Chabad of East Boca Raton made headlines recently and not just because of its recent communal event, which doubled as a fundraising and awareness campaign—fundraising because the center is looking to expand, and awareness boosted in part because of an unfortunate incident that occurred a few days beforehand.

On the morning of March 18, acts of vandalism were reported in the neighborhood surrounding the Chabad center in Southeast Florida, co-directed by Rabbi Ruvi and Ahuva New. The rabbi’s concrete parking slab was hurled through a glass window of the center; nearby, lawns and mailboxes were damaged. Boca Raton police reported numerous incidents following St. Patrick's Day celebrations and reported there was nothing to indicate this was a hate crime.

The isolated incident was not at all common in the area, where Jewish life and religious observance have flourished over the past several decades.

As for the rabbi’s response to the offense: “We will only get stronger from it.”

In fact, just two days later, their scheduled mega community event—which included a reception and concert featuring recording artist and musical entertainer Yaakov Shwekey—was well-received by community members anxious to show their support.

The concert, titled “The Land We Love, The Lives We Honor,” accompanied a reception that recognized the contributions of several notable honorees. One of them was Israeli Maj. Moshe Levy, who received the Medal of Valor for his actions in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; he lost his right hand after charging an Egyptian commando post to rescue Jewish soldiers.

In a rare act of vandalism, the rabbi’s concrete parking slab was hurled through a glass window of the center two days before the concert, which caused even more people to come in a show of support.
In a rare act of vandalism, the rabbi’s concrete parking slab was hurled through a glass window of the center two days before the concert, which caused even more people to come in a show of support.

“We had more than 1,000 people in attendance,” said New. “The event was, thank G‑d, a great success. There was lot of press about the incident and a lot of support from people in the community who wanted to show their solidarity, especially after what happened earlier in the week. The tremendous crowd that came out to support us was a powerful response to the vandalism.”

As was the case last year when the concert doubled as a fundraiser, this year’s event helped inform the public about plans for the new Chabad of East Boca.

The Chabad House serves the downtown and coastal areas of Boca Raton, home to 15,000 Jews, in addition to numerous visitors and snowbirds. “Our programs and communications reach up to 2,000 people in our area on an annual basis,” affirmed the rabbi.

“The area is expected to grow quite a lot,” added New, who is originally from Australia. “There is tremendous construction going on here now with hundreds of new units being built to target young professionals. They’re hoping to create an urban environment, where people can work, live and play.”

Rabbi Ruvi and Ahuva New, co-directors of Chabad of East Boca
Rabbi Ruvi and Ahuva New, co-directors of Chabad of East Boca

He and his wife Ahuva, who grew up in California, are the parents of 10 children, and have co-directed Chabad of East Boca since 1999.

“We are very excited about what’s happening,” she said. “It’s a long time coming. We have people calling us up, wanting to find out when and where we’re moving because they want to move to the area, and they want to be able to walk to the new shul.”

‘Identity Grown Stronger

Dr. Eli Friedman, D.M.D., and his wife Katia, also a dentist, relocated to southern Florida from Toronto a decade ago. They have been residents of Boca Raton for the last five years. “I met Rabbi New about three years ago, and he has been very welcoming to us, inviting us to community events and helping us identify with Judaism,” said Friedman, the father of two young girls. “As a family, we attend shul together, and we attend the community events, like the recent Purim party that they had.”

“Being involved with the News has opened a nice way to be affiliated,” he added. “My own Jewish identity has most definitely grown stronger; I have a much closer bond with Judaism. I have seen many positive changes in my life in that respect as we’ve taken on more religious—and not just traditional—activities in our home.”

Seeing the tremendous benefits the new Chabad center will bring to their community, the Friedmans recently hosted an information session at their home, and his dental implant business was a sponsor of the recent concert. “I have a lot of respect for Rabbi New and what he does. He is a visionary. His ideas will positively impact our community and all of southern Florida,” said Friedman.

The rabbi explained that while the official groundbreaking ceremony and construction are not expected to commence until later this year, there is much to be done to raise funds and finalize plans as excitement about the project grows. Chabad of East Boca, now at 120 NE First Ave., will relocate to 770 East Palmetto Park Road.

“It’s going to be on a corner, on about three-quarters of an acre of land,” said Irving Litwak, who purchased the land for $2.7 million before giving it to Chabad.

Litwak, an active community member and philanthropist who attends services at Chabad, said: “I’m excited to get the new building up. The place we’re in now was good for a start, but this property is going to give them a lot more room, and it has good frontage.”

 The Chabad center's novel Hebrew-school program includes the "My Big Chaver" ("My Big Friend") one-on-one study program.
The Chabad center's novel Hebrew-school program includes the "My Big Chaver" ("My Big Friend") one-on-one study program.

The state-of-the-art facility—slated to be called the Chabad Boca Beach Jewish Center—is not expected to be completed until 2016.

Chabad of East Boca is also the home of Machon Menachem, the Boca Raton Rabbinical College, now in its third year of operation. The program provides 12 students with smicha, or rabbinical ordination, each year; in turn, those young men offer private tutoring and mentoring for Jewish students ages 7 to 15 at Chabad of East Boca. This novel Hebrew-school alternative is referred as “My Big Chaver” (“My Big Friend”) program, akin to the “Big Brother” idea.

At the March 20 mega event, the News also launched the capital campaign for the synagogue, which will also include a museum called “My Israel.”

“It will be a high-tech, one-of-a-kind interactive museum that will fortify the connection between the Jewish community, and the land and people of Israel,” explained the rabbi. “It will provide a historical, spiritual type of learning that will be fun, too.”

Added Ahuva New: “The ‘Israel Experience’ at the museum promises to be very exciting and very relevant. We hope to inspire Jews and non-Jews alike, to change the Israel narrative in the world today and to help bring about the dawn of a new time.”

The Rosh Chodesh Society brings women together for learning, socializing and snacks.
The Rosh Chodesh Society brings women together for learning, socializing and snacks.