WALLINGFORD — The local Jewish community center closed its Center Street location last month and is looking for a new, larger space.
The Chabad of Wallingford had been located at 174 Center St. in a roughly 1,100-square-foot ground-floor storefront since December 2007.
“We've been doing all of our activities outdoors and via Zoom, and simply did not need the use of the center itself,” Rabbi Baruch Kaplan said Friday.
Kaplan, who has been the center’s director since its beginning, said that the group is searching for a new physical home — hopefully before the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September — while continuing to meet via Zoom or at alternative locations, including Kaplan’s backyard.
Hosting events at his home brings the Chabad center’s activities full circle — when Kaplan and his family moved to Wallingford in 2005, they began the center by running events out of their home.
“You’ve got to look at life and say (that) every event that happens,” he said, “and every event that occurs, is to give you an opportunity to get better.”
Larry Kirchheimer, a Chabad congregant, said via email Monday that over the past four years, a lot of members moved out of the area, making it difficult to keep the building, and that COVID-19 hurt attendance.
“Zoom has helped because people attend who live out of state,” he said. “You have elderly people, who can’t drive … now learn on Rabbi Kaplan’s Zoom classes.”
Kirchheimer said he has attended events at the Kaplan house, which he feels are “special.”
“G-d is everywhere,” he wrote, using a customary spelling of God, “so I feel it’s not where one prays, it’s how one through prayer attaches oneself to G-d.”
Kaplan said the move to a larger space is to allow social distancing in the short term — “We're hoping that the pandemic does come to a full end,” he said — and to accommodate its increased membership and continue to connect with congregants in the long term.
“Our space was tight,” he said, “but when you have a spot that works, you don't just get rid of it. But once we realized that it's time for us to move on, we need a place that's more suitable for a crowd that, thankfully, hopefully, will continue to grow.”
Kaplan said that some of the larger activities have drawn 60 to 70 people, but some of the larger events attract more than 100 people.
On Sunday, the center held a traditional upsherinish — a ceremonial first haircut and formal introduction to the Jewish education for 3-year-olds.
Kaplan said Monday that about 150 people attended the ceremony, which was held for his son, Menachem.
The Chabad center has hosted public events in the past, such as the community menorah lighting during Hanukkah at Johanna Fishbein Park in front of the train station.
Kaplan said that the new space might be another commercial location, but it’s more important to find the right place no matter what kind it is.
“As we continue to be careful,” he said, “we need to help the community feel upbeat about the future, and really say (that) we're getting ready to be careful, we're going to take precautions, and yet we’re going to move forward, take the next steps.”
The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a worldwide Jewish outreach organization, started in the United States in the early 1940s and is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.
It has more than 4,000 emissary families worldwide whose members become a part of their communities to better understand their needs.
There are about 22 Chabad centers in Connecticut, according to the website for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
The word Chabad is a combination of chachmah (wisdom), binah (comprehension) and da'at (knowledge). Lubavitch is the name of a town in Russia where the movement was based for more than a century. Lubavitch in Russian translates to “The City of Brotherly Love.”
A new tenant has already moved into the Wallingford Chabad center’s former location.
This Toy Life, a collectible toy store which had been operating in a storefront across the street for more than a year, opened last week with limited hours as the store continues to be set up.