Bobby and Fran Lent cut the ribbon on the opening of the Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. (Photo/Jeff Bartee)
Bobby and Fran Lent cut the ribbon on the opening of the Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. (Photo/Jeff Bartee)

$20M Chabad center opens in San Mateo, Elk Grove welcomes first Chabad

Twenty-one years ago, Rabbi Yossi Marcus hosted Chabad of the North Peninsula’s first event, in a shopping mall in San Mateo.

“We had our first menorah lighting at the Hillsdale Shopping Center,” Marcus recalled.

Since then, the outpost of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, one of dozens of Chabad centers in the Bay Area, has come a long way.

On Oct. 2, Chabad of the North Peninsula and its community held a grand opening for the Lent Chabad Center — its own home in San Mateo after years of renting. The project has been in the works since 2018.

Named after the lead donors to the project, Bobby and Fran Lent, the Lent Chabad Center was designed and built to meet the needs of the North Peninsula Jewish community, Marcus said. The building is two stories tall, with the preschool on the first floor and community space on the second level that includes a synagogue, social hall and kitchen. Throw in an underground parking area, and the total cost of the project was $20 million, Marcus said.

The new Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo.(Photo/Adrienne Weil)
The new Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. (Photo/Adrienne Weil)

“The advantage, in building from the ground up as opposed to doing a renovation, is we all watched it go up,” Marcus said. “We all watched it happen, and we all gave our hearts and souls to make it happen. That bonds us together in a beautiful way.”

Other major donors of $1.5 million or more included the Koum Family Foundation, Jack and Candee Klein and an anonymous donor who dedicated their gift to the memory of the Jewish philanthropist Eva Chernov Lokey, Marcus said.

Marcus and his wife, Esty, started Chabad of the North Peninsula out of an apartment in 2001. Twenty-five people attended that first menorah lighting in 2001; today, a regular Shabbat brings in 50 to 100 people, and a holiday service will often draw some 400 attendees, Marcus said. The past 21 years have seen the establishment of the Chai Preschool, under the direction of Esty, as well as numerous programs for adults and children.

Establishing a permanent home for the community has been a longtime goal, Marcus said. The Chabad has worked out of rented spaces for the entirety of its two-decade history, gathering in hotel ballrooms and office buildings for Shabbat services.

Since the grand opening, the new building on Monte Diablo Avenue is already getting new visitors, Marcus said, helping the community expand.

“Our hope is that [the center] will improve people’s lives spiritually, and thereby materially, as well, and bring people together and enable them to experience Judaism in an inspiring, joyous, welcoming and embracing way,” Marcus said.

Meanwhile, the city of Elk Grove (Sacramento County) now has its first and only Jewish congregation: Chabad of Elk Grove.

Rabbi Chaim Groner (right) with Alec Yonatanov at Chabad of Elk Grove’s Sukkot celebration. (Photo/Hope Rosh)
Rabbi Chaim Groner (right) with Alec Yonatanov at Chabad of Elk Grove’s Sukkot celebration. (Photo/Hope Rosh)

Emissaries Rabbi Chaim Groner and wife Raizel, who are new parents, moved to Elk Grove to start the center earlier this fall, after visiting from New York over the summer to feel things out. Previously they ran Camp Gan Israel at Chabad of Sacramento, which was founded in 1994 and run ever since by Raizel’s parents, Rabbi Mendy and Dinie Cohen. (Rabbi Mendy is also the dean of Sacramento Jewish Academy, which enrolls some 100 students and expanded this year.

The idea for a Chabad in Elk Grove was met with enthusiasm from the community, said Groner, who was raised in Australia, where his family leads a Jewish community in Melbourne. The closest synagogue is in Sacramento, 20 miles away.

“We have sensed a real need for a local Jewish presence,” Groner said.

So far, the Chabad’s Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot services have been small — around 30 attendees each — but Groner has hope for the growth of the community. The community doesn’t yet have a building, but has been operating out of various hotels and a member’s house.

In June, the Chabad held a Kickstarter campaign that raised $50,000 in 48 hours. These funds have gone toward renting spaces for holiday celebrations, and soon, Groner hopes, will help fund the creation of a full-time center. Groner’s long-term goals include opening a synagogue with regular services, a Hebrew school and having Chabad programs for adults, teens and women.

“Our long-term plan is to have a place that the Jewish community can call home,” Groner said. “A place for Jewish life to happen, to flourish and to be celebrated.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.