In South Florida’s Miami-Dade county, just south of Broward County, a massive construction project is underway. When complete, the $12 million, five-story building will be the permanent home of Chabad Chayil in Highland Lakes.

The project comes amid a recent construction boom among Chabad-Lubavitch centers across the nation, where according to a Pew Research study some 38 percent of Jews have engaged with Chabad.

This project is different from the hundreds of Chabad centers that cover every part of Florida, especially South Florida, which is home to more than half-a-million Jews.

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In addition to three daily prayer services, Shabbat services and communal Shabbat meals, and a host of other programs that most Chabad centers offer, Chabad Chayil offers an award-winning after-school program for Jewish children in public schools that sees children aged 5 to 18 engaging with Judaism from 1:45 p.m. (when the youngest classes arrive) until 6 p.m. every weekday (the program ends earlier on Friday, based on Shabbat times).

Shera Sonenberg, mother of 8-year-old Aderet, says that while she values the diverse education her daughter receives in public school, the Jewish education Aderet gets at Chabad Chayil’s after-school program is invaluable. “As a family, we value the Jewish education and sense of Jewish community and pride she receives each day from her afterschool program.”

Layah Kievman, bottom right, accompanies students on a trip.
Layah Kievman, bottom right, accompanies students on a trip.

At the groundbreaking of the almost 50,000-square-feet center held in November, Rabbi Avrohom Korf, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Florida since its inception in 1960, expressed his pride and joy in the work of Rabbi Moishe and Layah Kievman, who have led Chabad Chayil since 2002. The senior rabbi told the assembly that he knew Kievman’s great-grandfather, Rabbi Dovid Kievman (Horodoker), back in the Soviet Union, where the venerable scholar presided over Korf’s eldest brother’s bar mitzvah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where a large contingent of Chassidim had fled to, away from the repressive conditions in Russia.

The Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Chabad Rebbe) remarked that it was worth founding Tomchei Temimim (Chabad’s flagship yeshivah, established in 1897) just for Reb Dovid Kievman,” said Korf. “It was worth me being sent to Florida just to see the tremendous work done by Reb Dovid’s great-grandson at Chabad Chayil!”

Layah and Rabbi Moishe Kievman with students
Layah and Rabbi Moishe Kievman with students

Acclaimed After-School Program for Kids

The Kievmans took leadership of Chabad Chayil after the passing of its founder, Rabbi Dovid Bryn, a giant of a man with a legendary love for every individual.

Centrally located in close proximity to nine public schools and across the street from Aventura Waterways K-8 Center—a public school with an enrollment surpassing 2,000 students—Chabad Chayil began offering the standard Hebrew-school program to local families. But they found that while the traditional model worked well for some parents, for many families with both parents in the workforce, carving out the time for shepherding kids to Hebrew school was next to impossible. In 2007, they opened CHAP: Community Hebrew Afterschool Program. It began with fewer than a dozen students, but by the year’s end, enrollment had more than doubled to 27.

By 2015, CHAP served 200 students with classes held on the grounds of five public schools. Student numbers peaked at 230 before the pandemic and other factors made hosting the program on public-school grounds untenable. Classes were forced to move to Chabad Chayil’s center at a significantly reduced capacity due to space and licensing requirements. “We have a long waiting list for our day camp and after-school program,” Layah Kievman tells Chabad.org. “Sadly, we cannot accommodate all the children who want a Jewish education.”

Children are awarded trophies for excelling at the Chabad-created Aleph Champ curriculum.
Children are awarded trophies for excelling at the Chabad-created Aleph Champ curriculum.

The solution to these woes? An all-purpose educational facility with 16 classrooms, an indoor playground, jungle gym, and libraries for children and adults. When its door open, it will be equipped to educate a staggering 700 Jewish children each day.

These figures explain Chabad’s outsized engagement in the greater Miami area, where according to a 2014 study conducted by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, almost 50 percent of households under the age of 35 are involved with Chabad programs. However, the study shows that 44 percent of Jewish children between the ages of 13-17 do not attend a Jewish day school, highlighting the need for the supplemental Jewish education CHAP provides.

Sonenberg’s daughter, Aderet, comes home and shares the lessons with her family, her mother says with pride. “She learned to say the full Shema and even has favorite parts of davening—she loves Ashrei.” Aderet learned her aleph-bet through the Chabad-created Aleph Champ curriculum, which gave her a “fun structure to learn to read Hebrew.”

She’s made so many friends at the program and her mother says it’s a “positive and affirming” experience. “My daughter literally begs for more time when I come to pick her up.”

Rendering of the five-story, 50,000-square-feet educational center, which will bring Judaism to 700 public-school students daily.
Rendering of the five-story, 50,000-square-feet educational center, which will bring Judaism to 700 public-school students daily.

Sonenberg is deeply appreciative of the work the Kievmans do. “They are dedicated to Jewish education for all. They see and act upon the reality that not every Jewish child will or can attend day school, and they work tirelessly to create a warm and enriching environment that my child and her friends look forward to attending every day.”

While having a larger space will, of course, mean that more children will obtain a wholesome Jewish education, Sonenberg feels that it will benefit currently enrolled children as well. “A bigger space means that the program can accommodate more children and break up the larger groups into smaller age brackets that tailor learning to that specified grade.”

Most of all, attests Sonenberg, it will “create a sort of an oasis where Jewish kids can learn and grow and be together.”

Rendering of a classroom at Chabad Chayil's educational center
Rendering of a classroom at Chabad Chayil's educational center
“It was worth me being sent to Florida just to see the tremendous work done by Reb Dovid’s great-grandson at Chabad Chayil,” said Rabbi Avrohom Korf, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Florida.
“It was worth me being sent to Florida just to see the tremendous work done by Reb Dovid’s great-grandson at Chabad Chayil,” said Rabbi Avrohom Korf, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Florida.