EAST COBB — Rabbi Ephraim Silverman has a line he’s been sharing with congregants who ask about Chabad of Cobb, the Jewish community center and synagogue off Lower Roswell Road he co-directs with his wife, Chani.
“People keep asking us, when are things going to get back to normal here, and our answer is ‘never,’” Silverman said, “because we’re not going back. It’s going to be better going forward.”
The Chabad is a multipurpose religious community center. Silverman said it is difficult to estimate the size of its congregation, as it does not require membership, but guessed some 700 families participate in its programs or attend its synagogue.
Like other organizations, Chabad of Cobb saw the pandemic as an opportunity to act on long-discussed changes. Ongoing renovations will likely be completed in two to three months, according to Silverman. When construction is finished, the center will have doubled in size, to 40,000 square feet.
Additions include a large, outdoor patio overlooking the property’s small lake; four new classrooms for adult and youth education; new kitchens; an elevator; a teen recreation room featuring billiard and ping pong tables; additional office space; and a massive, multipurpose room for weddings, parties and other events, featuring ambient lighting, panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows and a trio of descending screens for virtual events.
All told, the renovations are expected to cost $5 million, of which the center has already raised $4 million. Roni Wolk, a member of the congregation with a background in marketing, took it upon herself to help spread the word about Silverman’s plans and help solicit donations.
“One of the things that I said to him was, ‘Do not call this a building campaign,’ because I listen to what he wanted to accomplish and his vision,” she said. A “building campaign” would have been more appropriate nomenclature for a mall in Buckhead, she added. “His vision is, he wants to be able to accommodate a broader community (where) everybody in the community is welcome to come and study and learn and pray and socialize.”
And some facilities will be available beyond just Cobb’s Jewish community. Wolk said Jewish organizations around the metro area will be welcome to use the multipurpose room, for example.
“They don’t believe that this is just a synagogue for members only. It’s for the broader Jewish community,” she said. With the new facility, “they can just do more of what they’re trying to do, and accommodate more people and more programming.”
Some changes would not have happened at all if not for the pandemic, Silverman said. Those include an already-completed nature trail — the center owns seven acres, much of it forested — and a rooftop terrace and community garden, where it will host outdoor gatherings.
People have grown comfortable spending time outdoors during the pandemic, Silverman said, something he does not expect to go away entirely as the pandemic recedes in the United States.
Chabad of Cobb has offered outdoor services since winter, and began offering indoor services in May. Silverman estimated some 80% of the congregation has been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
When asked what he most looked forward to doing when the renovations were complete, Silverman said, “Just being able to see people come together and enjoy each other, enjoy the community enjoy the inspiration that we can offer.”