Thursday, September 15, 2005

New Chabad House in North Port, FL

חדשות חב"ד

New Chabad House in North Port, FL

( NORTH PORT -- For some of the children, everything seems strange.

The prayer books are read from back to front and from right to left. The script-like letters of the Aleph Bet, the Hebrew alphabet, are perplexing. The kippah, the skull cap that many Jewish males wear, causes one boy to fidget uncomfortably. But there are incentives.

Rabbi Sholom Schmerling and his wife, Rivka, reward thoughtful answers with Torah dollars, play money that the children can save to buy toys, books and games. Learning will also be recognized by colored belts, as in karate -- from white for a beginner to black for a rabbi.

(Continued in full article)

The after-school class held Monday in the Schmerling home in North Port is one way the Schmerlings are promoting Jewish culture and religion. They have established a center to provide education and social and religious services for Jewish people in southern Sarasota County.

The Schmerlings, who moved here from New York, chose to start the Chabad of North Port and Venice because they believe the area's growth has created a big enough Jewish community to support a center.

"When we moved here, we got the feeling there were a lot of families waiting for this to happen," Schmerling said. "We feel we got to the right place."

The center is affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch, an international group that encourages Jewish people to live their lives according to the teachings in the Torah. The organization, founded in Russia in 1772, has more than 2,700 centers around the world, including 80 in Florida, according t! o its Web site.

Despite its size, the group does not provide money for its centers. Typically, centers are funded through donations from the local community.

To start the local center, the Schmerlings collected donations from the Jewish community in New York. Until they can raise enough money for a permanent building, the center will be based in their home.

In four months, the center has attracted interest from about 120 families. It has also made an impact in the local community in other ways. In July, Schmerling conducted a bar mitzvah for a 73-year-old Ukrainian who, because of suppression of religion in the Soviet Union, was denied the coming-of-age ceremony Jewish boys normally have on their 13th birthday.

Other services include adult education classes to explain the significance of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Schmerling's wife has started a group for Jewish women.

The Chabad Lubavitch group endorses Orthodox Ju! daism, a branch of the religion regarded as the most tradition! al.
< BR>At Orthodox services, women are separated from men in order to minimize lapses in concentration. Orthodox Jews also strictly observe the Sabbath. That means complete rest -- Schmerling will not drive his car on the Sabbath.

The Schmerlings emphasize, however, that the center is open to all Jewish people, not just those of Orthodox faith.

Rivka Schmerling said the teaching methods used by the center are a key to its success.

"When a person understands something, then they feel it becomes part of them," she said.

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