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A School and a Chabad House

The three-dimensional model attracted much attention from the other passengers on the Paris-New York flight. Even the flight attendants passing up and down the aisles would pause to glance at the structure held lovingly on the lap of one passenger, Rabbi Yaakov Bitton. Throughout the long flight, Rabbi Bitton had many opportunities to relate the story behind this marvelous model.

It was in the fall of 1990. The Chabad community in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, had grown, and there was a great need to establish a nursery school for the children. Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Shliach, emissary, in Sarcelles, took the job upon himself. It was no easy task: he had to find a location, renovate it, purchase all necessary furniture and supplies, and finally, find sponsors who would underwrite the whole thing.

Rabbi Bitton undertook this project with enthusiasm. The location he chose was a full floor of a large apartment building in the center of town. Two businesspeople, generous donors to all Chabad activities in Sarcelles, promised that they would cover the costs of the renovation. Rabbi Bitton ran back and forth between the architects and contractors, choosing the best people to complete this project.

With the consent of the donors, it was decided that the nursery school would be named after the Rebbe’s late wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, who had passed away three years earlier. Before the renovations began on the school, Rabbi Bitton ordered a miniature model from the architect, showing how the school would look once it was complete. He wanted to fly to New York and bring the model as a gift to the Rebbe.

The donors, who knew of Rabbi Bitton’s plans, expressed their desire to join him on his trip to New York and present the model to the Rebbe together with him.

Sunday was the day when the Rebbe used to stand outside his office and distribute dollars for charity and blessings. This was the perfect opportunity for Rabbi Bitton to approach the Rebbe and present him with the model of the school-to-be. Rabbi Bitton and his friends joined the long line that stretched from the Rebbe’s synagogue on to the nearby sidewalk.

When it was their turn, Rabbi Bitton approached the Rebbe first and handed the Rebbe the model. He informed the Rebbe of their plans to open a nursery school, and of course emphasized the generosity of the two donors who had traveled with him to New York.

The Rebbe asked if they were planning to build a Chabad House in that location. Rabbi Bitton repeated the words he had said originally: “Our plan is to open a nursery school. Our Chabad House is located elsewhere in the city.”

As if he did not hear the reply, the Rebbe asked a different question: “Will you be building a day school there?”

 “No,” responded Rabbi Bitton once again. “At this time we have no plans to open a day school. Only a nursery.”

The Rebbe did not ask anything else. He gave Rabbi Bitton and his sponsors dollars for charity, and blessed them with success.

This was not the first time that Rabbi Bitton had stood in the Rebbe’s presence. He had received blessings from the Rebbe many times, and he had also merited a private audience with the Rebbe in his office. But this conversation was unlike anything he had ever experienced. He had no doubt that the Rebbe had heard quite well his plans to open a nursery school. Why had the Rebbe then asked him about his Chabad House and day school?

Years passed. The nursery school was established and was successful. It was run with skill and professionalism, and many parents in the Sarcelles community were proud to send their children there. After five years, the first floor of the building became vacant. Rabbi Bitton decided that it would serve as a Chabad House, since his original location had become too small to accommodate the crowds of people who would attend his functions. With the help of some of his supporters, he rented the first floor and began using it as a Chabad House.

A number of years passed, during which the tenants of the upper floors all moved out. An opportunity arose for Rabbi Bitton to purchase the entire building and use the upper floors for the community day school, which had just been established.

And so, the entire building became a complex for Chabad institutions in Sarcelles – exactly as the Rebbe had predicted in his surprising questions. It now serves as a Chabad House as well as a school for 350 children.

Rabbi Bitton concludes his story with a personal anecdote: “The first talk I ever heard from the Rebbe was in 1976. The Rebbe called upon all heads of schools and said that at least 10% of the student body should consist of students who cannot afford to pay tuition, whose expenses are underwritten by the school.

 “I was a young boy then and I never thought those words would one day be relevant to me. But apparently, the Rebbe has far-reaching vision, and his words were intended for me, too. Today, there are many children enrolled in our school whose parents cannot afford to pay any tuition. Thanks to the Rebbe’s words 35 years ago, I keep them on in the school, tuition free.”


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