Rabbi Anchele Perl wants to turn lemons into lemonade.
Not only does he expect to rebuild the lower level of his synagogue, Beth Sholom Chabad in Mineola, after the damage caused by last July’s flash floods, but he plans to turn it into the Chabad Center for the Arts.
Instead of just replacing what was lost in the flood — 4 ½ feet of water filled the synagogue’s lower level causing $300,000 worth of damage — a raft of multi-media equipment is being installed.
“We are upgrading with projectors, screens, a PA system, a wireless Internet and a stage,” Rabbi Perl said. “I always felt that Judaism has so much to offer in terms of entertainment. We want someplace where we can celebrate the Jewish soul, where we can reach out to singles and children and senior citizens and present programs in a special way.”
He said he expects his insurance company to cover about half of the loss and that he hopes the annual Chanukah telethon he hosts will raise the money needed to cover the restoration. The telethon, which Rabbi Perl has hosted for the last 15 years, will be seen on WLNY-TV 55 (Channel 10 on Cablevision) from 7-11 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9.
The water destroyed some 4,000 religious books that lined the walls of the rabbi’s office and that of the synagogue office. Rabbi Perl said it cost $4,000 to have them removed and buried in keeping with Jewish law. The congregation buried a Torah that was also destroyed.
The telethon will feature a video of the flood and of the Torah burial.
Rabbi Perl said that in the past the telethon — which is seen throughout Long Island, the city, parts of New Jersey and Rockland County — has raised about $500,000. He said he hopes to raise an equal amount this year because the money will be used also for his community work.
He said his organization runs a Hebrew school for about 200 unaffiliated youngsters in North Merrick; matzah factories for children at the Jewish Community Centers in East Hills and Oceanside; a Good Deeds for Long Island Teenagers program that rewards youngsters with checks ranging from $25 to $500; weekly deliveries of challah and grape juice to about 30 Jews who live by themselves in group homes and to about 35 Jewish men confined to the Nassau County Jail.
“I also give a class at the jail every Monday night,” Rabbi Perl said.
Rabbi Perl said he hopes the lower level of his synagogue will be rebuilt by next month and that programming there could start a few months later.
“Today, the attention of people of all ages is being easily diverted by a relentless stream of multimedia attractions, each more spectacular than the last,” he said. “It’s time to celebrate traditional values in non-traditional ways, to reach out through the performing arts in the language we all understand and respond to best — the language of music and media.”
Reflecting on the changes his synagogue will undergo as a result of the renovation, Rabbi Perl remarked: “Perhaps the flood can be viewed as a blessing in disguise.”