Sonoma Chabad center brings Judaism to county’s Jews

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As Chabad adherents, the couple not only studied Judaism, but also learned about community development and related areas for successfully operating a Chabad center.

Their mission, Wolvovsky said, is based on the principle that if the Jew won’t come to Judaism, they’ll attempt to bring Judaism to the Jew.

“As long as there’s a need, [we’ll keep starting Chabad centers],” said Wolvovsky, who also studied at yeshivas in Brazil, Israel and Southern California.

Seeing such a need is what brought the Wolvovskys and their 8-month-old daughter, Mirel, to Santa Rosa.

Though thousands of Jews live in Sonoma County, many are unaffiliated and uninvolved with an organized synagogue or center. Chabad’s goal is to bring Judaism to their doorsteps.

What that entails depends on the individual.

“We try to let them experience the warmth of a Shabbat dinner or the fun of a Purim party,” Wolvovsky said. “Chabad helps people find how they’ll be most comfortable finding their Jewishness. For some people it might just be a bowl of chicken soup or a Chanukah party, without having to become a member of anything.”

Chabad, Wolvovsky added, is not a membership program, nor is it interested in obtaining converts.

“We want to give every Jew the opportunity to get in touch with his [or her] Jewish heritage and take pride in it one Jew at a time,” he said. “This, he added, was the basis of Schneerson’s revolutionizing of the Jewish world by sending emissaries throughout the world.”

Supported during their first year of operation by Chabad headquarters in New York, new Chabad centers are expected to become self-sufficient through donations and other community support by the end of that time, Wolvovsky said.

The two are already on their way to making practical use of what they learned in yeshiva.

“We’ve been here 10 days, and one of the first things I did here was visit patients in hospitals,” Wolvovsky said. “I already bar mitzvahed two people here — both were over 50, but it was their first time putting on tefillin.”

Wolvovsky said the move to the North Bay community was not as much of a culture shock as some of their friends had warned them it would be.

“We grew up all our lives knowing this is what we were going to do, to look for a community that could use a little more Yiddishkeit,” Wolvovsky said. After hearing that Santa Rosa was a growing community, “that’s where we went.”

The two, who have been married for about two years, each have siblings who founded Chabad centers in the United States and Canada, Wolvovsky said.

He doesn’t feel this Chabad center is in competition with any of the five synagogues in Sonoma County.

“Our primary objective is the unaffiliated,” he said.

To help bring those Jews to Judaism, the Wolvovskys are starting several one-on-one and group classes in such subjects as Torah study, Jewish philosophy and Jewish history. They also plan to hold Jewish holiday celebrations during the year, including free High Holy Days services.

“One of the projects we plan to do, before the High Holidays, is to set up a table at a local supermarket to show people the hundreds of regular items all over the supermarket that are kosher, how accessible kosher is in this day and age,” he said.

They hope to teach local children and others how to make a shofar and Havdallah candles, how the ancient Hebrews got the olive oil for the menorahs in the Temple, and, for Pesach, how matzah was originally made.

These are the things Altie Wolvovsky says she is excited about doing in her new post.

“I enjoy meeting and getting to know new people,” she said, “and I think teaching…gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment. And that’s what were doing here in Santa Rosa — teaching people.”

Added her husband: “This is what we always dreamed of, what we always wanted to do — sharing the joys of Judaism.” “The main message is that we’re here for anything Jewish anyone needs. We’re looking forward to meeting as many of the Jewish people around here as possible. We’re sort of the embassy for anything Jewish.”

The new Santa Rosa Chabad center is at 649 Summerfield Road. Information: (707) 539-5953.

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County." She is a wife and mother of two grown sons and grandmother of three.