A proposal to renovate the former Kulik Funeral Home at 306 Wyandotte St. into the new headquarters for Chabad at Lehigh, a Jewish center for Lehigh University students and a synagogue, received approval from the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday night.
Following testimony from Rabbi Zalman Greenberg, the organization’s executive director, the board granted a special exception to establish the religious institution with a residence on the second and third floors for the rabbi, his wife and three children.
The $1.8 million project includes the purchase of the building and renovations which are expected to be completed in a year. Greenberg said the 35 to 65 students who currently meet and study in his home at 727 Evans St. need additional space.
The new student center will offer adequate accommodations for weekly services, classes, lectures, study groups, social events, volunteer work and student board meetings.
The site has operated as Kulik Funeral Home since 1975 when it was granted a special exception. It included apartment units on the second and third floors.
Greenberg said they “intend to soften the property,” by transforming 10 of the 30 parking spaces into greenspace. Exterior renovations also include the addition of a stairway on the left corner of the property for entrance by students walking from the university via Fourth Street to Wyandotte, and adding 8 to 10 feet of space to the front of the building.
Closing on the property is expected in a month with renovations to start immediately. Funding for the project comes from parents, alumni of Lehigh University and supporters of the organization, Greenberg said.
“We appreciate the architecture of the building,” Greenberg stated, noting that the exterior of the Victorian building, built by entrepreneur Robert Sayre, will be maintained and beautified. Sayre was chief engineer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and a founder of Bethlehem Iron Works, which later became Bethlehem Steel Co. He was a trustee of Lehigh University.
A letter of support from the proprietors of Sayre Mansion Inn, a bed and breakfast at 250 Wyandotte St., was presented to the zoning board. Sayre built Sayre Mansion and lived in it until his death in 1907.
Greenberg said Chabad at Lehigh was attracted to the location because it is three-tenths of a mile from campus, within walking distance for students. The center will offer a home-like setting where students can experience their Jewish heritage, he noted.
Chabad, an independent Hasidic movement in Orthodox Judaism, is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world with 3,500 groups globally. The name is an acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da’at, meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
Chabad of the Lehigh Valley is located in Allentown. Chabad at Lehigh was begun about four years ago when Greenberg and his wife, Yehudit Greenberg, program director, moved from Morristown, N.J., to Bethlehem.