“Two Chabad of the Valley Rabbis are sitting next to each other at a wedding when one turns to the other and says…”
No, that’s not the beginning of a joke, but of a true story that, in some ways, captures the reality of Chabad of the Valley’s coming of age and entering into a new era of growth and expansion.
The wedding in discussion, which took place on May 29, 2018, at the Warner Center Marriott Hotel, was that of Rabbi Mendy Bistritzky, son of Rabbi Shlomo and Tova Bistritzky, and Mirel Marozov, daughter of Rabbi Choni and Frumi Marozov. What made this “merger” something of a milestone was that both families serve as “Shluchim” – emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – under the umbrella of Chabad of the Valley; the Bistritzkys in the North Ranch area, the Marozovs in the S. Clarita Valley.
The two rabbis at the table were thus “kvelling” over the fact that not only was the next generation of aspiring rabbis and rebbetzins manifesting the same sense of Chabad values and idealism as their parents, but they were finding those qualities within partners raised under the same circumstances – right here in the Valley.
“I think it speaks to the phenomenal growth of the organization over the past 45 years,” said one.
“Yeah, the kids no longer have to go to New York to find their bashert (soulmates); they can find their predestined right here on the home-front!” joked the other.
In fact, this phenomenon would be repeated in a manner of sorts the very next night when Simi Greene, daughter of Chabad’s Rabbi Mayer and Debbie Greene, married the former Youth Director of Chabad of Encino, Levi Kehati.
The growth the two rabbis were referencing is evidenced by numerous visible data points, including the number of new programs being offered region-wide, the new facilities and square-footage being added at various Chabad of the Valley locations, and, of course, the growing numbers of participants in each of the programs being offered at each center. These centers – now twenty-seven in number – are known as the Finder and Schaeffer Family Centers.
“My beloved colleague and mentor, Rabbi Joshua Gordon, of blessed memory, would be proud (and is proud, I’m sure) of the dynamic growth that has been taking place across the greater Valley, even during the nearly two-and-a-half years since his untimely passing,” says Rabbi Mordechai Einbinder, Associate Director of Chabad of the Valley. “This is still very much to his credit, because a central component of his leadership style was his empowerment of individuals. He provided guidance and direction, but then encouraged folks to tap into their own unique talents and strengths with which to build their own communities and start up their own programs, schools, classes, or what have you. We’re seeing that approach continuing to work for us and open new channels to greater growth still.”
This growth is not only happening in the outlying areas – extending as far out in one direction as Toluca Lake, Newbury Park in another, and Canyon Country in yet another – but also closer to home at Chabad of the Valley’s more centrally-located facilities in Tarzana and Encino.
Beyond serving as Chabad of the Valley’s headquarters from which the organization launches many of its outreach projects and events, Chabad’s Tarzana facility is home to the ever-burgeoning Gan Israel Pre-School and Kindergarten, Ryzman Family Hebrew School, Bais Menachem Adult Education Institute, Abraham Dayan Mikvah, Teichman Family Social Hall, and of course, the Chabad Synagogue of Tarzana, one of the largest of its kind in the greater Valley.
Chabad of Encino, which obviously suffered a blow with the passing of its world-renowned spiritual leader, Rabbi Gordon, is now being attended by capacity-crowds, including many new families headed by up-and-coming professionals. Rabbi Ari Herzog, who, as former Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi Gordon, found himself thrust into an unenviable position two years ago, has come into his own by simply being the bright, amiable, eloquent and understated leader he is. His wife, Rebbetzin Chana Herzog, who works alongside him and heads up Chabad of Encino’s youth activities and women’s study groups, runs the new Jewish Children’s Academy established at the center through a generous grant from philanthropist Jody Sherman, in loving memory of her late husband, Earl, and son, Steve, of blessed memory.
On the broader youth front, Chabad of the Valley’s Finder Family Camp Gan Israel, which has been the largest Jewish day camp in the Valley for 43 years running, had its largest summer yet in 2017, as more than 400 children experienced the time of their lives in a spirited and fun-filled Jewish environment. Directors Rabbi Nachman and Elkie Abend are predicting even stronger enrollment for the summer of 2018 at its central Valley location. This growth has given birth to an additional branch of Camp Gan Israel in the North Valley last summer. Offering the same sort of programming as its highly successful counterpart, Gan Israel in the North Valley is expected to more than double its enrollment this summer. The S. Clarita Valley has had a thriving Camp Gan Israel program since 2004.
Another popular youth program that has been taking root in recent years is the local Valley Chapter of C-Teen – a nationally-sponsored Chabad program for Jewish teenagers – under the direction of Rabbi Shua Einbinder. In addition to his weekly “pow-wows” with teens at breaks during shul services on Friday Night and Shabbat, Rabbi Shua mans a C-Teen station outside Taft High School on Friday afternoons, from which he distributes Challahs to the Jewish students, puts on Tefillin with the boys, and presents Shabbat Candle-Lighting kits to the girls.
Rabbi Shua also organizes holiday programs, sports activities and field trips for teenagers – often in coordination with other C-Teen chapters throughout the region (including the Conejo Valley Chapter) – and brings members of the group to New York for the annual National C-Teen Shabbaton. The Valley Chapter was well represented indeed among multitudes of teens to attend the action-packed New York program this year, highlighted by a visit to the Rebbe’s Ohel, Shabbat in Crown Heights, a Saturday Night convergence of 2,500 Jewish teenagers in the heart of Times Square for a program viewed on the Square’s huge Jumbotron screen, and a grand Sunday Banquet.
Other youth programs to reach new heights of late are the Chabad Pre-School of Chatsworth under the direction of Rabbi Yossi and Necha Spritzer, and the Friendship Circle for children with special needs in Studio City. As a sister-branch to the Friendship Circle of the Conejo Valley, the heartwarming and inspiring program has recently enjoyed the addition of a new play-area, fittingly named “The Friendship Garden,” at its center located on the Chabad of Studio City premises.
That facility, primely situated on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, just off Ventura Boulevard, which Chabad took ownership of in 2015 after years of renting a storefront as its center of operations, is located on a huge parcel of land. Chabad of Studio City’s Rabbi Yossi and Chani Baitelman see the property as having potential for further expansion in the years ahead.
Another Chabad center to have taken ownership of a large property at a prime location is that of Thousand Oaks. Situated on a prominent corner on Janss Road, a major city arterial, the facility – which is currently entering the finishing-stages of a major rehab, remodel and expansion project – offers magnificent picturesque vistas of the Conejo mountains from its elevated patio. In addition to its own property, Chabad of Thousand Oaks, under the direction of Rabbi Chaim and Shula Bryski, has entered into a lease agreement with the City of Thousand Oaks, granting it limited usage (parking, non-fixed activities, etc.) of a city-owned adjacent parcel, effectively giving Chabad access to more than a full acre.
Construction and expansion projects have likewise either just been completed, or are heading toward completion, at a number of other Chabad of the Valley facilities. These include:
Chabad of Woodland Hills, where on Purim of this year – exactly 18 years, to the day, from when Chabad first established its footprint in Woodland Hills – Rabbi Yossi and Daniella Gordon celebrated the grand opening of the newly-expanded Tessler Family Campus at its 15,000 square-foot property.
Chabad of Granada Hills, where Rabbi Meir and Simi Rivkin built out their Chabad House on Balboa Boulevard to allow for the more comfortable and conducive hosting of Shabbat services and meals, as well as a spacious outdoor area for parties and events.
Chabad @ Tampa, under the direction of Rabbi Hershy and Frumi Spritzer, where an expansion project is currently underway that would allow the group to move into a newly built-out shul and study-center rather than continue holding services and classes in the backyard-tent it had been utilizing since 2010.
Chabad of CSUN, under the direction of Rabbi Chaim and Raizel Brook, where remodeling is taking place at its 3,500 square-foot facility, located directly across the Cal State Northridge Campus. This remodel project, upon completion, will further enhance Chabad’s offering of the first-ever Jewish dormitory facilities for college students in the Valley.
Tonight, as friends and supporters of Chabad of the Valley come together for a “20-Chai” Concert Gala event, demonstrating “The Power of Music,” the focus and spirit of the evening is wholly upbeat, positive, optimistic and forward-looking. In the words of Chabad of the Valley’s Jonathan Herzog, “It is a celebration of the many impressive and inspiring things that have happened across this major Jewish population-center over the past 45 years, but more so, a celebration of the even greater vitality and growth we are anticipating in the years to come. It is, in short, an exhilarating ‘Celebration of Life!’”