Solon: A reflection of the world - Rabbi calls growth of local Chabad ‘a miracle” that flourished out of need

By SUE REID | Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 11:45 pm


Under a blanket of sunshine, children run excitedly throughout the near 4-acre grounds of the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon where a summer camp welcomes nearly 200 each year. They revel in the Jewish camp experience, baking challah bread each Friday for Shabbat, and the joys of summer, planting seeds in a communal garden and swimming in a pool nearby. The camp is one of the many ways the Chabad, an enclave built in 2004 on Harper and Cannon roads, serves its 500 members. It is Solon’s only synagogue, unique in that it is led by an Orthodox rabbi with a congregation of Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews.

The goal is to provide Judaism to all Jews, Rabbi Zushe Greenberg and his wife Miriam explained.“We don’t believe in labels. There is one nation; one Jewish people,” the rabbi said. Rabbi Greenberg, 48, who studied at rabbinic school in New York under Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement, came to Solon 24 years ago. At that time, he brought with him a vision to reach out and give the opportunity for everyone to have the Jewish experience, which is at the core of the Chabad movement. Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding and knowledge. It is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world known for its outreach.

“There was no Jewish presence in Solon 25 years ago,” Rabbi Greenberg recalled. He began holding services in his home on Falls Glen Road, with sometimes as few as two, five or seven people. Solon resident Edward H. Kraus recalled attending those services in the early 1990s, and not holding much optimism for the congregation’s future due to the low attendance. “My first instinct was it wasn’t going to work,” Mr. Kraus recalled. “It was a very small group, and it takes a lot of people to grow a congregation.

“I knew there was a growing Jewish community in Solon, but still, a lot of people were affiliated with an existing congregation and most were not in Solon,” Mr. Kraus added. Little by little, the congregation grew. It graduated from the rabbi’s home to the lower level of theSolon Professional Building on Aurora Road. Mr. Kraus recalled a Saturday morning service where there were not the required 10 men to read from the Torah, as is the Jewish custom. So Rabbi Greenberg would go next door to Liberty Ford to find participants and bring them over. “I started to get a little more optimistic about the future,” said Mr. Kraus, who grew up next door to Mrs. Greenberg in University Heights.

Services then moved to Solon High School and Arthur Road School. “I know every school building in Solon,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “Everyone is so welcoming here.”

The services became so crowded while the requests for classes and programs also grew. It was then the Greenbergs began looking at property in the city for their own building. “I call it a miracle,” Rabbi Greenberg said of the current sanctuary and property. “It grew out of need.” Reality has surpassed his vision, the rabbi noted.

“I’m very lucky I came to a place like Solon,” he said. “The goal is to provide as many programs as we can,” Mrs. Greenberg, 44, added. “We can’t afford to lose one Jew,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “Anybody is welcome here.”

For Solon resident Alison Weingold, 34, Chabad has brought to her life a sense of community, a sense of friendship and a sense of family. She and her husband Scott, 35, moved to Solon in 2008 before starting a family. She grew up in a Conservative temple in New Jersey, and her husband grew up Reform in Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood.

“I have always been a Reform Jewish person, although my family belonged to a conservative synagogue,” she said.

One of the things that drew her to the Chabad was its diversity, Mrs. Weingold noted. “I also believe it is a very welcoming place, very family oriented, and very open minded,” Mrs. Weingold said. “They give you the opportunity to get as much or as little involved as you can.” The couple’s daughter Sydney, 6, attends the Hebrew School there and their son Cameron, 3, attends the preschool.

“It’s been a place my children always feel comfortable at,” she said. Mrs. Weingold said she enjoys having an Orthodox rabbi and lives within walking distance from the synagogue, although that was not a deliberate choice. Her family walks to services on the High Holidays, not because of the religious aspect of the ritual, but because it was a family tradition when growing up, she said.

Orthodox Jews do not ride in cars, among other things, on Shabbat. Mrs. Greenberg said people drive from all over to come to the Chabad and that it is a common misconception that they all walk to temple. “The majority of our community is Reform and Conservative families,” Mrs. Greenberg said. About 2 percent of the congregation walks.

“Our lot is open and people are welcome to come,” she said. “Our goal is to provide as many programs as we can.”

It is important her children know the values of Judaism, Mrs. Weingold continued. “My kids 100 percent know that Friday is Shabbat,” and they will come home with a challah from school, Mrs. Weingold said. “They know the traditions, and they have a very good understanding of what the holidays mean because they learned it at Shabbat.” As a family, the Weingolds go around the table each night and say what they are most grateful for.

“Judaism plays a part in that,” she said, with her children noting something that happened inSunday school for example.

Mr. Kraus, who was raised traditional and conservative, said what he appreciates most about the Chabad is that there is no judgment regardless of one’s personal observations. “They are welcoming to everybody,” said Mr. Kraus, 54. “People have different levels of their own observance.”

Rabbi Greenberg likens it to a buffet, noting that the synagogue offers so much and that people can choose what they want. “We serve them in one way or another.”

Mr. Kraus regularly attends services along with his wife Bonnie, who grew up Reform. “She really embraced the rabbi and Miriam because they were not judgmental,” Mr. Kraus said. Their openness is what has allowed the synagogue to flourish, Mr. Kraus noted. “You have to be open and welcoming to everybody if you want to grow your membership.”

In the Kraus home, they carry on many traditions, such as the Friday Shabbat dinner and the holiday observances. The Kraus’ have three children, Rachel, 21, Hannah, 19, and Jacob, 13, who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah at the Chabad in September. “He studies every day,” Mr. Kraus said of his son. “He’s grown up at the Chabad. It is a second home for him and for us.”

“We are centered around children because they are the future,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “It is important to raise children with the warmth and love of Judaism.”

The Chabad continues to add a variety of programs, many aimed at young people. Last summer, it began an after school program to accommodate working parents of children in kindergarten to fifth grades. Structured like their day camp, the program offers such things as cooking, homework help and gymnastics.

The Chabad has a staff of about 50 and the sanctuary, including classrooms and offices, measures 19,000 square feet. It was built for $3 million by donations.

The synagogue is Mr. Kraus’ “spiritual home,” he said. “My life would not be complete without it,” he said. “From the living room in the rabbi’s home to what it is now, serving hundreds and hundreds of families and now generations of families, I feel like a proud father. “It’s just brought so much joy to me personally,” Mr. Kraus added.

Mrs. Weingold said she sees the Jewish people as being respectful, trustworthy, honest and embrace many values.

For Mr. Kraus, he has a sense of great pride being Jewish, he said, and being able to pass on to his children the traditions, “like links in a chain. “We have had points in our history, like the Holocaust, when the chain was almost broke,” Mr. Kraus said. “It is important to transmit all the traditions to my kids so that when I’m gone, they will be carried on.” Mr. Kraus said he has met so many wonderful friends through the Chabad.

“It’s a place where you can put everything aside and enjoy the spiritual side of life,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. That gives you that nourishment in life. There’s something greater than you.”