'Love and inclusion, moving into Lenox': Community welcomes Chabad Lenox Jewish Center

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LENOX — As more than 150 guests celebrated the formal dedication on Sunday of the Chabad Lenox Jewish Center on West Street, local leaders, politicians and donors warmly welcomed the traditional Jewish movement's upcoming relocation from Pittsfield.

Under azure skies on the morning after the violent white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va., state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli described how he was "appalled, saddened, sickened, dismayed" by the televised images of neo-Nazi, KKK and "alt-right" members attacking counter-demonstrators.

After hearing Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones lament how "hate came to our town today in a way that we had feared but we had never really let ourselves imagine would," the Lenox Democrat told the audience he was "so happy to be going to Chabad of the Berkshires because they're bringing love and inclusion, moving into Lenox."

Pignatelli remembered growing up nearby, walking to school past the house on 17 West St., "and it doesn't look much different than it did 30 years ago. I took a walk through it this morning, the bones of that house and the foundation are strong."

Detailing the good works and generosity of a previous resident who donated turkeys anonymously to needy local families for Thanksgiving for many years, Pignatelli saluted "the love and compassion of the man who lived in this house that I feel is going to continue in his spirit with Chabad moving to the heart of the Berkshires."

Offering his congratulations to Rabbi Levi Volovik and his wife, Sara, he pointed out that "you have a lot of work to do, but I can't think of a better place than the center of Lenox for your new home. This is a special, special moment, not only for the town and for this beautiful house, not only for the gentleman who lived with the spirit of Chabad going forward, but for the Berkshires and for America as a whole."

Lee-Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen offered a welcome to Lenox, commenting that "this is a very exciting day for the town and obviously a dream come true for many of the folks under this tent. It's a sign of renewal for this property and for civic life in the town."

Describing his response "to folks who ask me what living in Lenox is like, it's the type of place where folks who live here and visit here wake up in the morning happy to be here and looking at ways they can make the community better. Today's activities are in that same spirit, and I'm overwhelmed and overjoyed to think of the promise of this relationship going forward on this property so close to the civic center of town. It's fantastic, a terrific opportunity."

On behalf of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the Western Massachusetts Office Director Michael Knapik offered commendation for "an extraordinary milestone hats off to all of you. In a day and age when we need more reason, understanding and tolerance, it will help contribute to that."

"Sometimes, the temptation is to look to Washington and to Boston where important decisions are made," he added. "As much as we love Boston, the most important things that happen in our society happen in towns like Lenox."

"This county is an incredibly diverse place," said Albert Stern, publisher of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires' monthly newspaper. Noting that the area's various Jewish groups and congregations don't always communicate extensively, he emphasized that "they know that Chabad is here in the Berkshires." According to Stern, "on certain days in the summer months, the Chabad of the Berkshires website is one of the top-10 most visited Chabad websites in the world."

He described the movement, with 4,500 outposts internationally, as "one of the great brand names in the world — it's like McDonald's, because when you come to Chabad, you know what you're getting; someone who's going to answer your call, take you seriously and if you have a problem, help you try to solve it. They are fantastic for the Jewish community, great neighbors."

Rabbi Volovik, who moved to Pittsfield with his family in 2003 to open the county's first Chabad house on South Street the following year, thanked the crowd "for bearing witness to history in the making this awesome milestone, the beginning of a new era in the heart of the Berkshires. Today, this dream, this vision is taking one more step toward reality. We have to restore this Cozy Nook Mansion to its original glory."

"We have with us here Jews and non-Jews from all walks of life coming together as one family," he said."This is what Chabad is all about, we emphasize not what divides us, no, we emphasize what unites us as a people."

The ceremonial hard-hat shovels-in-the-ground groundbreaking followed a heartfelt salute to multiple donors and family sponsors. With some financing from Adams Community Bank, Chabad is investing a projected $1.3 million into the renovation of the 1863 house with an estimated completion date a year from now. The organization purchased the expansive but run down home for $685,000 last November.

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.

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