The Cayman Jewish community rallied this week, heeding the call for collective effort and exceeding all expectations, when Rabbi Berel Pewzner staged a 36-hour fundraiser designed to build a new educational center.
The Chabad Cayman Jewish community had hoped to raise $150,000 in its crowdfunding effort, but it exceeded that total and also passed a secondary target – $180,000 – before the lines closed on Wednesday night. Now, the money is in and the proposed educational center is a reality.
“There’s a great significance to the number 180. It’s the numerical value of chai, of life,” Rabbi Pewzner said of the final total raised. “We say ‘l’chaim,’ we say ‘to life,’ and we’re always wishing each other long life and a blessed life. This was l’chaim Cayman style. Not $18. Not $1,800 and not $18,000 but $180,000 for the future development of the Cayman Jewish educational center.”
Rabbi Pewzner and his wife Rikal, the co-director of the Chabad Cayman Jewish community, put together the plan for the fundraising campaign a couple of months ago. The community lined up a few benefactors who pledged to match the donations that came in during the 36-hour period, and Rabbi Pewzner settled in for an anxious day-and-a-half of counting donations and eyeing the ticking clock.
The whole process, he said, was both heartwarming and instructive of the ways technology can be harnessed for greater good. The virtual community, in this case, stepped forward and pledged the contents of their wallets in order to build a brighter future for the Jewish youth of Cayman.
“It was so heartwarming to see the collective effort of so many individuals,” said Rabbi Pewzner. “We were so gratified by the generosity. We never expected it. Before the campaign, we had a general sense of how much we thought we’d be able to raise. We were pleasantly surprised. It’s extremely humbling and gratifying to be part of this process and to be the leader of such a wonderful community.”
Rabbi Pewzner has been in Cayman since 2013, but he noted that Jewish presence in the Cayman Islands goes back hundreds of years. Some of the earliest Cayman settlers were Jamaican Jews of Sephardic origin, and a vibrant Jewish community has developed here over the past few decades.
Rabbi Pewzner and his wife have helped establish several initiatives at the Chabad Cayman Jewish Center, including prayer services, Shabbat and holiday programs, Jewish life cycle events and a thriving Hebrew School after-school program. There are also islandwide lectures – such as the 2017 speaking tour of Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister – and social services for the broader Cayman community.
The new educational center will be based at 7 Mile Shops on West Bay Road, and it will supplement the Chabad Cayman community’s existing branch of Hebrew school courses. The plans for the center have already been submitted, and upon approval, it will take a few months for design to become reality.
“This center is providing a communal space where people of all ages can congregate, but primarily it’s geared toward children to come and study about their heritage in a fun and relaxed manner,” said Rabbi Pewzner. “We’re looking to have daily after-school programs and then in the evenings, adult education classes. In the morning, it will be a welcome center for any Jewish visitors to the island.”
The timing of the fundraising campaign, between the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also portended its own significance. Rabbi Pewzner said it is altogether appropriate that the future of the Jewish community in Cayman was impacted by charity, prayer and repentance.
Now, with Yom Kippur occurring Friday night into Saturday night, the members of the Chabad Cayman Jewish community can thank themselves and their neighbors for their sense of philanthropy.
“We’re so grateful for the people in the government of the Cayman Islands who have helped us develop our Jewish community,” said Rabbi Pewzner. “This is a wonderful place to live and to instruct our children and teach them their heritage. We seek all possible ways to enrich the broader community.”