Some people like a challenge. For example, people like Rabbi Shlame and Miriam Landa, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Fairfield, Conn.

They arrived in the area in 2007 and went to work right away.

As they developed connections in the community, they found their biggest challenge to be finding enough space for their growing number of services, classes and programs; they had to rent library rooms, halls, schoolrooms and hotel areas to accommodate the attendees. They have managed to do this going on nine years now—with warmth and energy, say local residents—attracting people of all ages and backgrounds for spiritual and social gatherings.

But change is in the works. Chabad-Lubavitch of Fairfield recently purchased a former Elks Lodge in Fairfield in a central location for their community of approximately 5,000 Jews. The town itself, on the shore of Long Island Sound, has a population of about 60,000.

“Our Chabad House focuses on serving the Jewish population in Fairfield, Easton, Trumbull and Bridgeport, but we have participants from towns further north in Fairfield County, such as Shelton, Stratford and Monroe,” explains the rabbi.

“We purchased the building in October but have not yet done any renovations,” he says. “We are currently applying to the Planning & Zoning Commission for approval of our plans. Once approvals are received, we will make some cosmetic improvements, enabling us to use the building in the interim, while we raise the funds for the extensive renovations planned.”

Louis Berkowitz, who grew up in Fairfield but now lives in a nearby town, has taken a leadership role in the new building and together with his two brothers and two cousins has made a major philanthropic gift for the new center. They decided that the Berkowitz Chabad House would be an excellent way to honor the memory of their fathers, Harold and Jack Berkowitz, respectively.

“Our fathers were together in everything: business, synagogue, charities, community and Jewish causes. This is right up their alley,” says Berkowitz. “There was no Chabad around here when they were alive, but there used to be a Jewish day school in Fairfield that they supported; they were very involved in Jewish education. That’s the connection.”

Supporter Ken Gruder was on the near-constant lookout to help them acquire a good location. “I must have driven by the property at least 1,000 times before it became available,” says Gruder of the Elks Lodge. “It’s a perfect spot and a tremendous find given that it’s in a suburban area with plenty of parking, and across from a township lake and a beach, and amidst a neighborhood of single-family homes.”

“There hasn’t been and won’t be one thing that doesn’t take place when the time comes to do the necessary renovations—they’ll see to that,” he says of the Landas, with unmistakable pride in his voice. “It will be amazing for our community. I think it will become the center for Jewish life here.”
‘It Will Feel Like Home’
Using rental facilities has not deterred Chabad’s growth. Still, Elona Logue thinks that “having a building in Fairfield will help solidify the Jewish community. It will be a place that gives the Jews of Fairfield a Jewish identity and serve as a central meeting place for unaffiliated Jews.”

Logue and her husband, Dr. Michael Logue, relocated to Fairfield at almost the same time the Landas did.

In that time, their three children have attended the Hebrew school run by the Landas, as well as services and activities the Landas hold weekly and around Jewish holidays. “My kids are so happy to be Jewish because of the rabbi and his wife,” attests Logue.

As part of the women’s group, she notes that they currently meet for “Kabbalah & Coffee” in Whole Foods, but “it will be nice to meet in the new building.”

The rabbi points to the Hebrew school as a sign of good things to come. Currently, 40 students are enrolled in the program, which started three years ago. Holiday events, such as the recently organized Chanukah Village can draw upwards of 250 participants. “We also offer a program called ‘Jcrafts,’ which consists of a series of pre-holiday workshops that integrate science, Jewish holidays, Jewish tradition and the arts. It’s offered at local preschools and religious schools, as well as at the local Jewish nursing home.”
To date, the rabbi counts “more than 3,500 children” having attended these workshops, with increasing numbers taking part in adult-education opportunities and youth clubs, ranging from “Mommy & Me” to CTeen.

Young people are a big part of the Landas’ outreach, and they know this demographic well with five children of their own, ages 1 to 8.

Of course, the new building will be home to all Jews—residents and guests, of all ages and backgrounds. And it will blend right into the existing neighborhood, featuring “a warm, inviting feel with its modern barn-style typical of the area,” says the rabbi. It will offer a 100-seat multipurpose room, classroom space, administration offices, and a community room/lounge and library, “where folks can pop in for a cup of coffee or to schmooze.”

“It will feel like everyone’s home,” stresses Landa.

And a good home, as everyone knows, is worth waiting for.