Good things are worth waiting for, and the new home of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Wilmette, Ill., certainly fits that category. After spending more than 20 years in temporary spaces that included, of all places, a funeral home, the 8,500-square-foot building on Chicago’s North Shore is a dream come true for the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and the community they serve.

“Everyone who walks in there just says, ‘Wow!’” said Lauren Weiss of Glenview, Ill., who has been active with the Chabad center since she and her family moved to the suburban area from Chicago last year.

Under construction for the past three years, the new building reflects the combined vision of the Chabad rabbis involved with the artists and designers who worked to bring the concept to fruition. An integral part of the design is the extensive use of Jerusalem stone, hand-picked from a rock quarry in the Judean hills by Wilmette shluchim Rabbi Dovid Flinkenstein and his wife, Rivke, during a trip to Israel.

“The idea was to have a piece of Israel in Wilmette,” said Rabbi Flinkenstein. “The stone has warmth that provides an immediate emotional connection with Israel.”

Flinkenstein’s daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe and Esther Leah Teldon, who arrived in Wilmette two years ago, shared in the excitement of watching the Chabad House take shape.

“Ten years ago, it was a dream; today, it’s a reality,” said Rabbi Teldon. “There is real excitement in the community about what the future holds.”

After 20 years in temporary spaces, the new building on Chicago’s North Shore is a dream come true for the community.
After 20 years in temporary spaces, the new building on Chicago’s North Shore is a dream come true for the community.

The building was introduced last month at a grand opening gala, where more than 200 members of the surrounding community, along with local dignitaries, enjoyed dinner in the social hall and explored the facilities. Award-winning architect Kiril Mirintchev, who spearheaded the $4 million project, served as an informal tour guide and shared his inspiration for some of the distinctive design features. After dinner, guests were treated to a concert by Chassidic singer/musician Benny Friedman, who performed a song he wrote in honor of the occasion.

A group of Building Pioneers, who provided major support for the project, joined in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting led by building committee chair Rob Selati and his wife, Jill. The other “pioneers” included Arthur and Greer Braun, Danny and Martha Michael, Craig and Fredi Weiss, and Diane Israel. Among the guests were Rabbi Efraim Mintz, national executive director for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI); local state representative Laura Fine; and president of the Village of Wilmette, Bob Bielinski.

Chabad of Wilmette serves a Jewish community of between 5,000 and 7,000 people.

Building committee chair Rob Selati cuts the ceremonial ribbon, assisted by his wife, Jill.
Building committee chair Rob Selati cuts the ceremonial ribbon, assisted by his wife, Jill.

Inspiration Into Action

Every element of the new building was carefully designed to incorporate function and beauty with the basic spirit of Chabad, as imparted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

That spirit is exemplified by the 24 original stained-glass windows that adorn the sanctuary, 12 on each side, which were designed by New Jersey artist David Ascalon. The windows on one side represent different mitzvah campaigns initiated by the Rebbe, while the windows on the other side depict various Jewish holidays and associated mitzvahs.

As Flinkenstein said: “Inspiration should lead to action.”

Chassidic singer Benny Friedman performed a song he wrote in honor of the occasion at the post-ceremony dinner.
Chassidic singer Benny Friedman performed a song he wrote in honor of the occasion at the post-ceremony dinner.

Ascalon also designed the mechitzah—the partition that separates men and women during prayer—and the 18-foot holy ark, which is a mixture of wood and Jerusalem stone. High ceilings and large windows add to the open, airy feel of the building.

“There’s always something beautiful to look at; every detail has such meaning and purpose,” said Weiss. “And the Jerusalem stone is really special, very welcoming.”

The new building is situated on a former strip mall on Skokie Boulevard, where two rented storefronts housed Chabad of Wilmette for the better part of the last 20 years. About 10 years ago, as the number of programs and participants began to increase, the organization purchased the property with an eye toward expansion. In 2012, what remained of the mall was demolished, and construction on the new building began.

As an interim measure, Flinkenstein accepted a rather unusual proposal from their neighbor across the street: The Weinstein Funeral Home, a Dignity Memorial Provider, which generously offered the use of one of its chapels, along with office space. Despite the uncharacteristic setting, the spirit of Chabad prevailed, bringing light and life to an environment normally associated with sadness and death.

Rabbi Flinkenstein, right, dances with some of the dinner guests.
Rabbi Flinkenstein, right, dances with some of the dinner guests.

“You never felt like you were in a funeral home,” noted Weiss. Indeed, Chabad took its Torahs, ark and bimah, along with other accoutrements for services and programs, into an ample-sized area that made congregants feel just like they were at shul.

The versatile, multi-purpose new building can accommodate a wide variety of programming, including holiday services, Jewish celebrations, Hebrew school and adult-education classes, and social events and other activities for groups of all sizes and ages.

Said Teldon: “Thank G‑d, we have a very involved community, and we look forward to filling it [the building] up very quickly.”

The rabbi gave tours of the building to visitors while the structure was going up.
The rabbi gave tours of the building to visitors while the structure was going up.
Some of the stained-glass windows in place before construction was complete.
Some of the stained-glass windows in place before construction was complete.
Flinkenstein at last year's aptly themed “Purim Under Construction” with local resident David Von Samek.
Flinkenstein at last year's aptly themed “Purim Under Construction” with local resident David Von Samek.
The Flinkensteins, right, with their youngest son, and the Teldons, left, with their two daughters at this year's “Purim in the Stadium” event.
The Flinkensteins, right, with their youngest son, and the Teldons, left, with their two daughters at this year's “Purim in the Stadium” event.