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Chabad NDG buys St. Columba Church

by Harvey Shepherd, NDG FREE PRESS

Chabad has recently purchased the for- mer St. Columba’s Anglican Church at Hingston and Notre Dame de Grâce avenues, and the group’s rabbi said much about what it will do with the church and its hall remains to be decided.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, who for five years has run the Chabad of NDG Community Centre in a series of rented quarters on nearby Monkland Ave., said any decisions about the new centre will be made largely by “the community.
“Whatever happens needs to be in the interests of the community,” he said in an interview.
“Through nothing short of a miracle, we have this space and now we want the community to come and enjoy it with us and help us build.”
One opportunity for neighbours to get to know the centre better will come Thursday, September 26, when members of the centre parade with Torah scrolls from their existing quarters on Monkland Ave. to ceremonially move into the for- mer church hall on Hingston Ave.
The ceremony will also mark the high holiday of Simchat Torah, a sort of New Year’s at the end of the annual cycle of Torah readings and beginning a new one.  In its new, larger quarters in the former church hall, the centre will remain dedicated to outreach to Jews, and particularly young Jewish adults in NDG and on the Loyola campus of Concordia University.
Although it cannot properly be called a synagogue, the centre will continue to offer a range of religious services on the sabbath and the Jewish high holidays, as well as classes in the mystical tradition called Kabbalah, weddings, a match- making service and other activities.
But when the 30-year-old “hip rabbi”—a term used on the Chabad of NDG website—said he wants the community to share in shaping the new centre, he does not mean the Jewish community alone.
He said he wants to hear from members of the broader community about how the centre can serve them.
Right now, that includes conversa- tions with groups still using the for- mer church premises. A Korean Baptist church that shared St. Columba’s and has continued worshipping there will probably be mov- ing out shortly, since it had been using the hall as well as the church.
However, the Centre de la Petite Enfance NDG daycare centre, which has operated for over 35 years in the upstairs of the hall and has been looking for a new location anyway, will probably remain as a tenant of the Chabad centre for at least a year, the rabbi said.
Discussions are under way with an Alcoholics Anonymous group, a Narcotics Anonymous group, a medita- tion group and others that have been meeting in the hall.
The costs of the project, including the roughly $1.4-million purchase price and major renovations are far beyond the immediate resources of Chabad of NDG. A development group led by David Kakonbought the church and hall and the centre expects to buy the hall from the develop- ers over 18 months.
The centre will be in the former church hall, which appears to be structurally sound.
Pending further investigation, there appear to be major structural problems with the church itself and trying to preserve it may not make sense. Whatever goes on the site “needs to remain in the hands of the community.” That means no condominium tower, among other things.
Chabad of NDG is an autonomous part of the world-wide Chabad-Lubavitch movement within Hasidic Judaism, which has roots in the Russian village of Lyubavichi. The movement is particularly known for its efforts to encourage Jews to return to Jewish practice and teachings.