When the Chabad Jewish Center of Chattanooga was in its former building in Brainerd, located within shouting distance of Eastgate Mall, there wasn't a whole lot of things going on — some classes for children and adults, a few special events, Shabbat services, of course.
"In the old building, parents would bring their kids for classes and leave," acknowledges Rabbi Shaul Perlstein.
But with the Chabad's move to a new, bigger location, "now they are staying and hanging out because there is space and things to do," he says.
A few months ago, the Chabad bought the 10,000-square-foot building — home to former girls school and Masonic lodge — at the corner of Vine Street and Central Avenue in the Fort Wood neighborhood. After extensive renovations and remodeling to the 1914 structure, they moved in.
"We recently added a game room there with a pool table and basketball hoop," Perlstein says.
The building is split into two wings, with one side housing the synagogue and the other housing the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute with classrooms and a library. There's even a lounge, which is most often used by the center's Jew-TC group, made up of Jewish students at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
It also contains a kitchen and dining area and space for communal gatherings around special events and holidays.
The local Chabad is part of an international organization focused on the Jewish community as a whole. It is not affiliated with any one synagogue nor is it aligned with a particular tradition — Conservative, Reform or Orthodox. Chabad's underlying doctrine is "Ahavat Yisrael," or "Love for a fellow Jew."
Services in the synagogue lean to "more of an Orthodox style," Perlstein says, but "all Jews are welcome."
"It's the journey that we're all equal on. We can all just take one rung on the ladder at a time.
Teaching is a key focus, he says, and members of both the Mizpah and B'nai Zion congregations attend the Chabad's classes, he says.
"At the educational institution, there is no push to say which congregation you should go to, it would be more a push that you would more attend the congregation where you feel comfortable."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.