Almost two years after 200 of their lot gathered on a cold November day to break ground for a new educational center in northwest New Jersey, the Jewish community of Rockaway awaits the upcoming groundbreaking with excited anticipation.

According to community leaders, the new 15,000 square-foot center – home to the Chabad Early Learning Center, David Hoffman Hebrew School, Hebrew High School, Adult Education Institute and Community Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath – will not only greatly expand programming, but will quickly become a Jewish landmark in that part of the state.

“More resources will be available, because it’s bigger and can accommodate more,” says Ian Wolf, whose son is set to attend the preschool in the fall. “Any opportunity to expand the curriculum and have a [better] environment is preferred, and is a blessing for us.”

Flory Heller, director of the early learning center, says that the design of the new facility – which sits half a block from the original Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Northwest New Jersey on One Torah Way – will complement the preschool’s Montessori teaching style. Each classroom will allow teaching staff to take advantage of unique lighting, furniture and built-in features, such as lofts.

“The new center gives us the physical means to accomplish more of what we’ve been doing” for the past 10 years, explains Heller, who has 30 years experience in early childhood development. “Such an environment encourages children to grow. The whole building speaks education.”

The old center, which will continue to serve as a weekend synagogue and social hall, could only serve 34 children during the week. The new center, on the other hand, will be able to accommodate a total student body of 120.

“It shows how serious we are about giving the best to children and their families,” says Heller.

A Nurturing Environment

New classrooms take educational theory into account in their design.
New classrooms take educational theory into account in their design.

Housing an audio/visual library, 12 classrooms, offices and weekday synagogue in addition to a luxuriously appointed mikvah, the new center will “serve every age group in every aspect of Jewish life,” asserts program director Rabbi Mordechai Baumgarten.

“The feedback has been tremendous, and people can’t wait to come inside,” adds Baumgarten. In addition to the added programming, the center sits on a lot that was once “overgrown with trees, and had litter and trash everywhere, so the wider community is excited about having this beautiful building in the center of town.”

Alan Janoff, operator of Livingston, N.J.’s Crystal Plaza catering service and wedding hall, says that the center’s significance will not just be felt locally.

“So many people have lost touch with Judaism,” explains Janoff, who has been involved with Chabad activities for 12 years and assisted in the new center’s fundraising. The center “will open the door to a lot of people who might not get involved in the Jewish world otherwise.”

Robert Wolfson, who learns in the adult educational programs as well as one-on-one with Baumgarten, says that by accommodating more people for programs, the center’s influence will spread exponentially.

“From a parent’s perspective, it’s a dream kind of center,” says Bonnie Spring, whose two children are enrolled in the early learning center. “As a full-time working mom, it’s the best feeling in the world to know that I’m leaving my kids in a warm, caring, nurturing environment.”

Says Rabbi Asher Herson, the center’s director: “We’re offering exposure to the deeper dimensions of Judaism.”