Chabad Fort Worth to expand next door

Photo: Courtesy of Dov Mandel
Chabad of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Rabbi Dov and Chana Tovah Mandel and their children look forward to their enlarged center. They are pictured here at the Kotel.

 
The Sonnenschein Chabad Jewish Center officially opened its doors in 2007 at 5659 Woodway Drive in Fort Worth. The center’s goal was to provide physical space for the then 5-year-old Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. It seemed fitting, therefore, that the 3,000-square-foot center’s first event was a Pesach dinner.
That dinner, however, presented a handful of challenges. The center was a house that was, in the words of Chabad Fort Worth leader Rabbi Dov Mandel, “a structurally sound but crummy-looking property.”
Mandel himself was recovering from a case of kidney stones. And he and his wife, Chana Tovah Mandel, found themselves hosting a larger-than-expected crowd, many of whom were Lockheed Martin-employed Israelis. “I’m not sure how we ended up with 90 people in this poorly lit house,” Mandel recalled. “Somehow, we did it.”
Some 11 years later, the Sonnenschein Center is no longer crummy-looking, but rather is a well-lit space where Tarrant County Jews come to worship, learn and eat. Yet, thanks to the organization’s growth, the house seems as cramped as it was when 90 people sat for that first Seder in 2007, due to the organization’s expansion. The children’s playroom is small, there is no yard to speak of and parking availability is non-existent. Said Mandel: “We’ve done all we can do in this space.”
To mitigate the issues, Chabad Fort Worth placed a bid on — and awaits the close of — the house next door. Chabad Fort Worth is expected to close on the house at 5663 Woodway Drive Jan. 9, 2019. Then, the organization’s growth can continue.
From apartment, to house,
to house
In 2002, Dov and Chana Tovah Mandel, along with their first-born daughter, arrived in Fort Worth at the behest of Chabad Headquarters in Texas and in conjunction with Chabad of Dallas. The goal was to spearhead Chabad activities in Tarrant County.
The family rented an apartment “to feel everything out, and keep expenses low,” Mandel said. Within a year, the Mandels bought a house to provide a place for their growing family and expanding Chabad programming. For a time, the three-bedroom home provided enough room for both. Until it didn’t.
Mandel moved his office out of the house and into a professional building, though he and Chana Tovah soon realized they could no longer host Chabad activities in their home. With help from donors, the Mandels acquired the Woodway house on behalf of Chabad, dubbing it Sonnenschein Chabad Jewish Center, after the grandmother of one of the donors.
Growth continued from that first crowded Seder. Minyans became more frequent, as did Shabbat and holiday services. The center added a mikvah in 2011. Two years later, an additional 700 square feet was built to provide more space for worship and programming. Meanwhile, the Mandels helped spearhead the launch of Chabad of Arlington and the Mid-Cities, to serve Jews in eastern Tarrant County.
But the Sonnenschein Center has been bursting at the seams, prompting Mandel to ponder expansion for the past several years. “We make do with what we have, but right now, we’re piling programs on top of programs,” He said. “We can only use the same room so many times in a day.”
Enter 5663 Woodway Drive, in a fortuitous bit of timing.
“The house was owned by three siblings whose parents had died,” Mandel said. “Two months ago, they indicated they were willing to sell.”
From house to . . . synagogue?
The 2,000-square-foot house currently under contract is on a corner lot, just north of the Sonnenschein Center. Mandel said that once the sale is finalized, the next step will be a building campaign. The eventual goal is development of an actual center, one that looks more like a commercial building and less like a house. Noted Mandel: “the zoning for the entire Wedgewood neighborhood is single-family residential, school or church. We’re not building a church. But we will be building a synagogue.”
This could mean razing part of one or both of the houses.
Mandel is adamant that permitting, platting and development will be done by the book, no matter how long it all takes. “My goal is to be able to sleep easily at night, knowing the city won’t show up with a bulldozer one day,” he quipped.
In all seriousness, Mandel envisions a Chabad center that will provide a great experience for the Tarrant County Jewish community by offering plenty of space, enough for programming and parking. As such, hosting a 90-person Seder in an old home was just a start for Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Growth and momentum are the main goals, no matter how sticky things might become.
“People want to be part of something that is positive and forward-looking,” Mandel observed. “God wants us to go all the way in, and show we’re for real. Then He takes us to the finish line. That’s the philosophy of Chabad, and the philosophy of life.”

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