June 20, 2002
Girls’ Schools Get New Home
Building to mirror house of Rebbe.
In 1988, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, was sitting shiva for his wife, Chaya Mushka, West Coast Director of Chabad, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, decided that the best way to comfort the mourner was to show him that there was still hope for the future. So Cunin purchased a property on Pico Boulevard and flew to New York to present the property deed and a photograph to the Rebbe. "This property," Cunin told the Rebbe, "is going to be the site of Bais Chaya Mushka [the House of Chaya Mushka], a Chabad school for girls."
Bais Chaya Mushka was the first girls-only Chabad school in California, and it inspired eponymous institutions in Chabad communities all over the world. It became an elementary school, and together with its subsidiaries, Bais Rebbe (a junior high school) and Bais Chana (a high school), it grew to house over 350 female students from varied backgrounds and religious levels, many on full or partial scholarships.
This Sunday marks the groundbreaking ceremony for a new $10 million building for the Bais Chaya Mushka and Bais Rebbe schools, which are currently located on a block adjacent to the new site. This project has been partially funded by the Winnick Family Foundation, which donated $3 million so that the 43,000-square-foot, four-story building, with indoor and outdoor gymnasiums, could be named for Sonya Gutte, the grandmother of Karen Winnick.
In keeping with the Cunin Chabad tradition, architect Keith Sidley has designed the building (which is scheduled to open in September 2003) in the same style of the Westwood Chabad House, which in turn was designed in the same style as 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, N.Y., the world headquarters of the Chabad movement.
"For a school that carries the name of the rebbetzin and the name of the Rebbe, there is no more appropriate design than a building that mirrors the house of the Rebbe," said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, director of public relations for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.
The architectural style of the building has special significance for the Cunin family for another reason. "My great-grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Nochum Lieberman, bought the building at 770 Eastern Parkway as a gift for Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the previous Chabad Rebbe [before Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson]," Cunin said. "My great-grandfather was an investment banker and a big supporter of Rabbi Schneersohn. When Rabbi Schneersohn, who was paralyzed, arrived in America in 1940 in a wheelchair, it was understood that a building with an elevator was needed, even though it was a luxury at the time. So, my great-grandfather bought the property." The building at 770 Eastern Parkway has since become an important part of Chabad lore.
Hundreds are expected to show up on Sunday for the groundbreaking, which will also feature music by the Simcha Orchestra, rides for children ("so that they associate their future place of learning with fun," Cunin said) and appearances by politicians and celebrities.
"At the same time, we are laying the foundation of a place of the study of Torah and mitzvot, so it is a spiritual event as well," Cunin said.