MONTREAL — The ceramic tiles from China for the lower level are due any day now, and a permanent Aron Kodesh for the main sanctuary upstairs will be ready soon, by Rosh Hashanah.
But 11 Torahs are in place, and for all intents and purposes, the tiles and the Aron amount to finishing touches.
Five years after digging first began, the Sephardi-oriented Beth Chabad Cote St. Luc, just across from Bialik High School on Kildare Road, is very close to completion, with an official opening planned for late this fall.
At 38,000 square feet, it is immense, dwarfing the size of the city’s next closest Chabad institution, the also very large, Ashkenazi-oriented Montreal Torah Centre, mere seconds away in Hampstead as the crow flies.
Beth Chabad CSL has a smaller hall for Ashkenazi services downstairs, while the main sanctuary upstairs is designated for Sephardi ritual.
But as was made very clear by its Moroccan-born director, Rabbi Mendel Raskin, 50, “every Jew is welcome” at Beth Chabad CSL, regardless of affiliation or level of religious observance.
Rabbi Raskin and his wife, Sarah, have overseen Beth Chabad CSL since 1986, when they were dispatched to Montreal as emissaries by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson to establish a centre in Cote St. Luc.
Rabbi Raskin doesn’t know whether the new centre on Kildare is the largest Chabad institution in Canada, “but I think it would be accurate say it is one of the largest.”
When the Raskins first moved here, the centre ran out of a 5-1/2-room duplex on Earle Street off Baily Road.
It has had four other locations since then, before finding its current, permanent home. They included the Cote St. Luc Shopping Centre, Cavendish Mall, a series of temporary trailers and, for 19 months, the high school across the street.
The institution made headlines 12 years ago when its first planned permanent location next to Cavendish Mall was opposed by neighbours who felt it would be intrusive.
But “now I’m thanking those neighbours,” Rabbi Raskin said, because it ultimately led the centre – whose official name is Beth Chabad CSL Hechal Menachem – to move to where it is now.
The new building was designed by architect Maggie Cohen and constructed with $10 million raised through private as well as government and Jewish community sources, including the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.
Each level is 18,000 square feet, with a 2,000-square-foot mezzanine on the upper level.
The spacious lower level houses, among other things, administrative offices, conference and brides’ rooms, a kollel, and the Ashkenazi prayer hall, with plenty of room left over for a planned library, computer room, permanent youth hall and a home for the centre’s day camp, Ohr Menachem.
The lower level also contains two mikvahs – one for women and a smaller one for men – and a multi-purpose hall.
Upstairs, a 7,000-square-foot banquet hall with chandeliers imported from Morocco and a massive kitchen can accommodate hundreds of guests. The adjoining sanctuary for about 600 can be opened up to accommodate more worshippers.
The first minyan at Beth Chabad CSL was Rosh Hashanah 2011, and the centre has since hosted weddings, bar mitzvahs and other life-cycle events.
Last May, the banquet hall was inaugurated at an event marking Chabad CSL’s 26th anniversary.
Rabbi Raskin said Chabad CSL was a needed response to a burgeoning number of younger Jews and families establishing themselves in Cote St. Luc.
“When it comes to our youth, the Chabad-Lubavitch philosophy is simple… In today’s world it is imperative for our youth to have a strong grasp of Jewish practices, traditions, values and Hebrew skills,” the centre’s website, chabadcl.com, says.
“Our goal is to instil within our children and youth a sense of Jewish pride so that they love their Judaism and cherish it as their own treasure.”