A Bar Mitzvah Year for Jewish Life North of Boston


by Fay Kranz Greene - SWAMPSCOTT, MA

July 3, 2005

The music is throbbing; the drums pound to a crescendo as the capacity crowd at the Coolidge Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts rise to their feet for a final standing ovation.

The prolonged applause is not exclusively for the Moshav Band, one of today’s hottest Israeli ensembles, but is also intended as an outpouring of love and admiration for the work that Chabad Lubavitch has been doing on Boston’s North Shore for the past thirteen years.

The celebratory concert, held last Sunday, marked the Bar Mitzvah year of Chabad on the North Shore and honored Rabbi Yossi and Layah Lipsker who founded the organization in 1992. The event was attended by more than 500 people representing a cross section of the Jewish community.

Peter Samiljan, a Swampscott native who attended the concert with his family, said that “it was incredible to see grandparents dancing in the aisles with their grandchildren and teenagers having the time of their life in a Jewish setting.”

Samiljan, the owner of an online camera company, has been coming to Chabad for seven years and says it has changed his life. “I always considered myself a proud Jew,” he says “but I was never comfortable with the spiritual side of Judaism and I was saddened to see my three children following the same path.” At a friend’s suggestion, he met with Rabbi Lipsker to inquire about enrolling their eldest son in Chabad Hebrew School.

That was seven years ago and today the Samiljan family is a familiar sight at the Chabad shul and all three children have attended Hebrew School. “Rabbi Lipsker always greets me so warmly whenever I come to Shul” says Samiljan, “and he always asks how I have been, not where I have been.”

Chabad of the North Shore, which began in 1992 with a small office in the oceanside town of Swampscott , has become a powerful force for Jewish life north of Boston. Today Chabad serves the 23 communities of the North Shore with Hebrew Schools, Gan Israel Day Camp, the Aleph Bet Montessori Preschool, and the Adult Learning Institute. The growing staff includes Rabbi Moshe Kohen, Chabad’s educational director and Rabbi Nechemia and Raizel Shusterman who serve as directors of the newly opened Chabad of Peabody.

The highly acclaimed Chabad Hebrew Schools, in three locations, have a combined enrollment of 180 children and the newly founded Montessori preschool has doubled registration for the coming year. Camp Gan Israel, only three years old, has almost 100 children enrolled this summer. According to Liz Donnenfeld whose daughter Julie has attended the camp since its inception, these six weeks are the highlight of her daughter’s life.

Donnenfeld, who is the community coordinator for the Anti-Defamation League on the North Shore, says that Rabbi Yossi and Layah Lipsker have been the driving force in the way she raises her two daughters. “Had we not joined Chabad, I doubt whether our family would be experiencing the warmth and love of Yiddishkeit as we do today,” Liz said.

“Their influence has even spread to Chicago where my mother lives. I told her about the adult education classes I was taking with Layah and encouraged her to take one at Chabad of Chicago. Well, now my mother is talking to me about Kabbalah and I’m loving it”

The Donnenfeld’s daughter Allie, 12, is in Layah Lipsker’s Bat Mitzvah club, a program that is receiving rave reviews throughout the community. “Nothing can come close to the experience Allie is having,” says Donnenfeld. “Layah is an incredible teacher and the lessons she is imparting to these girls will last them throughout their life.”

Both Liz and her husband Neil, an executive with Advanced Vision Research, love coming to the Lipskers for Shabbat dinners. “Their home is always open and everyone is welcome,” says Neil. “Families don’t just come to Shul at Chabad, they become a part of larger Chabad family.”

“It has been a good 13 years,” says Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, “but my spiritual mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was never satisfied with good.”

"Having reached Chabad’s Bar Mitzvah Year, we are all infused with a new energy, with great hope and vision for the Chabad’s future," he says.

Immediate plans include a new office in Beverly.

"We believe that every Jew has an inherent right to Torah study in an environment that respects and validates them.”

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