Los Gatos Weekly Times

Chabad Almaden is rising from the ashes near mall

- By Gabriel Greschler ggreschler@bayareanew­sgroup.com

Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld says it's important to focus on the positive. And that's what he's done ever since tragedy struck his community in December after his Chabad Almaden found itself without a permanent home when a fire destroyed their building on 1088 Branham Lane.

In the wake of the incident, Chabad Almaden received an outpouring of financial support and Weinfeld, 24, soon realized that he could turn the dark moment last winter into an opportunit­y to relocate the Jewish community to a space near the Westfield Oakridge mall. The site is over double the size of their previous location and will be able to accommodat­e even more programmin­g.

“People started giving from all over. So many phone calls, emails and letters. People we had never met,” said Weinfeld, who moved to the Bay Area from Brooklyn two years ago to start Chabad Almaden. “Especially after seeing the fire — it woke up something in the community.”

Chabad Almaden is currently in escrow to purchase the $4.5 million, 8,750-squarefoot property on 5580 Almaden Expressway. Their capital campaign “Rise from the Ashes” has raised nearly 90% of the $1.4 million goal.

At the moment, it's a race against time. Weinfeld must raise the remaining amount — approximat­ely $140,000 — by Monday. But the rabbi remains calm and collected.

“We're confident the community is behind us,” he said when asked about the remaining funds.

The new Chabad center will include a synagogue, library, Hebrew school and gift shop and possibly a performing arts center.

“It'll be a community center for Chabad Almaden,” Weinfeld said. “A place for people to come any time of the day to read a book, have their children play or come in for a class. A warm place for the community to enjoy.”

So far, around 3,500 people have contribute­d for the new site, said Weinfeld, and the rest of the facility's cost that isn't covered by the capital campaign will be made up for by some larger donors and a mortgage.

Some of those larger donations come from Silicon Valley billionair­e Chris Larsen, cofounder of the San Franciscob­ased technology company Ripple. In addition, the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles has also provided funding. (Israel and Azerbaijan have had close diplomatic ties since 1992.) Weinfeld wouldn't disclose how much money Larsen or the Consul General gave.

Barbara Dieker, who has been affiliated with Chabad Almaden for close to two years and donated $10,000 to the capital campaign, said what Weinfeld is offering the Jewish community is something unique.

“What they bring to the community is not just another Jewish place of worship,” Dieker said. “It is a way to come together more inclusivel­y. Where people can just learn and worship and fraternize with people across the Jewish spectrum.”

Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish group founded in the late 1700s and is known for its outreach efforts toward both religious and non-religious Jews, with more than 3,500 centers around the world. Other nearby Chabad sites in the South Bay include locations in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, downtown San Jose and Palo Alto. The group also has sites on university campuses, including UC Berkeley and Stanford, where Shabbat dinners are held every Friday night along with other celebratio­ns during Jewish holidays.

Chabad Almaden's previous site on Branham Lane had been open for just three months when a fire struck early in the morning of Dec. 22. The fire, which started in the building's carport and ended up spreading to the first and second floors, destroyed nearly everything. However, the Chabad's Torah scrolls were saved by firefighte­rs and a community member.

Security footage showed an individual entering the building's carport before flames erupted from the area. Weinfeld said he hasn't heard any new leads from authoritie­s and a fire department spokespers­on did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment. Since the incident, Weinfeld said his community has been renting out temporary spaces for its programmin­g.

But Weinfeld says that the incident is in the rearview mirror now — and that he's focused on the future.

“We're glad to proclaim our Judaism out in public,” he said. “We're doing 10 times the amount. We have the community backing us. We don't need anything more than that.”

 ?? SHAE HAMMOND — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld says an outpouring of public and financial support for the new center has bolstered his faith in the community.
SHAE HAMMOND — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld says an outpouring of public and financial support for the new center has bolstered his faith in the community.

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