Wednesday, November 02, 2005

18 Successful Years for Chabad Palm Beach

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18 Successful Years for Chabad Palm Beach

(By Shani McManus, Jewish Journal Staff Writer)

The gala Chai celebration at Chabad of Palm Beach brought a mixture of laughter and tears last week, as congregants took a collective walk down memory lane, a journey that evoked 18 years of memories and milestones.

Someone recalled the time the shul hired a plane to fly overhead towing a "Happy Hanuka" greeting. Another remembered the 30-foot menorah balloon that floated alongside Interstate 95 every year for a decade. And still another recalled the feeling of victory when Chabad won a court case against the town of Palm Beach that allowed for Jewish symbols and events in the town's Bradley Park for the first time.

Rebbetzin Chani Ezagui can't believe almost two decades have passed since the shul first opened its doors. "Eighteen is a very large number - and with a lot of meaning," she says. "18 years just flew by. But when I look at my oldest son who was age one at the time and is 19 now, I realize 18 years did pass by.

Continued with a gallery of pictures in full article.

Ezagui compares the growth of the shul to that of raising children. "Just as there are many stages to raising a child, lots of effort is required until the child turns into an adult; Chabad worked with great effort and diligence for 18 years to bring Judaism to Palm Beach," she says.

       "We made friends with nice people, and overcame many obstacles, but we feel Chabad has created deep Jewish roots in the community."

       The fruits of those roots were evident as more than 250 people turned out for the gala celebration, with seven keynote speakers stepping up to the podium to praise the shul.  In addition to the clown show and special programming for the children, a gourmet Viennese table, catered by Dade County's Kosher Magic, delighted the celebrants.

       Dr. David Shuter, a longtime shul member, and one of the evening's speakers praised Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui, the Chabad's spiritual leader.

       "I love the rabbi and his wife. Rabbi Ezagui is an excellent rabbi - kind, intelligent, compassionate and smart. He's the main reason I go to the shul," he says.

       Shuter has seen many changes over the 12 years he has been a member. "The shul has definitely improved over the years. We have a beautiful mikvah and social hall."

       The highlight of the evening was a 18-minute video, "18 Years in 18 Minutes," put together shul member Jack Meyer, which touched many hearts, Rabbi Ezagui says.

       "We saw the little children who are now adults, some already with their own children," he says. "We remembered some members who are unfortunately no longer with us. In these 18 years, we accomplished really so much - touched so many lives in so many ways, and were trail blazers in the community, which the movie needed to remind all of us."

       Ezagui says the Chabad of Palm Beach broke gound with the first of many things. "We were the first in the community to offer a traditional preschool, we had the first mikvah, and we were the first to open an Orthodox minyan in Palm Beach, among other firsts," he says.

       But it is the spiritual milestones, Ezagui says, that are more powerful than any events.  "For me, to know I was able to stop even one person from cremation and have them buried in a traditional Jewish way - to persuade several families to go through with a traditional circumcision - to counsel a child after his parent committed suicide not to mention the counseling of the parent of the one who committed suicide - to have a policeman tell me he was carrying with him for the last 12 years a prayer in his wallet ever since we put on Tefillin together, is more powerful that any of the grand events," he says.

       "It's all about making an everlasting impression on even one soul."

       The "18 Years in 18 Minutes" video is available through on the shul's Web site:  For more information, call 561-624-7004.

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