism to far-flung places,” he said in 2007. “So my family’s investment in the yeshiva isn’t just a local investment. We will have the opportunity to see the investment touch the entire world of Jewry.”