Synagogue celebrates 90 years: Kicks off campaign to rebuild from fire
The Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont-Chabad on June 6 celebrated 90 years since the synagogue's founding, and kicked off a campaign to raise money to complete renovations following a 2012 fire that destroyed the sanctuary.
The Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont in Milford was founded in 1926 by a group of Jewish vacationers who summered in the shoreline town. The fledgling synagogue’s membership steadily grew, and soon another building was built to accommodate the overflow crowds.
“Over the next several decades after WWII, synagogue attendance steadily diminished, reflecting the decline of Woodmont from a once sought-after summer destination bustling with Jewish life and activity,” synagogue representatives said in a press release. “The congregation weathered much uncertainty, and at one point considered closing its doors.”
In 2007, Chabad of Milford was established by Rabbi Schneur and Chanie Wilhelm, who immediately partnered with the synagogue, expanding the existing summer operations into year-round services and programming.
“Today, the community is proud of the synagogue's remarkable renaissance as it is once again a thriving center of Jewish life, serving the community both spiritually and physically,” said Chanie Wilhelm.
Honored at the gala were two past presidents and their wives, Doctors Jay and Heidi Dworkin and Dr. David and Ina Fischer, along with the current president and his wife, Joel and Leslie Levitz.
More than 170 people were in attendance to mark the milestone.
Mayor Ben Blake read aloud a proclamation declaring June 6 as "Chabad of Milford Day." Senator Gayle Slossberg also addressed the crowd.
Jamey Turner of Virginia, one of less than two dozen glass harpists in the world, entertained during the cocktail hour. Attendees were able to tour the sanctuary, which dates back to 1926, and which was utterly devastated by a fire in 2012. Since then, plans were drawn to restore the sanctuary and build a Jewish center around the synagogue building.
The adjacent social hall has been renovated and extended, and the dinner and gala also served as the launching of a community-wide building campaign, "Building Together," to raise the remaining funds necessary to complete the entire center. An interactive fund-raising effort, with iPads on each table, allowed the gala attendees to contribute right at the dinner.
The 2012 blaze was caused by a loose screw in an electrical outlet. The fire destroyed many books and sacred items, as well as the sanctuary, but firefighters saved the most precious of relics, the synagogue’s two Torahs.
The first phase of the rebuilding was to renovate the social hall building and winterize it, so that the congregation could meet there for services and for other events. That was completed about a year after the fire, in September of 2013.
Since then, an addition has been built to the social hall, which includes a kitchen, office space and library. The next stage is to build a lobby connecting the two buildings, and then finally the sanctuary.
"We are so grateful to everyone who joined us at the gala and who shares in our mission," said Rabbi Schneur Wilhelm. "Together, we will be able to rebuild our synagogue and complete our Jewish center, ensuring that there is indeed a home for every Jew here in the Milford area. With God's help, we look forward to another 90 years of incredible growth."
The rebuild was initially estimated at $1 million, but when additional expenses were added, the total project cost came to $1.5 million, Chanie Wilhelm said.
“A total of $700,000 was raised up until June of 2016, and then at the dinner we announced the launch of a community-wide building campaign for another $800,000 to complete the project,” she said. “Over $100,000 was raised/pledged at the dinner, leaving us with close to $700,000 still to go.”
More information about the congregation can be found online at www.JewishMilford.com.