It’s a birthday celebration that Rabbi Avrohom Grossbaum of Indianapolis is unlikely to forget anytime soon.
Sure, there was the requisite cake, along with more than 300 family members and friends. More significantly though, the big bash came as Jews worldwide were observing the holiday of Purim.
At the same time, the Indianapolis Jewish community was holding a chanukat habayit—a “grand opening” or “housewarming”—of the brand-new Chabad Center for Jewish Life in nearby Carmel, a suburban Indiana city just north of the state’s capital.
“We had some family visiting for the chanukat habayit, and the next thing I know there’s a birthday cake being brought out,” recounts the newly 60-year-old Grossbaum, director of Lubavitch of Indiana. “It seems like many people were aware of what was happening. I was the only one who didn’t know.”
Significant birthday aside, Grossbaum has many reasons for rejoicing these days.
After more than three decades in Indianapolis, raising 7 children, and running many, many services, programs and classes from their own home and neighboring Jewish schools and synagogues, he and his wife, Nini, are finally opening their own building.
“We did not want to open a Chabad Center around the corner” from other, existing shuls, Grossbaum explains, noting that “other organizations were very generous with their space—particularly, the Hasten Hebrew Academy, the Arthur M. Glick Jewish Community Center, Congregation B’nai Torah and Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation.”
According to Grossbaum, the Indianapolis Jewish community is estimated to have around 10,000 members and nearly 3,500 families.
Historically, most of those families have lived within the Indianapolis city limits, but as with communities elsewhere in recent years, younger families have moved to outlying neighborhoods. In the case of Indianapolis, that was due north to Carmel, necessitating Chabad’s decision to build a center there.
“We felt it important to be as accessible as possible to these young families,” says Grossbaum.
‘Excitement From People’
So six years ago, they bought a four-acre property there. The site is located within three miles of nearly half of the local Jewish community.
“It was really incredible hashgacha pratis and mazal [Divine providence and blessing] that we got that property.”
Thanks to the backing—both fiscally and cooperatively—of members of the local Jewish community, the 13,000-square-foot building was constructed in a little less than two years.
Among its amenities, the new building features a synagogue, classrooms, a social hall and a kosher kitchen. It is simply “marvelous,” declares Carmel resident and longtime Chabad of Indianapolis supporter Vika Farahan.
“It’s just beautiful, light and airy,” she says. “It’s a place you want to come and stay … where you will be welcomed with open arms, and find camaraderie and friendship because you are a Jew, not because of what you do or don’t have.”
Beyond just helping foster friendship among other Jews, the new building “will give us the flexibility to do so much more,” stressed Grossbaum.
First up, says the rabbi, a large communal Passover seder, “which is something we haven’t been able to do in the past.”
“We also hope to start regular services soon, which we never did before. We are very excited about that,” he continues. “There’s also an excitement from people in the community who are looking forward to seeing what Chabad has to offer.”
Noting that they’ve already had their first celebration in the building—a bris (circumcision) for a new baby boy in the community—Grossbaum says it all seems surreal. “We had a room full of people for a simcha (joyous event). I still can’t believe it. I’m still pinching myself.”