SPRING HILL — "Chabad Spring Hill is a place where every Jewish person is welcome, regardless of affiliation or level of knowledge," Rabbi Chaim Lipszyc wrote in a news release when his family moved here from New York last December. "Our sole purpose is to create a warm, welcoming environment to explore and experience our heritage in a nonjudgmental and inviting atmosphere."
Lipszyc believes Chabad has a special message.
"The way we look at people is that you're Jewish, that means you're important. If we see someone Jewish, we like them, and they're an important part of our community," Lipszyc said in a recent interview. "That's why we're here."
Starting out last winter with the rabbi and his family of four — including his wife, Seema, and children — the group has grown to a network of about 50 people.
A Hanukkah menorah lighting was the first service the rabbi offered to introduce the community to Chabad. It brought out a "nice-size crowd," the rabbi said.
"In Hernando and Citrus County, there isn't the regular infrastructure that you have in a big east or west coast town," Lipszyc said. "What we're trying to do is bring back that community spirit."
Since January, programs have been added for all ages, with Seema Lipszyc providing education for younger children. Chabad offers weekly classes and has small groups that meet in people's offices or at their homes. A Wednesday brunch for seniors includes a study from the Torah.
Other programs are still in the works, such as one for seniors that would be held in their developments' clubhouses.
A new monthly program for children called Jewish Kids in Action will combine social action, meaningful discussion and creative, out-of-the-box Jewish activities that Lipszyc says will help children "discover amazing things about your Jewish heritage in a fun and interactive way."
Recently, Chabad Spring Hill invited Jewish children to participate in Shofar Factory, where children fashioned their own shofars to blow during the upcoming High Holy Days.
"One of the things I remember is making my own shofar," Lipszyc said. "It's something very unique and exciting and something that has remained with me for a long time."
With High Holy Days approaching, Lipszyc is looking forward to more growth for Chabad Spring Hill.
"We're hoping that as we start the new year, Rosh Hashana, that we get more families together to build it even more," he said.
Upcoming services for the High Holidays will be at the Brooksville Elks Lodge, 13383 County Line Road, Spring Hill.
Rosh Hashanah will include a 7 p.m. service Sept. 20, followed by a light kiddush. A 10 a.m. service, 11:45 children's program and noon Shofar Sounding will be on Sept. 21 and 22. A kiddush will follow the services on both days.
Yom Kippur will be celebrated with Kol Nidrei at 6:45 p.m. Sept. 29, and a 10 a.m. service, a Yizkor Memorial service at noon, a Neilah Closing service at 5:45 p.m. and a Shofar Blast at 7:52 p.m. Sept. 30. These services will be followed by Break-the-fast.
"Whether your background in Jewish prayer and practice is extensive or limited, the services will leave you feeling enriched, connected, uplifted and energized to start your new year in the most meaningful way," the group's Web page states. "Many of the prayers are recited by the congregation in unison, specifically in English, so that everyone can participate. Hebrew/English prayer books are used throughout the service."
Rabbi and Seema Lipszyc will provide an English running commentary of explanatory and insights as well as a children's program.
Admission is free and does not require membership. Seating is assigned, so those interested should call (352) 600-2779.
Another event for the group, with times to be announced, will be Sushi in the Sukkah on Oct. 8, which will include eating in a sukkah (used for meals during the celebration of Sukkot), a private sushi chef and fun for the family.
Lipszyc said those who attend Chabad Spring Hill will find that it brings back memories of Judaism from when they were young.
"Our group is traditional," said the rabbi, "but our community isn't."