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The Groundbreaking Celebration for the
Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life
was held on Sunday, October 26, 2003

 

Center to rise from ground up, honor Holocaust survivors
Oct 30 2003 12:00AM By Staff Writer


With the breaking of ground and placing of stones, the message of hope, determination and survival was renewed Sunday in Mequon for a new generation of Jews. Children from the Mequon Jewish Preschool ceremoniously passed a stone from the rubble of a temple in her native Poland to Holocaust survivor Rebecca Peltz. Rebecca Peltz, 83, placed the stone atop the soil that will become the Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life at congregation Agudas Achim Chabad, 2233 W. Mequon Road.

The day was gray, windy and cold, but warmed considerably by the many wishes of mazel tov exchanged by the more than 100 men, women and children in attendance for the ceremony.

The $4.5 million center will house Chabad's growing programs: the Mequon Jewish Preschool, Mequon Outreach Center for Senior and Youth Activities, the Library and Resource Center and The Women's Mikvah, a ritual bath.

Speaking at the groundbreaking, Chabad Rabbi Dovid Rapoport put the event in the context of the Torah account of Noah and the flood.

"Today we also face that same danger," he said. "A flood of violence, a flood of terrorism that has engulfed the world."

One way to combat the evil, he said, is to extend acts of kindness. This, he told those gathered, is what we must teach to our children.

"We have to reach out and care for others, lend a helping hand. If we could flood the world with kindness, there would be no room for violence. That is what this new center is going to do," he said.

The center is named after Rebecca Peltz and her late husband, Joseph, also a Holocaust survivor. As a tribute to his parents, Arnie Peltz is contributing $1 million to the project, $300,000 in an outright gift and $700,000 in the form of a challenge grant.

"My family had a history here," Arnie Peltz said. "It was important for me to be part of that."

Arnie Peltz and Les Weil are co-chairmen of the fund-raising campaign. So far $270,000 has been pledged toward Arnie Peltz's challenge grant, enough to begin construction on the project.

In an interview, Chabad Director of Development Menachem Rapoport called Arnie Peltz's gift amazing, tremendous, a blessing.

"It's hard to put into words," he said. "His gift means so much to the project. It gave the project impetus from moving in the right direction and pushed it over the edge to definitely something that will happen this year."

Joseph and Rebecca Peltz met in Izbica, Poland, and knew each other before World War II. When their families were split apart during the Holocaust, they grew closer and married after the war, Arnie Peltz said. He was born in Poland in 1946.

Three years later the young Peltz family moved to Milwaukee and set out to establish a synagogue by and for Holocaust survivors, Dovid Rapoport said, which evolved into Agudas Achim. That congregation later merged with North Shore Chabad. In 1994 a facility in Mequon was built to house the newly formed congregation.

The 35,000-square-foot Center for Jewish Life, slated for completion in 2004, will be a place where people can rebuild their lives spiritually, Rapoport said, just like the Peltzes and other Holocaust survivors came to America to rebuild their lives.

An emotional Rebecca Peltz, embracing son Arnie, thanked her son, her family, the rabbi and everyone in attendance.

"What can I say É I am overwhelmed. I have no words," she said.

Finding strength, the mother of two and grandmother of seven said: "I wish the Yiddishkeit (Jewish traditions) should continue. It is something unbelievable that I could be in attendance after going through so much."

The strength and conviction of how his parents have lived their lives is part of Arnie Peltz's inspiration to donate to the project.

"My father and mother have showed me how Jewish life and community service have always been important to them," Arnie Peltz said.

To his children, he said: "May you see an example of your family's dedication to Jewish education and community."

Arnie and Rebecca Peltz each were presented with a plaque thanking them for their contributions to the project. The identical inscriptions read in part: "building the future on the rich foundation of the past É (the center will be) an enduring symbol of the bustling Jewish life within."

The plaques contained smaller stones from the same temple in Izbica. The temple was used by the Nazis as a warehouse for their spoils. When the Russians liberated the town, the synagogue was still standing, but was destroyed shortly after by locals who used many of the stones to rebuild their own homes.

From a cousin, Arnie Peltz learned that the temple's rubble lay untouched more than 50 years after the war. After contacting a rabbi in Warsaw, synagogue officials arranged for the stones to be part of the new facility.

Officials thought it important to include the children in the groundbreaking ceremony to make the connection between the experiences of Joseph and Rebecca Peltz and this "new generation of survivors."

Barbara Stein, one of the ceremony's attendees, expressed excitement about the day's meaning.

"It is a demonstration of such a will," she said. "To perpetuate the legacy of those whose lives are snuffed out and are being reborn."


Janet Raasch lives in Mequon. Readers may contact her at (262) 317-8563 or at jraasch@add-inc.com.




Groundbreaking is Sunday for
Center for Jewish Life in Mequon
From the Oct. 24, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By MIKE JOHNSON
Mequon - A Jewish congregation will honor its past and lay the foundation for the future when it breaks ground Sunday on a new $4.5 million facility.

Members of Congregation Agudas Achim Chabad, 2233 W. Mequon Road, will help place the cornerstone for the new Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life in a ceremony that begins at 1 p.m. on the campus.

History will be intertwined with the new building, Rabbi Menachem Rapoport said. Several stones to be used in the building, including the cornerstone, are from a synagogue in Izbica, Poland, that was destroyed by Poles shortly after World War II.

That synagogue is significant because survivors of the Holocaust and members of that Izbica congregation, including Rebecca Peltz and her late husband, Joseph, helped start Agudas Achim in Milwaukee in 1952.

Rebecca Peltz will place the largest of the stones recently retrieved for Izbica in the cornerstone on Sunday after it passes through the hands of children who attend Agudas Achim Chabad's preschool and Hebrew school.

Although the Izbica synagogue, which was used as a storehouse by German soldiers to sort valuables taken from Jews, was destroyed, the rubble from the building is still there. Nothing new has been built on the site.

Rapoport said the ceremony represents the future of the Jewish community "based and built on its past."

The new building will provide more space for the growing congregation, Rapoport said.

In 1994, Agudas Achim merged with Chabad of Mequon. About six years ago, when the congregation built a new synagogue in Mequon, there were about 40 families. Today there are 145.

But Rapoport said the congregation serves many more people through its outreach programs and activities, including a teen center.

The 35,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed by fall 2004.

Included is a sanctuary that would seat 325 worshippers, a social hall with seating for 236 people and a mikvah, a spiritual pool for purification used by women.

Rapoport said the new building will provide one location for six organizations: the congregation, Mequon Jewish Preschool, Mequon Outreach Center for Senior and Youth Activities, the Library and Resource Center and the mikvah.

The new building will be attached to the current building, Rapoport said.

So far, the congregation has raised about $3.25 million for the project, Rapoport said.

Among the donations are $1 million from Arnold Peltz, the son of Rebecca and Joseph Peltz, in the form of a $700,000 challenge grant and an outright gift of $300,000.

"When my parents came to this country from Izbica, Poland, in 1949, Agudas Achim kept the Polish survivor community alive. This congregation is part of my family's history," he said in a statement announcing the ground breaking. "I'm glad I can continue what my parents started."

Rapoport said he expects the congregation to reach its fund-raising goal of $4.5 million by December.



From Poland to Mequon,
Jewish life continues at soon-to-be built center

By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff


Izbica (pronounced Iz-bi´-tza), Poland, was one of thousands of obscure small towns whose Jews were murdered almost completely by the German Nazis. Mequon, of course, is one of southeastern Wisconsin’s largest and most prosperous communities surrounding Milwaukee.

A spiritual link between these disparate places will begin anew when ground is broken at the site of Congregation Agudas Achim Chabad on Sunday, Oct. 26, 1 p.m. At that time, the CAAC community will begin building the Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life.

This new center is named for the parents of Arnie Peltz, co-chair with Les Weil of the capital campaign for the project. Both of Peltz’s parents were among the founders of the original Congregation Agudas Achim when it was on Milwaukee’s west side and its membership was primarily Polish Holocaust survivors.

His father, who died some 20 years ago, came from Izbica. It was partly to embody the idea that "our Jewish community moves on, even though a lot of people died" that Peltz, a vice president of Recycle America Alliance, decided to donate $1 million to the project — $300,000 in an outright gift, $700,000 as a challenge grant.

Moreover, his parents and especially his father were very active in the Milwaukee Jewish community, and "I felt that with [their] names on it, [the project] might bring in some gifts that normally might not come," Peltz said. (His mother is "in great health" and "very excited about this," Peltz said.)

Besides, although this project is "viewed as an Orthodox synagogue, it is more than that…. It’s not about Orthodox Judaism but about its effect on Jewish identity." As such, it "has a lot to offer."

As Rabbi Menachem Rapoport, CAAC’s outreach and development director, explained, this $4.5 million, 35,000 sq. ft. center will be an "umbrella organization" that will house both the synagogue proper and five other organizations linked to it but operationally separate.

These are the Women’s Mikvah, the Mequon Outreach Center, the Mequon Jewish Preschool, the Pelz Hebrew School and the Lipskier Judaic Library.

"The concept is that we don’t consider ourselves only a synagogue," said Rapoport. "Chabad Lubavitch centers around the world serve Jewish needs of every kind…. The synagogue serves the members of the synagogue; all the other organizations serve the community at large, especially those in Mequon."

Rapoport said that some $125,000 had been pledged toward the Peltz challenge grant. Peltz said that the whole project to date has raised some $2.4 million, enough to plan a groundbreaking; and he hopes to have about $3.5 million by the date of the groundbreaking.

Rapoport also said that there are other opportunities for givers to dedicate aspects of the project. The project is tentatively scheduled for completion in the fall of 2004.

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