Chabad of Austin Purchases New Land to Call Home
Sheldon and Ari Levin celebrated Sukkot at Chabad’s new Northwest Austin property. Photo courtesy of Chabad of Austin.
By Tonyia Cone
From 1984 to 2007, Rochel and Rabbi Yosef Levertov ran Chabad activities out of a single center in the Chabad Jewish Student Center near the University of Texas at Austin campus. Since 2007, Chabad of Austin and the Jewish preschool and day school, Beis Menachem Hebrew Preparatory School, have been based in Northwest Hills and Chabad Young Jewish Professionals, Chabad of Round Rock and Chabad of South Austin were opened throughout Greater Austin.
As Chabad’s activities outgrew their locations and the school’s waiting list grew longer, the need for a permanent central location became ever more pressing. In August, through the leadership of the Chabad Building Committee, headed by Elan Gordon, SHIR Capital principal, Chabad of Austin increased its capacity through the purchase of land at 3500 Hyridge Drive, on the corner of Hyridge Drive and North Mopac Expressway in Northwest Austin.
“Chabad has been a place of unassuming acceptance; connect first, no entry fees, no membership fees, follow up with a donation if and when you see fit. The inclusivity is unique and extraordinary. The purchase of this land is the first step towards wrapping Chabad’s community to a central place, crafting a sense of home,” said Gordon. “With the right features in place, the future building will allow the Chabad community to grow stronger and faster along with greater Austin. As a direct beneficiary of Chabad of Austin’s community and services I’m proud to have contributed to the land purchase and to continue fostering the development of their permanent home.”
Community members celebrated Sukkot with Chabad on their new property. Entertainment included balloon artistry, pony rides, a Torah making craft and a petting zoo. Photo courtesy of Chabad of Austin.
Almost an acre, the property was previously home to an automotive repair shop and car wash. Once the city approves their permits, Chabad plans to demolish the existing buildings to make space for four 2,000 square foot portables they purchased from Austin Independent School District.
“That will give us enough room for our school to come on to the property and have enough social distancing for now and a nice backyard and nice play place,” said Yosef, adding that there will also be parking spots reserved for those with disabilities and the school will be able to accept its long waiting list.
Chabad is holding outdoor events at the new property while social distancing is necessary. The first official event at the location was held just before Rosh Hashanah, a Pidyon Haben — redemption of the firstborn son — for their grandson, Menachem Mendel Levertov, son of Levi and Menucha Levertov. A Pidyon Haben was also held for the son of Sholom and Ariela Neistein, a military family from Fort Hood.
Since then, Chabad’s weekly outdoor, in-person Torah service has moved to the property.
“This is by the community, for the community,” said Rochel, co-director of Chabad of Austin and Beis Menachem director and principal, noting that Chabad does not require membership or affiliation. “Hundreds of people invested in this project already, so every individual feels like they are part of this land. I could see at Rosh Hashanah when people came, they said, ‘We feel connected.’ People are really connected.”
The large outdoor space enabled Chabad to hold services, hourly shofar blowing and activities for children for Rosh Hashanah. Chabad ensured social distancing for their Sukkot Extravaganza by requiring registration for 30-minute time slots for pony rides, balloon artistry, a petting zoo, a Torah building project, to shake the etrog and eat in their sukkah.
“Even though the pandemic is still going on, kids can remember who they are, what they are and have a good experience in Judaism,” Rochel said.
More than 1,000 community members donated to the Build the Future Campaign, and they were matched by the generous contributions of the Tocker Foundation; Jonathan David, a University of Texas alumnus who now lives in Israel; Michael Kleinman; the Rosenberg Family and other philanthropists.
Chabad plans to construct a building on the property in about two years.
“The community is invested in the vision and excited to make this happen,” said Yosef, who explained that Chabad looks forward to using the space for a synagogue, programming, additional classrooms, a safe place for teens to hang out and socialize, and a kitchen for a kosher meal delivery service for older adults and those with disabilities, which Rochel currently runs out of her home.
“The city is growing,” said Yosef. “Hopefully we’ll be able to grow and do more.”
For more information about Chabad of Greater Austin, visit chabadaustin.com. ■
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