Chabad Center for Jewish Life expansion creates a new, welcoming environment for learners


New construction at the Chabad of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh has converted offices into four brand new classrooms and a multipurpose room for children enrolled in its preschool, Hebrew school and summer camp programs.

The new educational facilities, located at Chabad’s Hewlett Avenue location in Merrick, will provide children with a safe and comfortable setting, where they can learn and engage in fun activities.

“We want the kids to feel as if they’re home,” Rabbi Shimon Kramer, who oversees the Chabad with his wife, Chanie, said.

According to Rabbi Kramer, most of the children who attend the center’s preschool spend more time awake in the classrooms than at home. Instead of making it an institution, the Chabad said it wants kids to feel as though they never left their house.

Development of the new rooms features small touches to create a welcoming environment. Rooms will have home furniture, such as couches, while entryway moldings to rooms have been rounded off to provide a smooth edge. These details, according to Rabbi Kramer, will mimic a safe home, rather than a school or office building.

“They learn through fun, they learn through play, and through having a good time,” the rabbi said.

Rabbi Kramer and his wife used to teach children in their own home, and parents enjoyed seeing their children learn in a wholesome setting. As they expanded to a bigger learning center, the Kramers wanted to make their learning facilities feel like an extension of their own house.   

“We want every child to feel like they’re at home because they spend so many hours of their day here,” Chanie Kramer, who is also director of Chabad’s early learning center, said.

In addition to new classrooms, the Chabad will feature a new multipurpose space, which will focus on children’s motor skill by providing interactive activities such as pegboards and sensory walls.

Families interested in enrolling their children in Chabad’s programs were welcomed to an open house barbecue on Aug. 2. The event, which took place at the center’s outdoor playground, saw dozens of children from the center’s summer camp enjoy activities such as arts, crafts, soccer and a bounce house.

“It’s a great, warm, loving place, where there’s a lot of activities for the younger campers, as well as some of the camp favorites that you would expect in a bigger camp, even though it’s a small camp,” head counselor Jessica Lerner said.

Classroom expansion was made possible through two successful fundraisers the Chabad hosted over the last two years. The first fundraiser, which occurred in December of 2021, raised more than $500,000, while the second event, last December, took in more than $450,000.   

Gayle Benno, director of admissions and educational consultants for Chabad’s early learning center, said that everyone in the organization is excited to have extra space for children to learn and play.

“The community needed more spots for Jewish education,” Benno said.

According to Rabbi Kramer, a large demand exists to enroll students into the center’s programs, which have waiting lists that stretch into 2025. Expanding Chabad’s programs and doubling the size of its educational facilities should also help to enroll more students, according to Benno.

“I get anywhere between five and 10 inquiries about our school daily,” Benno said.

“The reason why we built this is because I didn’t want to turn kids away,” Rabbi Kramer said of the expansion. “I feel every kid deserves an education.”

Aside from providing a cozy learning environment, the Chabad said it is also important for the children to take great pride in their Jewish heritage.

“We want children to walk away feeling very proud to be a Jewish individual,” Benno said. “We certainly want them to leave with a feeling in their heart that they’re lucky and blessed to be born Jewish.”