Just three months after inaugurating the Australian capital’s first Jewish ritual bath, Canberra’s local Jewish community is celebrating a new milestone: the purchase of a disused childcare center to house the city’s first Jewish preschool.

The government-owned building was officially purchased at auction on May 18, although the community had long been eyeing the vacant property as the perfect fit for a preschool run by Chabad-Lubavitch of the Australian Capital Territory. Located in the suburb of Giralang, the facility is just a five-minute walk from the Mikvah Chaya Mushka Canberra ritual bath, which opened with a community-wide ribbon-cutting ceremony in February.

Both projects moved forward under the steerage of Rabbi Aharon Serebryanski of Melbourne and thanks to “the vision and heart of local community members,” said Rabbi Dan Avital, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Australian Capital Territory. His wife, Naomi Avital, will direct the preschool.

Jewish childhood education in Canberra is currently limited to a Sunday Hebrew school at the Jewish Community Center and an afterschool program run by the Avitals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The region has never had an accredited Jewish day school, something the Avitals are hoping to change with the purchase of the daycare center.

Built in 1977 and designed by renowned architect Enrico Taglietti, the 60-place childcare center will also serve as the Chabad House’s official location and its central activity hub.

“The building hasn’t been used by anyone for years, so some maintenance needs to be done,” said Avital. “We’re hoping to have it up and running within 12 months, by the start of the next school year,” which would mean the end of February 2012, since Australian summers run from December to February.

Built in 1977, the new childcare center should be open by February 2012.
Built in 1977, the new childcare center should be open by February 2012.

The Avitals estimate there are between 30 and 40 Jewish children of preschool age in the Canberra region, which tends to attract young professionals.

“It’s a very young community, and that’s one of the reasons we pursued the preschool so strongly,” said the rabbi. “There’s a large group of families with young children. This preschool is going to be fully accredited and staffed with professional teachers to meet every state regulation and guideline.”

The purchase date coincided with the minor holiday known as Pesach Sheni, or the “Second Passover,” a day provided by the Torah for someone who was unable to bring the Paschal sacrifice in its appointed time to have a second opportunity. Today, the day symbolizes inclusion and second chances, a fitting metaphor for the new school, explained Avital.

“Canberra is the seat of government and public service; it’s an important city,” said the rabbi. “And yet it hasn’t had any full time Jewish educational facility, and that’s something significant we can provide now.

“The message of Pesach Sheni is that nobody should be left behind,” he added. “Likewise, the goal of this initiative is that every Jew should have the opportunity to receive a Jewish education.”