The Metropolitan Chabadby Natalie Jacobs February 1, 2015
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has declared Dec. 16 Chabad Downtown Day, to honor the synagogue for being an outstanding neighbor to the downtown community for the past 10 years. Rabbi Zalman Carlebach, a South African who spent a year in New York on his post-rabbincal school studies, started Chabad Downtown in 2004 when the neighborhood was riddled with construction cranes. His wife is from San Diego, and when they approached Rabbi Yonah Fradkin at the Chabad San Diego headquarters in Scripps Ranch, he suggested the downtown region might be a good place to open Carlebach’s Chabad synagogue. At the time, the downtown area was home to only 20,000 residents. Today, Carlebach says there are more than 40,000 people who live within the 10-ish block radius around Horton Plaza. Estimates put the resident total at about 80,000 by the year 2020. With about 10-15 Jewish families per downtown high rise, the Jewish community in the heart of America’s finest city is likely to keep growing too.
Chabad Downtown wants to be the spiritual home for all of these Jewish residents.
“We feel that we’re just getting established,” Carlebach says one morning on a tour of his newly rented 5,000 sq. ft. building a few blocks from their original location (which was only 1,500 sq. ft.). “We’re constantly growing and now we’re focusing on establishing our own Jewish community center in downtown.”
While the synagogue does hold daily services, along with the traditional Friday night and Saturday morning offerings, Carlebach wants to see all kinds of Jews at Chabad Downtown, not just the ones who worship there. The larger space will allow for more room to have programs beyond services, for young adults, women, or those looking to feed their Jewish curiosities with a class or two.
“The downtown is very community oriented,” Carlebach says, despite what the cityscape might suggest, “there’s a strong sense of community here, it’s not just bars and clubs.”
Given that downtown is a big destination for tourists and business travelers, Carlebach readily opens his doors to those he may never see again after a week. With their proximity to the Convention Center, Chabad Downtown gets conventioneers at services for about 40 weekends out of the year. And there are always tourists trickling in. These one-time attendees go to Chabad Downtown, Rabbi Carlebach and their website, chabaddowntown.com, for information on Jewish life in San Diego, especially things like Kosher restaurants and local events with a Jewish flair.
To serve another part of the downtown San Diego community, Chabad Downtown distributes bread and canned goods, in association with JFS, on the G St. sidewalk every Friday morning from 10 a.m to noon. Rabbi Carlebach showed me a list seven pages long of those who come on a regular basis. The synagogue distributes about 100 bags of food each week.
While the new location has already provided Chabad Downtown the ability to expand its programming, they have established a search committee to find a permanent home for their growing community. For now, though, you can find them at 308 G St. Services are held at 7:30 a.m. daily. Friday services are at 5 p.m., and two Saturday services are at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The next community event is “An Archaeological Claim to Jerusalem,” a lecture with Rabbi Avrohom Stolik on Feb. 22. Details on this and all 2015 events can be found on their website, chabaddowntown.com.