Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday for the grand opening of the Chabad Jewish Community Center of Naples. The event was highlighted with the unveiling of a historic Torah, salvaged from the Holocaust and donated to the Chabad Naples Center.
“Welcome to history in the making,” said Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, standing at the podium on a large outdoor stage.
Florida dignitaries flanked him on either side, including Gov. Rick Scott and first lady Frances Scott, and later they were joined by Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta and Naples Mayor Bill Barnett.
The salvaged Torah dates back to the early 1900s and was donated by Sam Savage, Ellen Goldman Savage, and Benyamin and Rachel Federman.
The Torah scroll was buried in the ground of Warsaw, Poland, almost 75 years ago, according to Zaklos.
Many of the visitors at the event spoke of being anchored in the traditions of the Jewish faith, and also in remembrance of their Jewish ancestors, millions of whom perished in the Holocaust death camps, including more than 1 million children.
On Sunday, the children of the Chabad Naples Jewish Community sang, danced — and they laughed.
“It is a miracle it (the Torah) survived,” said Barbara Leibman of Naples, who attended the event with her mother, Sylvia Altman, 85, of New York. “I think it’s important for us to pass this knowledge to our future generations. As they get older they begin to see the importance of family history.”
Coletta praised Rabbi Fishel and his wife Etti, saying, “The Chabad Naples Center has an outreach to the community that is second to none.”
Barnett echoed that sentiment, and said, “This will serve as the formal announcement that today marks the official ‘Chabad Naples Jewish Community Center Day’.”
Gov. Scott, who wore a traditional yarmulke on his head, took the podium and expressed admiration for the center’s success. “What’s significant about Chabad is they are reaching out to the entire community. Seven years ago, they had a dream, and now it has come to fruition,” Scott said.
During his speech, Scott pointed out that there are more than 750,000 Jewish people in Florida.
After the unveiling, the crowd made its way to the front of the synagogue where the traditional Jewish mezuzah, a piece of parchment inscribed with a Jewish prayer from the Torah, was affixed to the door. It is a symbol used to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to “inscribe the words of the Shema on the doorposts of your house,” and a symbol of good health and prosperity.
Lawrence Dermer & Third House Rising, a Grammy-Award-nominated composer/producer, performed at the event.