Residents of the mountaintop Israeli desert town of Arad are gearing up for a colossal construction project that will see several educational, religious and social welfare services – all run by the local Chabad-Lubavitch center – housed under a single roof. When complete, the Ohel Levi Yitzchak and Chana complex, which will be named after the parents of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, will accommodate a synagogue for 600 occupants, a soup kitchen, classrooms for a local yeshiva and post-graduate institution, and two Jewish ritual baths known as mikvahs.

Scheduled to be completed in 2010, the construction project – which concluded its first phase last month – may ultimately cost eight million shekels. When finished, the building will rise three stories high and comprise 2,000 square meters of usable space.

According to locals, much has changed in the city in the 30 years since Rabbi Ben Tzion Lipsker, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Arad, arrived as one of the municipality’s two chief rabbis. The project, they say, provides a statement of both the city’s expansion and its citizens’ embrace of Jewish life.

“The public [recognizes] the tremendous work that Rabbi Lipsker and Chabad have done for the city,” declares Yaniv Sharon, a 38-year-old paralegal from Arad.

Today, Arad – which sits 25 kilometers west of the Dead Sea and 45 kilometers east of Be’er Sheva – is home to a diverse population of 23,300 people. When Lipsker and his wife Sarah came with their two children, he regularly made the rounds of several synagogues to lead Torah classes; the couple’s Shabbat dining table grew with each week as they invited more and more people.

“You cannot imagine the effect of sweet challah on the soul on Shabbat,” remarks Hagar Mizrachi, 53, who became a regular of the Lipskers’ guests two decades ago.

In short time, the couple established a network of kindergartens and constructed several mikvahs. They also presided over educational institutions that served everyone from children to parents to retirees.

“We didn’t know it then, but Arad was experiencing a Jewish renaissance,” notes Victoria Walstein, 48, a resident of the area for 20 years.

Further growth occurred in the 1990s as the collapse of the Soviet Union sent droves of Russian-speaking Jews to Israel. Many ended up in Arad.

“When Communist Russia collapsed, and Russian Jewry was arriving by the masses, we made sure that their spiritual needs were answered,” says Lipsker. “We ordered tefillin by the thousands, and arranged traditional Jewish wedding ceremonies for couples who were denied that right by the Soviets.”

Now, with the construction of the new center, Lipsker says that the Chabad House is laying the foundations for further growth, both spiritually and physically.

Says the rabbi: “We’re here to serve every Jewish need.”