When Iman Rabizadeh was seeking a medical school, he wanted to make sure there were Jewish activities and a significant number of Jewish students on campus. He selected the school of medicine at the University of Miami, and right away found the Chabad House and Shul of Downtown, co-directed by Rabbi Chaim and Deenie Lipskar. Ever since, he’s been going there Friday nights, Saturday mornings, holidays and more.

The third-year medical student from Los Angeles also discovered what he calls a “small but beautiful community” in Brickell, an urban neighborhood in Miami that has been undergoing a noteworthy economic transformation in the past decade. In fact, it has overtaken the city’s historic central business district to the north to become one of the largest financial districts in the United States, as well as one of Miami’s fastest-growing residential neighborhoods.

And Chabad has been growing right along with it.


The downtown shul was founded by The Shul of Bal Harbour under the leadership of Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, who started it nearly 30 years ago as a place of worship and respite for businesspeople. About 10 years ago, Rabbi Chaim and Deenie Lipskar took it over and increased outreach to meet the needs of the contemporary Jewish population, consisting of local residents, young professionals and university students, in addition to the those who commute to jobs.

The Chabad House was situated in a 2,000-square-foot space on the sixth floor of an office tower for the last seven years, but now it has a building officially to call home.

Co-directors Rabbi Chaim and Deenie Lipskar, who have recently been joined by Rabbi Eli and Rochie Lipskar
Co-directors Rabbi Chaim and Deenie Lipskar, who have recently been joined by Rabbi Eli and Rochie Lipskar

The grand opening of the brand-new facility—The Rok Family Shul, Chabad Downtown Jewish Center, offering a whopping 20,000 square feet more than the existing space—took place on Feb. 25, with more than 600 people turning out for the event. The shul’s name was dedicated by the Rok family in honor of their mother, Rosa, and in memory of their father, Natan.

Community members, donors, lay leaders and local politicians attended the ribbon-cutting, Torah dedication, dinner and overall celebration. Speakers included Rabbi Sholom Lipskar; Rabbi Eli Lipskar; Rebbetzin Deenie Lipskar; Rabbi Chaim Lipskar; Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado; and Tibor Hollo, president and chairman of Florida East Coast Realty. The Rok family, Dascal family and Tabacinic family were all presented with honors.

The new building houses a synagogue, social hall, kitchen, preschool, mikvah and young-adult lounge, in addition to rooftop space, a playground and even a restaurant. Its exterior is inlaid with Jerusalem stone, and it boasts the first mikvah to date in downtown Miami, according to Rabbbi Chaim Lipskar.

Rabbi Eli Lipskar has also been working on the $5 million project since its inception. Newly married, he and his wife, Rochie, have moved to Brickell to help lead activities for young adults.

‘An Exciting Time’

Deenie Lipskar says she’s looking forward to starting a preschool to offer the next generation a Jewish education and adding more formal “Mommy & Me” classes, as well as increasing the variety and number of women’s programming overall.

She also hopes to give a class and tours of the new mikvah, now that the topic will be more tangible. For women who already use the ritual bath on a regular basis, this will make the visit closer to home, saving them a 20-minute or more drive to Miami Beach. For those who have yet to go, “they’ll see how beautiful it is, and hopefully, start going,” she says.

The community is getting revved up to have a space to call their own, she continues. And unlike their previous location in an office tower, the new Chabad center is visible from the street. “It’s definitely a very exciting time for us,” she says.

Rabbi Lipskar at a Miami Legal Society luncheon
Rabbi Lipskar at a Miami Legal Society luncheon

“We hope that people are going to come to the building and see the future of Judaism,” says Rabbi Chaim Lipskar. Downtown and Brickell used to be dark at night, he adds, but with all the changes, it is so much brighter, and Jewish life can flourish there.

“Gradually, I’ve been seeing it getting bigger,” Rabizadeh says of Chabad. “And I think the new building is going to attract a lot of Jews.” He says he’s looking forward to larger minyans, livelier Friday-night crowds and more networking events, among other possibilities in the new space.

“I’m very excited to go inside,” he says, explaining that he’s recruiting friends and other Jewish students at his school to be a part of the experience. “It just connects people to Judaism; it’s a home away from home.”

He says young people used to spend a year or two in the area for education purposes and then move away, but Chabad might entice young married couples to stay. It’s offering a preschool and state-of-the-art amenities, which paired with the building boom in Brickell and downtown could mean a spate of new growth and job opportunities.

Chabad pinpointed the property back in 2009, and donors helped make it theirs. Specifically, Lipskar notes the generosity of Moshe and Lillian Tabacinic of Bal Harbour, Fla., without which the land purchase would not have been made.

“Through all the trials and tribulations, we are very happy almost five years later to see the project finished,” declares the rabbi.

‘Light Your Path’

Aaron Winer attended the opening with his wife, Heidi, and daughters Deborah, 10; Shana, 7; and Yonah, 5. His in-laws and friends from the area and beyond are also planning to join him. “I’m looking forward to seeing the new building crowded with men, women and children rushing to get in,” he says.

He got involved with Chabad about eight years ago when looking for a school for his oldest daughter. Since then, his friendship with the rabbi has bloomed, and he has become part of the regular minyan, Torah study, and indeed, the building process.

“Chabad accepts you, regardless of your religious level of observance or background,” he states. “They reach out to light your path in this world.”

He hopes that more young professionals and families come to this part of southernmost Florida to live there permanently. After all, Jewish life is flourishing along with the pleasant climate, burgeoning business centers, and proximity to the ocean and beaches.

“I am hoping that the new building means to the future generations that downtown Miami has a Jewish life,” he says. “They can experience and enhance their Jewish traditions in the heart of Miami.”