"We'll look back on this Shabbat and laugh," Rabbi Eber said to me recently, following his first service at his new Chabad House. The walls were bare and about 10 people sat around the table eating a modest Kiddush lunch of hot cholent, potato chips and homemade brownies.
After three years hosting events at their Trinity home and other locations throughout the area, they now have a storefront — a public place to call their own — to lead Shabbat and holiday services, host events like their recent Purim party and upcoming Passover seder, and give Torah classes.
Since moving from Brooklyn in 2006, they've worked passionately, reaching out to unaffiliated Jews in Trinity, New Port Richey and Holiday. Rabbi Eber talks to them in grocery stores, drops off challah at their front door, invites them for Shabbat dinner.
At their new Chabad House, the mirrored glass with the large letters — CHABAD — don't reveal at first glance what takes place inside this 1,200-foot space in a strip mall on Trinity Boulevard, near Little Road. In smaller print, "Jewish Center" is on the door.
While walking up with my children on that recent Saturday, a woman heading into the nail salon next door asked if we were going to a party. The children look so cute, she commented. "No, we're going to synagogue," I replied. "It's Shabbat." She smiled politely.
Rebbetzin Dina Eber arrived the same time we did, her three young daughters in tow. They made the 1-mile Shabbat walk from their home to meet her husband and son.
As religiously observant Jews, they don't drive on Shabbat, a day filled with spirituality, prayer and holiness. We usually don't drive, either.
It's been a process of growth for our family the past few years. Raised secular Jews, my husband and I didn't know about most of the laws and customs of Judaism.
Once we met the Eber family, that changed. Now we keep kosher, observe Shabbat, study the Torah, and live a life that most people, even other Jews, know little or nothing about.
We're renting a house in Clearwater now, across from a conservative synagogue, which offers more of the tradition that we grew up with but is still much different from what is practiced by Orthodox Hassidic Jews like the Ebers. We're in between two worlds.
We've made the choice not to go shopping, use computers, telephones or our car on Shabbat. But we couldn't miss Rabbi Eber's first Shabbat service in his new Chabad House. So we made the 30-minute drive north and joined the handful of people also there.
As part of our ongoing growth and to show our support, we plan to continue attending their monthly Shabbat services, as well as some of their classes. I feel, in a way, we're growing together.
Dina spoke to me about how excited she and their children were to dress up for Shabbat and have someplace to go — like in Brooklyn. For three years, they've observed Shabbat at home.
Now, once a month, they'll head over to their new shul to be part of the community. Slowly but surely, with the help of the Jewish community in Trinity and beyond, they're purchasing prayer books and other necessities. They've borrowed a Torah from another Chabad House. Someone donated a refrigerator.
While dozens of Jewish people attend their classes and programs, so far one family has made the choice to move into the Eber's Thousand Oaks East neighborhood.
Every Jew, no matter how observant, is welcome by Chabad. They don't judge. There are no membership fees. And they have a genuine spirituality and love of Judaism that can be felt when you're with them.
"We want to see the community grow," Rabbi Eber said. "We want to see a vibrant Jewish community in West Pasco."