Following the installation of a world-class recreation room, complete with professional ping-pong, billiards and air hockey tables, more than 300 children at a central Israel group home now have another reason to smile.

Donated by Herzliya residents Michael and Danielle Gross, the addition to the Ohr Simcha institution was designed to help the Chabad-Lubavitch initiative in its mission to care for children of all backgrounds who for whatever reason cannot live with their parents.

“Thank you, sir,” one child told Michael Gross in Hebrew during the dedication ceremony at Ohr Simcha’s educational complex in the village of Kfar Chabad. “This is wonderful!”

Pointing to the institution’s name, which translates to “light of joy,” another child approached the billiards table with a friend and exclaimed: “You’re literally bringing us light and joy.”

After the ceremony, which took place during the week-long holiday of Sukkot, Gross explained that he was moved to make a donation to the center after visiting the complex with the British ambassador and his wife, Tom and Anne Phillips. The ambassador himself had “stumbled” upon the institution during a visit last year to Kfar Chabad’s replica of Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Visiting the facility and seeing the sort of children and the way in which they were being cared for, I was moved to make a contribution,” said Gross, a British citizen who moved to Israel 13 years ago. “I chose to donate it in the name of the ambassador out of friendship, and out of recognition for his care and affection for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The donation to Ohr Simcha is not Gross’ first to Chabad-Lubavitch causes worldwide. This year, he made a contribution of more than half a million dollars to Chabad-Lubavitch of London, and assisted the organization in installing a system of corporate governance. Among other charities, he regularly supports Chabad Houses throughout the United Kingdom, as well as institutions in Brussels, Israel and across Eastern Europe.

For his part, Phillips said that when he first came to Ohr Simcha, he was originally scheduled to visit it for 15 minutes. The stay lasted two hours, most of which he spent playing with the children.

Philanthropist Michael Gross of Herzilya, Israel, affixes a mezuzah to the entrance of Ohr Simcha’s recreation center. (Photo: Berele Sheiner)
Philanthropist Michael Gross of Herzilya, Israel, affixes a mezuzah to the entrance of Ohr Simcha’s recreation center. (Photo: Berele Sheiner)

“When I first visited Kfar Chabad, I went as part of an effort to understand all parts of Israeli and Jewish life,” said the ambassador. “I was not expecting to find a children’s home providing just that – a real home – for children from tough backgrounds. I hope they will all enjoy the new recreation room.”

During Phillips’ original visit, he met a 12-year-old boy from Safed who had to leave home along with his three brothers. The ambassador offered to host the boy’s bar mitzvah party in his official residence in Ramat Gan.

According to Ohr Simcha director Rabbi Zeev Slavin, the boy’s party last September drew chief rabbis from across Israel.

Ohr Simcha was established in 1973 following a request by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, that his followers establish an institution to care for orphaned children. Today, the complex offers day school, high school and post-high school classes, provides after school activities and serves three hot meals a day. In addition to its dormitories, Ohr Simcha also runs two family homes, where married couples care for children as young as four.

At the dedication ceremony, Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad, quoted Maimonides in emphasizing that one of the themes of Sukkot is to make sure that other people are happy.

Turning to Gross’ and the ambassador’s families, Slavin said: “They’re doing just that.”