Back in 1850, Solano County’s Indian Chief didn’t bargain for a Chabad Center, but chances are he’d be a proud man today knowing that one of California’s first counties named for him, has closed on a new property—the first Jewish building of its kind in the county, and one that promises to be a game-changer for the Jews of this area.
The 8,500 square foot complex, to be named the “Chabad of Solano Center for Jewish Life” is the result of local enthusiasm so dynamic, it sealed the deal in all of four months. “Miraculous,” says Rabbi Chaim Zaklos about a project that could have easily taken ten years to complete.
“The area’s Jews expressed tremendous interest and excitement in expanding and deepening their Jewish experience through a permanent Jewish center,” said Chabad representative, Rabbi Zaklos, and several of them, passionate about having their own Jewish community center, launched the building campaign and worked diligently to make it happen.
Until now, the northern Solano County Vacaville-Fairfield area had no synagogue or community center of any kind to call own. “With G-d’s help,” says an elated rabbi, “we’re hoping to surpass the community’s wildest expectations by creating a beautiful place that will benefit Jewish life in every way.”
Located in northern California midway between Sacramento and the Bay area, the area has seen many Jewish groups come and go attempting to establish a local Jewish presence there. When Rabbi Chaim and Aidel Zaklos arrived in 2009, things finally began to change.
The county is on the periphery of the areas served by Jewish Federations in the state capitol and in the Bay Area, and when Zaklos inquired he was told that there were simply no Jews in Solano. After briefly visiting various towns in the county he learned there were indeed Jews who lived there, albeit with no connection to Jewish life and to each other.
When the Zakloses arrived, many of the Jews they met told them they were the only ones. With no local Federation or Jewish organization to take a census, Zaklos is unsure of the total Jewish population size in the area, but in the five years since living here, he and his wife have confirmed at least 500 Jewish households in a 40 mile radius.
Based in Vacaville, the Chabad representatives soon attracted 40 men and women to their Torah classes; 30 now join weekly Shabbat services, youth programming through their popular Hebrew school and summer camp, and holiday events draw hundreds from even outside the county lines.
Steve Sillen comes from a traditionally Orthodox community in New York City and found himself having to drive a distance of 30 miles to find anything remotely Jewish. “There was nothing here before Chabad came to town,” says Sillen, who has since enjoyed watching the local Jewish community blossom. He and his wife attend classes with the rabbi and participate in various services and programs, but their greatest joy, they say, is seeing their grandson attend Chabad’s Hebrew school and summer camp.
When the ideal building—a large multi-purpose center that was already zoned for religious use, centrally situated on Main St, in the heart of town—went on the market, the community pulled together the necessary down payment with over 200 donors contributing to an online matching campaign. And a handful of major donors from around Solano County stepped up to support the project. Solano County residents, noted Zaklos, are largely middle income with limited resources, making their participation all the more impressive.
Chabad is now looking to raise another $275,000 to upgrade and furnish the building which includes a synagogue. Renovations to the center will also include a kosher kitchen for meat and dairy, a kosher supermarket and café as a source for all kosher needs, a large dining hall and lounge for social events, a conference room, library, and classrooms for educational purposes, for both children and adults, and offices. Plans also include an indoor playground and the first Jewish Children’s Museum in Northern California.
A proud founding donor of the new 15-room center, the largest of all Chabad centers in Northern California, Sillen says that “The center will allow our community to grow exponentially in a physical and spiritual sense. Everybody in the community is very excited as it gives us a second place to call home.”