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Chabad Center for Jewish Life unveils its renovations Sunday

Rabbi Reuven Mintz stands in front of the History of the Star of David wall.
Rabbi Reuven Mintz stands in front of the History of the Star of David wall located in the lobby at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

After years of renovation and more than $10 million invested by the community and donors, the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach is ready to be unveiled.

The center, which provides Jewish educational, outreach and social programs for residents throughout Newport Beach and greater Orange County, will be holding its grand opening this Sunday at 2:30 p.m., though the center never officially closed during its renovations.

Visitors will be able to go on small, guided tours throughout the facility and officials say that all the festivities will be held outdoors.

“The timing of this is really well. As we’re creeping out of COVID and emerging, we’ve seen a demand for our educational and social service programs, especially for the special needs community and the greater community, really skyrocket over the last couple of years,” said Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who co-directs the center with his wife, Chani.

The renovations, Mintz said, bring together all of the center’s programming under one roof to complement one another.

Rabbi Reuven Mintz touches barbed wire on a post taken from a WWII concentration camp.
Rabbi Reuven Mintz touches barbed wire on an actual post removed from a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz during World War II on display at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

That includes the center itself, the Friendship Circle Center for Special Needs and new addition of the Holocaust Education Center, which will host more than 700 pieces preserved from the Auschwitz concentration camp by Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein.

Mintz said the center has often worked closely with schools where there are incidents of anti-Semitism or hate and that they often coordinated field trips to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, but that the arrival of the Holocaust Education Center will help educate many more people and provide resources to the greater community.

“With the rise of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes across the country, this will serve to educate young people in the community to promote greater tolerance and inspire a new generation to have moral courage and personal integrity,” said Mintz. “These are the three keys our youth need today to live in peace and harmony together.”

Additionally, the renovations include a new library and an instructional kitchen, an art therapy studio and the Snoezelen Multi-Sensory Therapy Room, which is meant to calm and stimulate users as necessary during therapy sessions for individuals with disabilities. It will be used by the Friendship Circle.

Rabbi Reuven Mintz inside the therapy room.
Rabbi Reuven Mintz inside the therapy room used to help calm autistic children at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Visitors to the center will also find a sanctuary, social hall and classrooms.

Mintz said the decision to renovate came about simply because the facility didn’t serve the Chabad Center for Jewish Life’s purposes.

“We had 55 offices in this building when we came in [in 2014],” said Mintz. “We needed a customized space. We needed an appropriate space for a sanctuary, for the social hall, multipurpose rooms, library, therapy rooms that needed to be built out. The instructional kitchen ... so, it really needed this level of work.”

“It just wasn’t allowing us, in the prior facility, to fully utilize the space to its full potential,” Mintz said.

Renovations began in 2019 and were funded by “a lot of goodwill from our general contractors” and the community at large. The building still remains in its general footprint, though it’s been pretty much gutted from its roofs to its foundations.

Staff continued to occupy the building and provide services while construction was ongoing. The March 2020 arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed progress on the work.

“From this beautiful new facility, we’ll continue the mission of giving to provide services to both the Jewish community, the greater community and the special needs community, educating tens of thousands,” said Mintz. “This Sunday, we have this grand opening. We’d like the community to come.”

The center is located at 2240 University Drive, Newport Beach.

A painted heart created from the thumbprints of children is displayed in the art therapy studio.
A painted heart created from the thumbprints of children is displayed in the art therapy studio at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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