By Sean Bowes
After years of meeting in hotel conference rooms, and composing services in the living rooms of each other’s homes, the Jewish community in Wesley Chapel (and northern New Tampa) now has a synagogue to call its own, one that opened just in time for the Jewish High Holy Days.
The Chabad Jewish Centre at Wiregrass opened its doors to the public on September 11, when the community came out to see the ribbon cutting for the newly opened synagogue and to join Rabbi Mendi Yarmush for a service in the new sanctuary.
Rabbi Yarmush says that choosing 9/11 as the first day for services was not an accident; Chabad at Wiregrass’ leadership chose the date to unite the community as a stand against terrorism.
“September 11 is a day about uniting and coming together and showing strength,” says Rabbi Yarmush. “It’s about doing more to rebuild.”
The first day at the new Chabad sanctuary was a great success. According to Yarmush, the attendance at the ceremony was about 130 people, a healthy increase from the 35 people Yarmush hosted for services at his home in 2008. After the ribbon cutting, the Rabbi and his congregants celebrated the opening of the synagogue by serving wine, cheese and decadent chocolate desserts.
“We wanted to keep it sweet for such a sweet occasion,” said Yarmush.
The Chabad at Wiregrass recently acquired the brand-new, 2,750-sq-ft office building at 2124 Ashley Oaks Cir. in the Seven Oaks Professional Park (which is conveniently located off of S.R. 56).
Chabad at Wiregrass (formerly Chabad at County Line) is the first synagogue to open in eastern Pasco County; Rabbi Yarmush says that he chose the location because of its easy accessibility to not only Wesley Chapel and New Tampa but to Land O’ Lakes as well. He says anyone with an interest in Judaism is welcome to the services, regardless of background, affiliation (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc.) or financial means.
Rabbi Yarmush says that the demographic of the congregation is very diverse, with young and old members, as well as single men and women and families.
Chabad at Wiregrass will hold its regular services on the first Friday of every month, in addition to the services and dinners that will be celebrated in accordance with holidays Services already were held for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) Sep. 29-30 and there also are services for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which begins Friday night, October 7, and ends on Saturday evening, October 8.
According to JewishDataBank.org, the Jewish population in Pasco County increased from 6,500 persons in 2,800 households in 1994 to 10,100 persons in 4,350 households in 2010, an increase of 55-percent, although we do not have reliable data for the number of Jewish families or residents living within Wesley Chapel or New Tampa.
The good news in these tough economic times is that while there are many synagogues that charge annual fees, Chabad programs are historically open to the public at no cost and Chabad at Wiregrass is no exception.
“Everyone is welcome,” says Rabbi Yarmush. “Anyone can attend, and we celebrate in happy and fun way.”
Some of the congregation’s members have been around since the beginning. Mandi Mendel, a Wesley Chapel resident who has been attending services at Chabad the last two years, says she is pleased to be a part of the synagogue and looks forward to watching it grow with the local Jewish community.
“Chabad at Wiregrass has such a tight-knit community and it’s growing,” says. Mendel, “And now, we’re a part of that growth. This place (the synagogue) will be the place where we will come and gather; where we will come when times are bad and where we will come to celebrate.”
For more information about Chabad at Wiregrass, call 642-3244 or visit ChabadAtWiregrass.com. The new synagogue is located at 2124 Ashley Oaks Cir., off S.R. 56 and Ancient Oaks Dr.