Lenox fundraiser will benefit new Chabad center: Money will restore stately mansion for new use

LENOX — Chabad of the Berkshires, the traditional Jewish movement based on South Street in Pittsfield since 2004, is poised for a $2 million investment for a new center in the heart of Lenox.

A groundbreaking and dedication ceremony open to the entire community is set for this Sunday at 11 a.m. to launch a renovation of the Cozy Nook Mansion, a 7,000 square-foot house at 17 West St. built in 1863. Currently, it has nine bedrooms and six baths. The property was sold by Lenore Katherine Smith to Chabad of Berkshire County Inc. for $685,000 last November.

Funds for the $1.3 million restoration of the rundown building are being raised locally, Rabbi Levi Volovik told The Eagle on Thursday. Architectural firm EDM of Pittsfield is designing the project, which should be completed by next September, he said.

"The focus is to create a religious center on the footprint and within the existing building," said attorney Phillip Heller of Heller & Robbins in Lenox. He is representing Chabad on zoning and financing issues.

The project will not require action by town boards, he pointed out, because it conforms with local zoning bylaws and state law allowing by-right use for religious and educational institutions in an existing building and footprint.

"The building is really an eyesore," Heller said. "This will improve and upgrade it, and that's a good thing for the neighborhood and the community."

Adams Community Bank is providing a portion of the funding for the restoration, he added.

"Right now, we just want to make the house livable and have services there," said Volovik. "We're going to be responsible for this new home to look beautiful, well-kept, not ostentatious, just nice." Work on a new roof is set to begin Monday, to be followed by exterior and interior renovation.

He pointed out that "we're not just a religious organization, it's a humanitarian organization. We're here to help all people in the Berkshires, no matter what their faith, background, or affiliation is."

Volunteers are welcome to help Chabad's community outreach efforts, which include meal deliveries to seniors and visits to residents of assisted-living facilities, he added.

"Lighting a little candle dispels so much darkness," the rabbi said. "This world is a dark place. With what's going on, people are afraid. My suggestion is go out and do something. Don't say it's dark, go out and make a difference. There's so much we can do as a community. That's what we're here for, as an extra asset to help the community at large in Lenox and the Berkshires."

The current name, Chabad Lenox Jewish Center, eventually will be modified to credit a lead donor.

Although based in Pittsfield, the organization has been holding summer services at the Lenox Community Center for the past 10 years, and it hosts an annual menorah lighting for Hanukkah outside the adjacent Gateways Inn. But the rabbi stated that 90 percent of the people who come to Chabad are not "traditional Jews."

"Not everybody holds the same beliefs, but they all feel comfortable at Chabad," he asserted. "It's the only Jewish institution in the world where all groups of people from all denominations feel comfortable in one center. Some of us are more observant, some are less, it's not our position or anyone's position to judge who's religious or not. We have to be embracing all people."

"We cater to people living here year-round, second home owners and visitors," Volovik noted. Since Lenox is considered the magnet for many visitors, he continued, "we're trying to get the maximum amount of people, to be most easily accessible to all three groups. Lenox is the heart of the Berkshires, and it's celebrating 250 years."

He also underlined the importance of diversity and multiculturalism — "we're not going to be just helping Jews, but we're going to be a home base for anyone who needs help, it's for mankind. We have Jewish values, but we're here for all people."

The Chabad movement originated in 1772 at Lyubavitch in Belarus, a nation currently bordered by Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. The village is known as the namesake and former headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidic Judaism. The movement has 4,500 centers worldwide and, according to Volovik and other sources, it's the largest Jewish organization in the world.

"Lubavitch means town of love," Volovik explained. "Chabad is a Hebrew acronym of wisdom, understanding and knowledge."

He emphasized that "any rituals that we do aren't by rote but because we understand why we're doing it, and connect to a higher purpose."

As an emissary rabbi of the movement's late U.S. leader, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Volovik first visited the Berkshires to see in-laws following a rambling, six-hour drive up Route 7 from Connecticut. He encountered a B & B manager who encouraged him to locate a Chabad house in the county. "This was all within the first five minutes when I came to the Berkshires," Volovik recalled.

Starting in Pittsfield with his wife, Sara, and their son Hershey, the family now includes six youngsters. Their house at 450 South St. will be put on the market once the renovated home in Lenox is certified for occupancy, said Volovik.

"We don't want to be pompous, it should fit the character of Lenox, we want to make sure everybody's voice is heard and listened to," he commented. "We want to be a good neighbor to work with the town. We want to be respectful, a friend of the community. I look at the Lenox community as family, and we want to be family."

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


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