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Soul Meetings





Building Judaism in Orange County, California

Chabad of California

By Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie

It started twenty years ago when a few Jewish residents of Long Beach went to see Rabbi Shlomo Cunin. He had been sent to the West Coast five years earlier by the Rebbe with a man-date to bring Yiddishhiet to California. They wanted a school in Long Beach. Religious LA thought that below Pico was South of the border, but Cunin plunged ahead.

The JCC rented out classroom space for the school. Jerry Bubis, its director, told Cunin he would eat his famed black hat if he succeeded. Cunin returned a year later lo Bubis asking if he wanted ketchup or mustard as a topping for the hat.

Services were started in a rented space above a bar on Atlantic Ave. Stories are still told about the tenth man who left his drink and joined the minyan.

One Shabbos, Rabbi Ephraim Pikarski, the schools first director was walking along Atlantic Ave. and was stopped by Artie Lloyd, Jewish owner of the famed furniture store. He offered a $10,000 donation if only the Chassidim would move to another neighborhood. Pikarski apparently told him that Lubavitch would be there long after the home of truly snooty furniture. A year ago Lloyds sold out and the Chabad community still grows.

The early years where full of struggle. In October of 1972 the famed Russian Chossid, Rabbi Mendel Futerfus visited Long Beach and spoke about the need to establish a Mikvah. Hearing about his talk the Rebbe dispatched a $1,000 check by special delivery mail to get the project off the ground. As in so many other cases, the Rebbe's impetus moved it forward and the mikve was dedicated the following spring.

In 1975 the school was spread in three different locations. A decision was made to find a better facility and move to Orange County. Finally the present school was discovered in Westminster. The city however took its time reaching a final decision. Five days before the beginning of the school year, in the fall of 1976, was the official public bid and Hebrew Academy won. The next morning the movers came. In five days Hebrew Academy did the impossible and school opened on time.

Today the Hebrew Academy has five hundred students and a beautiful ten acre campus under the direction of Rabbis Aba Perelmuter and Rabbi Yitzchok Newman.

It was Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, whose quiet determination led the school from Long Beach to Orange County. His tenure of leadership for 18 years brought Yiddishkiet to the area. The school was the mother to the various blossoming communities.

The first center in Orange County began in 1979 in Irvine. A handful of families wanted a traditional community and Rabbi Mendel and Rochel Duchman assumed its leadership. Starting first in Duchman's living room, then moving to a house and finally to the 3112 acre campus it uses today. Its outstanding schools, outreach and community programs have made Chabad of Irvine the focus of Yiddishkiet in the South County.

In Anaheim a group of religious Israelis had started a small synagogue during their stay here on behalf of the Israeli Army. Area families joined the synagogue and they turned to Chabad. In the fall of 1982 Rabbi David Eliezrie and his wife, Stella, came to Anaheim from Miami. They inaugurated a wide variety of education and community projects. Realizing the demographic shift of Jews to the Yorba Linda/Anaheim Hills area they began to focus efforts there. In July of 1988 the dream be- came a reality and a 2 acre campus was purchased. Renamed North County Chabad Center/Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen the community has grown immensely since the move to Yorba Linda.

Many parents of the school were living in the Westminster/ Huntington Beach area. Starting in 1982 they too, started services with the help of Rabbi Aron David Berkowitz. Initially the services were held monthly and after a year weekly. Rabbi Berkowitz, his wife, Sheina, and 5 children moved 10 Westminster in 1984 and in 1986, together with the shul, moved to Huntington Beach. Services are now held daily and the community is growing. The congregation is in the midst of a campaign to acquire a permanent home.

1984 saw the founding of a satellite center to Chabad of Irvine in Laguna Beach. The shul, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Alter Tennebaum and his wife, Binie, has made a center for Yiddishkiet on the beach.

In mid 1986 Rabbi Yitzchok Marcus began a weekly hike of eight miles each way from his home in Long Beach to Los Alamitos. The sixteen weekly miles inspired area residents to help make the minyan at Congregation AhavasYisroel-Chabad. Since then the Rabbi, his wife, Ita, and ten children have moved to Los Alamitos and firmly established the synagogue which now boasts regular services, youth programs and adult education.

The Rebbe often quotes the Talmudic dictum, "He who has 100 wants 200, he who has 200 wants 400". The Talmud says this in reference to pursuit of financial success. The Rebbe says we must apply this principle in reference to enriching other Jews. Once one hundred are inspired, we need to inspire 200, once 200 have been reached, we need to double our efforts again. In years to come Chabad in Orange County & Long Beach will attempt to follow the Rebbe's vision and re- double its efforts to build a strong, dynamic. Jewish community.

(Source: Orange County Jewish Heritage, Friday Febuary 1990)

  Lubavitch Hebrew acdemy of Long Beach

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