Rabbi Menachem and Devorie Levin, founders of the new Chabad in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood.
Rabbi Menachem and Devorie Levin, founders of the new Chabad in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood.

New West Portal Chabad brings the beef

When Chabad Rabbi Menachem Levin moved to the San Francisco neighborhood of West Portal almost two months ago, he started to meet his neighbors. And he got some words of advice.

“One person told me, ‘If you made a deli, you’d be the king of town,’” he said.

Judging by the response to the upcoming pop-up “New York” deli night on Thursday, to inaugurate his new Chabad center, he’s well on his way. The responses from neighbors on the web-based platform Nextdoor started with “You’ve got me salivating!” and “Mazel Tov!” and ran all the way through to “YES!!! See you there.”

The deli night is Levin and his wife Devorie’s first event as co-directors of the new “Chabad of the Neighborhood.” The couple’s arrival marks the 7th Chabad center in San Francisco, but the first in the area of West Portal and Balboa Terrace, where Menachem said he sees “tremendous untapped potential.”

With a population of around 875,000, of which 60,000 are thought to be Jewish, San Francisco sustains a host of Chabad centers beyond the venerable Chabad of San Francisco, in SoMa, where the well-known “Rally Rabbi” Yosef Langer holds sway. In the Richmond District, Rabbi Ahron and Sara Hecht (Devorie’s parents) run the Richmond Torah Centert. There are also Chabad centers in Pacific Heights, Cole Valley and Noe Valley, plus a student-centered Chabad in the Sunset District.

Rabbi Levin, 33, said one more is not one too many — he’s not necessarily trying to replicate what other Chabads are doing. Instead, he’s there to help the Jews in his immediate neighborhood.

“We’re not here to take away from anyone,” he said.

And Devorie, 29, who grew up helping her parents with their own Chabad outreach as the seventh of 12 children, said there were always things to do in the world of Lubavitch outreach.

“You need a lot of people to work it and make a difference, and not just one or two,” she said.

The deli night is the couple’s way to reach out to their new neighborhood. They’ve rented out the coffee house next door, where they will be selling pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on rye, along with matzo ball soup, potato knishes, rugelach and Dr. Brown’s soda (one plea came from a Nextdoor commenter for some Cel-Ray: “That is the only soda to drink with deli.”) Pre-ordering from the Chabad of the Neighborhood website is best, Rabbi Levin said, but they’ll accommodate everyone until the food runs out.

“It’s only too late when we run out of stock,” he said.

Since moving into his new home, Rabbi Levin has been making house calls to residences in the neighborhood with Jewish names or mezuzahs to drop off challah and introduce himself. He said he’s met a lot of people who have some level of observance, whether it’s lighting candles for Shabbat or celebrating some Jewish holidays, and feels like people are interested in the idea of a Chabad presence nearby.

“They’re interested, they’re intrigued,” he said. “They’re open to it.”

With deli night coming up, he’ll connect with a lot of those same Jews, plus others desperate for a taste of deli. Now all Levin has to do is make sure the sandwiches (stuffed with kosher meat from “outside California,” he said) live up to the hype.

“I’m a little nervous about that!” he added.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.