Synagogue: A Family Effortby Jessica Hanewinckel January 31, 2011
At Chabad of Scripps Ranch, family is of the utmost importance — among the congregants and the rabbis. Because it’s located on the same sprawling, $25 million campus as San Diego’s Chabad headquarters and the Chabad Hebrew Academy (Chabad’s preschool through eighth grade Jewish day school), many, though not all, of its congregants come from around San Diego and, naturally, have their kids’ best interests in mind. The rabbis are equally family-minded, with Rabbis Yonah, Josef and Motte Fradkin (father and sons, respectively) overseeing the daily happenings of the local Chabad network, the day school and the shul. (Additionally, some of Rabbi Yonah’s other nine children also serve as rabbis or rebbetzins of some of San Diego’s 18 Chabad centers.)
“Chabad is a family type of place, and for the people coming here, it’s very family-oriented,” says Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, founder of the Chabad San Diego network who currently runs the headquarters. “[Congregants] often come to our homes, and we take care of their needs, whatever they might be.”
Just arriving at where they are today was a true family and community effort. When Rabbi Yonah arrived in San Diego in 1976 and founded the first San Diego Chabad house on Montezuma Road near San Diego State University, he had little funding but immense faith that God would see him through.
“When I first came, we were a small organization that no one thought would ever succeed because it was too religious for San Diego, which was such a secular, Reform type of community,” Rabbi Yonah says. “Our philosophy was to include everyone, and hopefully our goodness would beget goodness, and that’s exactly what has happened. Some of those people who couldn’t afford to come into a congregation [back then] are some of our biggest contributors today, because they want to make sure other people can be there as well. When you’re altruistic…then God provides.”
Sure enough, center by center, the network grew, until in 1996, the headquarters followed a northward population shift and moved to its current Scripps Ranch campus, where the school was simultaneously built. By 2003, they acknowledged that, thanks to the school’s growth and growth of the Scripps Ranch Jewish population, there was a need for another center there. Rabbi Josef, head of school at CHA, helped build the shul’s congregation initially, and shortly after its founding, Rabbi Motte became the shul’s first full-time rabbi.
Today, Rabbi Motte and Rabbi Yonah (who says he’s the longest-serving rabbi currently in San Diego) share responsibilities of leading the Scripps Ranch congregation, while Rabbi Josef continues to look after the school. Additionally, three other rabbis are present on the campus, two as teachers and one as a grounds overseer.
“Each one of us [rabbis] has a connection to their people,” Rabbi Motte says. “Everyone relates to different people, to their person.”
Though Chabad of Scripps Ranch is a medium sized congregation, with about 50 families or so attending on a regular basis, its unique circumstances and expansive grounds mean it’s also the site of lots of network- and community-wide events, like lectures, the annual Winter Wonderland Chanukah celebration, concerts and carnivals. Its association with the school also means it sees a lot of families attend because their kids are already comfortable on and familiar with the grounds and the shul itself. (The sanctuary is actually a multi-purpose space, used as the school’s auditorium and gymnasium during the day and the site of many Shabbat dinners and simchot in the evenings.)
Rabbi Motte adds two more important reasons why his shul often sees such an interest among San Diego Jews.
“I know from my experience there are literally thousands of people from throughout the city who consider my father their personal rabbi,” Rabbi Motte says. “If they need a rabbi, they call him, so there’s a personal connection for many people to our shul. Many people also know the name Chabad. Everybody knows Chabad is a warm, nonjudgmental place, like a home. If they have a Jewish need, they know Chabad is the place, wherever they are in the world.”
Whether they’re searching for a community in which to celebrate their baby’s bris, a Jewish name because they never received one, someone to check a mezuzah, a place to attend Shabbat or to catch up on a lecture they’re missing at their home Chabad center, a place to study Talmud or kaballah, or even just a good meal without the religion (all real reasons people have sought out the shul), Chabad of Scripps Ranch welcomes all members of the Jewish community from San Diego and around the world.
“When someone comes in for whatever the need is, [our philosophy is] to give them so much love that they feel this is their house,” Rabbi Yonah says. “We see how important it is to be part of a community. People don’t realize it. You think you can be on your own, when there are moments in life you need [a community].
“It’s a great community, and we’re so fortunate to be here. I don’t think you could find a nicer community anywhere in the world.”
Chabad of Scripps Ranch
10785 Pomerado Road
San Diego, CA 92131