Forsyth County has its first synagogue, a ranch-style house sitting on 5 acres near Ga. 400 south of Cumming. By August, the brick building at 795 Brannon Road will be home to the operations of Chabad of Forsyth, including the Juda religious school and Congregation Beth Israel.
But that’s just the start of the vision Rabbi Levi Mentz laid out for the Chabad center he runs with his wife, Chaya, during a celebration of the property’s purchase Friday, June 2.
“In time, the structure we see, the trees that are beside us, the grass that we sit on are going to be taking on a very new meaning. The bright future that will come from this location … will be the type of light that will give brightness and warmth not only to the Jewish population here in North Georgia, but will give the type of brightness and warmth to every member of this county, to every individual that lives in this special region,” Rabbi Mentz said.
For the area’s Jews, Chabad of Forsyth will be a community center, a synagogue and a house of learning for all ages, he said. For Forsyth as a whole, he pledged that Chabad will work with the wider community to make the county America’s best. And for Israel, he offered his center as a place that will support, stand with and ensure the safety of the Jewish homeland.
The head of Chabad of Georgia, Rabbi Yossi New, said the holiday of Shavuot earlier in the week taught an important lesson: The Torah was revealed in the desert, which is no man’s land, because it is relevant everywhere.
“The purpose is that it should shine absolutely everywhere, even in the farthest corners of the globe — not that this is the farthest corners of the globe,” Rabbi New said to laughs. “But it is the very first Jewish house of worship, so you know what I mean.”
Rabbi Mentz doesn’t know for sure how many Jews live in Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties, his target market. He said there are 1,700 households with Jewish-sounding names.
But having established a Forsyth presence after Passover last year, he said he is drawing about 20 people for a typical Shabbat and 150 for the major holidays.
While the county commissioners, state lawmakers, Cumming mayor and other non-Jewish Forsyth leaders at the ceremony offered a warm welcome to Chabad, members of the Jewish community expressed the most excitement at having a synagogue in the neighborhood.
Neurologist Scott Cooper, who serves on Chabad’s building committee with fellow physicians Frank Free, Joel Hoffman and Brian Hudes, said he has loved Forsyth since moving there in 1987, but he always felt the absence of a synagogue. “It felt terrible that I kept going out of county to find a place for me to worship, and it was even more terrible that I never found a place to worship in the Jewish faith that I liked. … We would always leave feeling empty.”
He praised Rabbi Mentz as the rare rabbi who combines scholarship and leadership to create a special community connection. “It’s great that we have this physical building, but it’s a building, it’s a shell,” Cooper said. “As we’ve experienced at other temples and synagogues, it’s only as good as the rabbi who’s at the top.”
Photos by Michael Jacobs