Chabad of Forsyth and Congregation Beth Israel welcomed community members and guests to a groundbreaking of its future Jewish Community Center of North Georgia and synagogue campus on Sunday, Dec. 13.
The groundbreaking marks the official beginning of the construction of the new facilities, which will be the first of its kind in Forsyth County and in the North Georgia area.
To celebrate the historic groundbreaking and the fourth day of Chanukah on Sunday, leaders of Congregation Beth Israel and Chabad of Forsyth welcomed community members and guests with music, food and happy spirits as they arrived at the site of the future campus on Brannon Road.
Rabbi Levi Mentz of Congregation Beth Israel invited community leaders and county officials to give thanks and ask them to take part in the program, including commissioners who have shown support for the project since its inception.
“This is a wonderful groundbreaking for us,” District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said. “This is our Jewish community here in Forsyth County. This is our Jewish community here in North Georgia. This is so near and dear to our hearts, I get tears in my eyes. This is wonderful.”
Cooper and her husband, Dr. Scott Cooper, started by welcoming everyone to the event before later introducing Rabbi Yossi New, the director of Chabad of Georgia and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah.
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New reiterated the incredible nature of seeing a project such as the Jewish Community Center of North Georgia and synagogue campus come to life in a place such as Forsyth County. Mentz said the community in the county has come a long way since Congregation Beth Israel held its first grand menorah lighting four years ago.
“It was a week before that grand menorah lighting, the first ever for this county, and I remember I had a private meeting with a long-time Forsythian,” Mentz said. “And I came to invite him to the celebration. I tell him all about it; it’s going to be beautiful celebrating Chanukah with menorahs, song, latkes, the works. And he looks at me and leans over on his desk, and he says, ‘In Forsyth County, a Jew needs to stay under cover.’ My dear friends, four years later, look where we are today.”
Mentz and his wife, Chaish Mentz, thanked many of the leaders and community members who not only showed up to the event to support the historic groundbreaking, but also donated and showed further support to the project to make it happen.
So far, Congregation Beth Israel and Chabad of Forsyth have raised more than $2.6 million for the new building out of a goal of more than $4.7 million. The donated funds will help to create the preschool, Hebrew school, playground, sanctuary, social hall, chapel and other amenities planned for the campus.
He thanked Jacques and Evelyne Preis for their donation of $1.75 million to go to the project, one they both feel will have a positive impact on the Forsyth County community.
Mentz also thanked the community, Forsyth County Commissioners, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, the Congregation and many others for their support.
Continuing on with the night, community member Liza Klahr and her children brought forth soil from Israel to sprinkle it into the earth where they first broke ground later in the night, ensuring that the foundation of the campus will contain soil from the Holy Land for the generations to come.
Mentz then asked that guests write a message with their “highest ideals” on a blank index card to place in a time capsule that will be kept on the campus for the next 100 years. He wanted to give everyone an opportunity to share brief thoughts with the next generation, who will be able to read the cards once the capsule is opened in the year 2120.
Before the lighting of the menorah, members of the community came together to participate in the Torches of Light, a ceremony to recognize those in the community who have found their light inside.
“We can never forget that inside every single one of us, we have a candle,” Mentz said. “We have a unique branch. We’re all unique. We’re all special.”
Those recognized include District 2 County Commissioner Dennis Brown, who served for 30 years in the U.S. Army and and Dep. Terry Roper, who played a part in rescuing baby India last year, along with others in the community.
“This is my candle. This is my light. Find your candle. Shine your light,” they each concluded after presenting a torch to the crowd and forming their own menorah.
The event ended with the official groundbreaking as Congregation leaders picked up their shovels and ceremoniously dug into the soil for the first time.
“Tonight is a magical night,” Mentz said.
The greater community can continue to support the Jewish Community Center of North Georgia and synagogue campus project and leave their mark in the community by buying a brick that will be used in the construction of the building. Each brick will be custom engraved so the Congregation can prominently display the names of families and name dedications that helped them to create the center.
To learn more about the project or to buy a brick to help build up the center, visit ourvibrantfuture.com.