As Jewish men, women and children head to synagogue this weekend for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world will be welcoming people from all walks of life during the High Holidays. For one center in the greater Orlando, Fla., area, the open-doors, seat-for-everyone approach is even preceding the opening of a permanent location.

According to residents and Rabbi Yanky and Chanshy Majesky, directors of the new Chabad-Lubavitch of North Orlando, scores of people from the communities of Lake Mary, Heathrow, Sanford and Longwood are expected to attend New Year's services Friday night through Sunday at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Lake Mary.

As with this weekend's programs – which will include children's services and kosher food – the Majeskys haven't let the fact that they're still looking for a home limit their outreach to an estimated 2,500 family-strong Jewish community.

More than a year before the Chabad House's late-summer establishment, the Majeskys travelled the area getting to know locals. Last Sukkot, they went door to door to offer Jewish residents the opportunity to bless the lulav and etrog. On Purim, they handed out traditional gift-baskets of food, and for Passover, they hosted community Seders.

For many, the Jewish rituals were familiar, while for others, they were completely new.

When Lake Mary resident Leslie Pallone found a Purim gift-basket at her front door, she thought of her childhood.

"The aroma brought back so many lovely memories," said Pallone, who moved from New York in the 1980s.

Janice Klass of Sanford likewise said that she was happy her son experienced his first Passover Seder earlier this year.

Chanshy Majesky said that each week before Shabbat, the couple – now with a new baby daughter in tow – delivers freshly-baked challah to 20 new families.

"People very much relate to Shabbat," she said. "When we give out challah, it touches them."

Pallone said that the personal touch and the Majeskys' charisma might just bring her to Rosh Hashanah services.

"Part of me is yearning to come," she said.

One local realtor characterized her corner of Orlando as lacking in Jewish infrastructure.

"There is nowhere [else] to go close by for any of the holidays," she said. "I think [the Chabad House] is fabulous. There are an awful lot of young couples here with children."

For Majesky, moving to North Orlando is a natural step in a process begun 25 years ago when her parents, Rabbi Sholom and Devorah Leah Dubov, opened Chabad of Orlando in the suburb of Maitland.

Back then, the Dubovs started out much the same way as their daughter and son-in-law. Their first effort was a Hospital Visitation Program that saw the couple provide encouragement and a spiritual boost to Jewish patients.

"My wife and I would take carnations with a card wishing the patients a speedy recovery," said Sholom Dubov. "In many cases, there was no one else that cared for them, so we were there."

Today, the program, since renamed the Jewish Visiting Circle, includes a staff of 24 volunteers who serve area hospitals, senior centers and homebound patients.

Transformative Experiences

Rabbi Yanky and Chanshy Majesky just opened Chabad-Lubavitch of North Orlando.
Rabbi Yanky and Chanshy Majesky just opened Chabad-Lubavitch of North Orlando.

The new Chabad House follows the opening of a Jewish student center serving the University of Central Florida and the establishment nine years ago of Chabad of South Orlando, an institution residents in that part of town see as a model for the potential up north.

Jaine Laffay was a regular attendee of programs in South Orlando from the 2000 arrival of Rabbi Yosef and Chani Konikov to 2005, when she moved to Minnesota. For Laffay, it was the Konikovs' patient answering of questions that made her want to learn more about Judaism.

"When I asked questions, they never made me feel stupid," said Laffay, 51, who teaches secular studies at a Chabad elementary school in S. Paul. "They made me feel smarter.

"All Jews are in different places," she continued. "Their goal is to take you forward from wherever you are."

Sam Shtulman, a college senior who works on the Konikovs' Hebrew school staff, said that his exploration of Judaism began three years ago and was fueled by the Chabad House opened at the University of Central Florida that spring.

After returning from a trip to Israel, Shtulman decided to wear a skullcap wherever he went. When the Chabad House opened, Rabbi Chaim Lipskier approached the student.

"One day he came up to me and said, 'You're Jewish,' " recalled Shtulman. "I said, 'No I'm not.' "

Lipskier refused to back down.

"But you're wearing a yarmulke," he said. "Come to my house for Shabbat."

After a span of three or four weeks, Shtulman agreed to try it out.

"I decided I had nothing better to do," said the religious studies major. "After I went, I decided never to leave."

In addition to his duties teaching the fourth-grade Hebrew school class in South Orlando, Shtulman serves as a kosher supervisor at a local restaurant. He said that after he graduates, he wants to study in yeshiva and eventually become a ritual circumciser.

Shtulman, a native of Coral Springs, was confident that the Majeskys in North Orlando will have the same effect on people that the Lipskiers and Konikovs had on him.

"Every area should have a Chabad House," he stated. "I've seen the way it helped me and the potential it has to open the [help] other Jews in the area."

Heathrow resident Paul Alpert said he has higher hopes.

His message for the Majeskys: "We need you guys to take a community of Jews and make it a Jewish community."