Rabbi Mendy Mangel can’t explain why synagogue enrollment is generally declining throughout the country as fewer people seemingly maintain their Jewish identities.
He only knows that the number of those he sees regularly at Chabad Lubavitch of Camden and Burlington Counties in Cherry Hill, N.J., keeps climbing.
It’s climbing so quickly that the Chabad center has outgrown its space and needs to expand.
That’s why construction is underway on a $2 million project. Originally expected to take five months, Mangel now concedes the job may not be finished until perhaps early 2018, meaning it will have to rent space at the nearby Katz JCC for High Holiday services.
Already, though, he’s anticipating the moment he gets to conduct services and pray in the new facility, which will essentially be attached to the current one.
“I’m honored to be the rabbi of such an incredible congregation,” Mangel said. “I feel enthused and really empowered by them. To see this many caring, giving, loving people, it humbles me to have this opportunity.”
The organization will soon be taking on a new look.
“We’re essentially doubling the size of the building,” Mangel said. “What used to be the sanctuary will now become the kiddush room, and we’re building another sanctuary.
“On a regular Saturday one of the focus points of our Chabad is that it’s not only about prayer and services, but about family and people being together. Having a larger room to congregate will help foster that feeling.”
According to Mangel, Chabad “participation” as he calls it, since there are no actual memberships, has grown steadily. A decade ago they built a $1.2 million mikvah behind the main building, which is used regularly by both men and women. And within the South Jersey area there are several Chabads, the closest in Medford and Gloucester County.
What’s the attraction?
“We strongly believe God met the Jewish people at Mount Sinai and gave the gift of Torah to Moses and that has been transmitted from generation to generation all to this present day, and what’s beautiful is we’ve kept true to it,” Mangel said.
“We haven’t wavered. This is not Orthodoxy or Chassidism. This is Judaism.”
That Judaism is greatly misunderstood by the general public, he maintained.
“The No. 1 greatest misconception is that we’re still stuck in the shtetl, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Mangel said. “While our religious practices are as true as it was when Moses gave us Torah at Mount Sinai, the core process of how we think and operate through modern technology has changed.
“Second is that we’re an all-or-nothing package. Our message is everyone should take the best steps best they can. One mitzvah. Each mitzvah has monumental value. Be better for the world today than you were yesterday.”
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