WESTFIELD, NJ – The Temple Emanu-El community celebrated the dedication of the Dr. Norman Lavy Community House and an outdoor classroom for its Early Childhood Education program earlier this month.

The Lavy House, which sits adjacent to the temple on East Broad Street, was named after Dr. Norman Lavy, a devoted congregant who was a strong supporter of Temple Emanu-El’s Shabbat morning worship service as well as Jewish study and scholarship.

The purchase of the land and building next door to the temple was made possible through “an extraordinary gift” from long-time temple member Marion Lavy in memory of her late husband, according to Donna Oshri, a spokeswoman for Temple Emanu-El.

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“Mrs. Lavy’s gift provides a remarkable resource not only for the Temple, but for the whole community,” said Senior Rabbi Doug Sagal.

Mrs. Lavy’s donation has also enabled the temple to renovate the house and install a handicap-accessible entrance and a handicap-accessible bathroom, as well as other projects.

The building will be used as a permanent space for Saturday morning worship services, Shabbat dinners and programs and adult education classes.

It will also house the temple’s Resource Center for Seniors, which is a joint initiative with the Westfield United Fund, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey and Temple Emanu-El to provide guidance to those coping with the challenges of aging. The center will provide free information and programs connecting area seniors to resources available in our community. A social worker will lead special programs and provide individualized case management as well.

The Resource Center for Seniors is open to all community members, Oshri said.

Dedication of the Lavy House was held during the temple’s Friday night worship service on Dec. 18.

Earlier in that day, the temple also dedicated its outdoor classroom with children from its Early Childhood Education program.

The purchase of the Lavy house has also provided space for the outdoor classroom, which has been a vision of ECE director Jill Cimafonte for some time. Located behind the Lavy House, the outdoor classroom was made possible by a donation from the Weidhorn Family Foundation and contributions from early childhood education families.

“Being surrounded by nature and natural items provide infinite benefits to children,” Cimafonte said. “Nature has a way of instilling in us a sense of beauty and calmness. It exposes us to things that are alive and growing and promotes curiosity and exploration.” 

Once an overgrown tangle of trees and shrubbery, the backyard of the Lavy House has been transformed into a natural space that offers students stumps for sitting and learning, an area to create with leaves and sticks and a bridge.

“So far we have completed phase one of the outdoor classroom, with phase two to include a stage area, a butterfly garden, a bat house and much more,” Oshri said.

“With the creation of the outdoor classroom we are also fortunate to be able to add a nature camp to our summer offerings for early childhood students,” she added.

The outdoor classroom has been named "Teva," which means "nature" in Hebrew.