Tommy Bernard, of Nashville, Tennessee, beams when he talks about the Genesis Campus for Jewish Life, which welcomed hundreds at its grand opening yesterday.
“I feel really proud,” said Bernard, president of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nashville’s board. “I’m proud of what people are going to feel when they walk through the doors, and I’m proud of having been part of making it happen.”
Bernard, who has been studying Torah, Jewish law and Chasidic thought with Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel and has been a supporter of the local Chabad House for the last decade, was thrilled to see the move from Yitzchok and Esther Tiechtel‘s basement space to a piece of property that recognizes the work they’ve put in to the community and its growth.
“They have built something I think is going to be quite timeless,” said Bernard, “and I think they will be there for many years to come.”
The property, protected on three sides by trees, feels both private and welcoming, explained Bernard. It’s perfect for the community’s weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, social functions and more – especially given its commercial kosher kitchen.
Built with stone from local quarries, it is home to a sanctuary with floor to ceiling windows, a library with shelves upon shelves, a Jewish ritual bath, classrooms, and guest wings for when people come to stay for the Sabbath. It’s on nine acres of land, only two of which have been developed thus far.
“You look out and all you see is trees,” said Yitzchok Tiechtel. “You really feel G-dliness in the nature.”
The new building opens up opportunities for the community, he said, such as space for the community Seder it hosted over Passover for some 200 people in the new social hall, which sits adjacent to the sanctuary.
“It was the biggest Seder we ever had,” he said.
There’s also an area with brick walls and concrete floors that is slated to house a kosher café, which the Tiechtels hope to develop as a place for teens to meet.
The local branch of the Friendship Circle, which pairs area teens with special needs families, recently hosted a kosher movie night there, the rabbi added. It’s appropriately a place that will welcome anyone interested in learning about the Jewish people, their culture, traditions and way of life, he said.
The building dedication was attended by clergy from across the city of Nashville; during the construction, Tiechtel would tell people how the project was like the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of Isaiah, who spoke of the “day when all the nations of the world will build a house for G-d.”
“This has been the collective effort of many, many people,” said Tiechtel, reflecting on how far things have come since he and his wife welcomed a father and son to Sabbath dinner 13 years ago.
They moved to a 1,500-square foot storefront, then the 3,000-square foot basement three years later.
“Then we grew,” detailed Tiechtel. The road to the new building has been a long one, as they bought the land in 2006 and broke ground in 2010.
“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people step up to the plate,” he added. “Everyone came together.
Even the builder, Fred Yazdian, took part in the project as a gift to the Chabad House, telling the rabbi that he felt priveleged to build a holy space in Nashville.
Everyone shared their joy over the new building’s completion yesterday, with rabbis, community members and area dignitaries in attendance for a ribbon cutting, tour and dessert reception.
Gov. Bill Haslam – who received the ceremonial ribbon cutting scissors from Levi, 11, and Chana Tiechtel, 8 – spoke about Chabad as a light to the state of Tennessee, and a link for the future. The Chabad House is one of five active centers across the state, with others in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Chabad of Nashville, and at Vanderbilt University.
“Great communities and great states are made up of a combination of people who all bring their gifts and talents to bear on making that community a better place,” said the governor. “Any time you dedicate a new, physical place of remembering, a place of study and a place of life, the community moves forward.”
Simone Meyerowitz, who remembers going to services in the Tiechtels’ basement more than a decade ago, said she’s glad to see the center expand and is looking forward to the new building attracting new fans and members to get involved. It’s a place that has always felt like an extension of her own home, she added.
“We’d like to keep that same intimate and relaxed atmosphere we’ve always had,” she explained.
“Whether it’s 50 or 150 people, we want to keep it so that everyone who comes feels so warm and welcome.”
She watched the new building go up, driving past it frequently on the way to wherever she was going. Now that it’s done, it’s like a dream come true.
“To finally see it finished is very special,” said Meyerowitz. “It’s a wonderful feeling, and especially knowing how much support we got from the community.”
On Sunday, the new building hosted not only the grand opening but also a circumcision for twin babies and a third circumcision for an area youngster, leading Tiechtel to note how the project had for him a deeply personal touch.
“My great-grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel, was a very humble man, one who always remained under the radar, yet was a rabbi and a mohel. He started a small place of worshp in his basement in S. Petersburg, Russia, back in 1938,” explained Tiechtel.
“He would perform the circumcisions under the evil eye of the KGB and Stalin’s secret service, [and] wished to one day build a synagogue in the open, to come out from the underground.
“Unfortunately, before Passover in 1938 he was taken away by the KGB, and as he was being carried away, he turned to his young children, one of them my grandmother, and he [told them to] continue the work,” continued the rabbi. “I say to my great-grandfather, who must be looking down from above [that] we’ve come full circle, we are fulfilling your last request.”
And this is only the beginning, said Bernard, explaining that he knows others will also find the new center a quality place to take part in Jewish activities. It makes him feel even more connected to his Judaism, a sentiment he knows others will share.
“I’m excited that we have a place where people will want to come to share in the impact Chabad can have on the Jewish experience,” he said.