New Jewish Center To Open in Florida's State Capitol

by Rivka Chaya Berman - TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA

May 4, 2005

Chabad of Tallahasse’s brand new 3,000 square foot building on two acres of prime Florida real estate will soon resound with the melody of Jewish study, and bubble over with the scent of laundry detergent.

In an innovative first for any campus Chabad center, a laundry room in Chabad’s new building will attract Jewish college students from Florida State University. As their whites and colors suds and spin, the students will spend quality time browsing the center’s Jewish book and kicking back in the Jewish video library. The center, named the Morris and Lillian Tabacinik Chabad Center for a significant grant from the Morris and Lillian Tabacinik Foundation, will also house a synagogue, Hebrew school classrooms, rooms for overnight guests, a kitchen and children’s playroom.

Catering to the particulars of Tallahassee’s approximately 3,000 Jewish residents and 4,000 Jewish students at FSU is the specialty of Rabbi Schneur and Chani Oirechman, Chabad’s representatives in the Florida state capital. Their approach has built their community and won them friends in high places.

When it came time to close the deal on Chabad of Tallahassee’s new Jewish center, former Tallahassee mayor Scott Maddox pitched in important financial support at the real estate closing. Maddox, who recently resigned his post as state Democratic Party chairman and is said to be considering a run for statewide office, got to know Chabad through City Commissioner Allan Katz. Katz and his family are Chabad members and have become dear friends of the Oirechmans.

“Tallahassee is the state capital, and the community is made up of politicians, attorneys, and professionals who we wanted to reach,” says Oirechman.

Oirechman made his first political social call even before he and his wife moved into town. The couple strolled into Governor Jeb Bush’s office to introduce themselves. Gov. Bush was out. Undeterred, the Oirechmans invited all Jewish office workers to experience a mitzvah right in the parking lot at their sukkah hut on wheels. Bush’s campaign manager, Karen Unger and her husband Jason, an attorney, stepped up and the Oirechmans have maintained the connection ever since.

Rabbi Oirechman has become a familiar face in the capitol. In 2001, he worked with Mayor Maddox to okay a giant menorah display at City Hall, the first in Tallahassee history. Chabad’s Chanukah party in the legislature attracted a flock of Jewish senators and assorted politicos. On several occasions, Rabbi Oirechman has delivered the opening invocation before both houses of the state legislature, a milestone for the native Israeli who hails from Haifa’s Kriat Yam neighborhood.

“In the beginning I was worried about speaking in front of the government officials because English is not my first language,” said Rabbi Oirechman.

Today, Chabad of Tallahassee offers weekly Shabbat services, a brand new mikvah surrounded by potted swaying palm trees, Hebrew school, summer day camp, and lectures. For FSU’s 4,000 Jewish students, Chabad has sponsored popular get togethers and Shabbat dinners. The Oirechman’s efforts have brought a kosher meat selection to Tallahassee’s Publix supermarket, too.

Chani Oirechman is looking forward to using the center’s new kitchen. With Miami’s prepared kosher food outlets some 500 miles away, Oirechman has no choice but to self-cater Chabad’s food. She whips up everything from salads to cake for Chabad’s weekly Shabbat dinners, Purim feasts, Chanukah celebrations and Passover seders. Until the purchase of the new center, Chani had been cooking everything in her home. The new, industrial size kitchen will make this an easier and more pleasant .

“Until now, we’ve had 60 students in our home for Friday night dinner,” said Rabbi Oirechman. “We would have had more but we did not have the space. Now I expect we can get over a hundred students.”

Chabad of Tallahassee has come a long way since the days when Chani sat at a typewriter to locate anyone listed in the phonebook with a Jewish sounding name. Rabbi Oirechman expressed his gratitude to the Tabacinik Foundation, which funds Chabad’s FSU campus activities in the form of a grant which came through the intercession of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the Lubavitch educational division. He also credits other Chabad philanthropists, his congregants and parents of FSU students for providing the wherewithal to establish Tallahassee’s Chabad on solid footing.

Their goodwill cloaks what Rabbi Oirechman sees as a series of miracles. “When we first came to Tallahassee I was hoping for a sign that this was the right place for us,” he says. “At the first apartment we looked at to rent, I was talking with the receptionist. When I told her we were there to help Jews get to know more about being Jewish, he said, ‘That’s great. My mother was just telling me I had to get more involved with Judaism.’ ”

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