The Chabad Center for Jewish Life, also known as the Chabad of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh, recently raised over $500,000 in five days. Donated funds will be used to expand the Chabad School building, which serves its Jewish early learning preschool, Hebrew school and summer camp.
The campaign – “Building a Dream: Investing in the Future” – went live on www.chabadjewishlife.org on the morning of December 9th. Five days later, the community had raised $518,888.
The expansion of the preschool had been under-discussed for some time, but since Chabad operates as a non-profit organization, funding was to be based on donations. With more than 100 children on a waiting list for school, a handful of donors approached Rabbi Shimon Kramer and his wife, Chanie, the director of JELC, and offered to triple the donations received from the community.
“The kindergarten principals and teachers are all on the front line, doing a fantastic job,” Rabbi Kramer said. “The only way we could grow was if the community could contribute and help. Some donors came forward and wanted it to be a community event.
The names of donors and partners have been kept confidential as a courtesy, but Kramer added that almost every parent at the school has given something to the campaign.
Although the expansion will allow approximately 100 additional students to attend the preschool, Chabad Hebrew students will also use the additional space on weekday afternoons and on Saturday mornings. During the summer he will be available for summer camp.
This isn’t the first kindergarten expansion, Chanie Kramer explained. The program started with four children in 2008 and operated out of the Kramers’ home.
“We’ve had many extensions,” Chanie said. “The first big step was getting him out of the house.”
The chabad opened a two-room preschool at its Hewlett Avenue location in 2015, and added two additional classrooms and a multipurpose room in 2018. The multipurpose room now serves as a temporary classroom.
“At the moment we don’t have a suitable multi-purpose room,” Kramer said. “It’s really important to do this as soon as possible.”
Expansion plans were in the works even before the fundraising campaign began. The initial goal was to raise $400,000, a total that was quickly exceeded. Chabad officials met with Hempstead town and state officials to ensure the expansion would be possible.
“We meet everyone now because what was a dream is now a reality,” Rabbi Kramer said. “The architects are working on the details. The biggest challenge concerns building permits. As soon as we have the permits, we will be ready to roll.
The JELC currently serves approximately 82 students aged 1.5 to 4 years. The expansion will create four new classrooms, so there will be two classrooms each for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. There will also be a nursery for children from the age of 6 weeks.
“Everybody wanted the expansion,” Rabbi Kramer said. “Education [children] getting here takes a lifetime. It’s so important – it really is an investment in their future.
With additional classes, the center will need new staff. “We’re very selective about who we take — they have to have a passion for education,” Rabbi Kramer said of the hiring process. “The teachers here really make the kids feel important and loved.”
Once the chabad receives the necessary permits, the Kramers said, construction should take no more than several months. Updates on the building process can be found on the website, and the Jewish Early Learning Center has its own site, www.jewishelc.org.
“The community is amazing and everyone participated,” Rabbi Kramer said. “The matchers went above and beyond – those amounts were really tough. We were so touched and grateful.