The Chabad-Lubavitch movement is known for being welcoming, warm and loving toward every single Jew — no exceptions. Chabad of University City epitomizes this attitude, and Rabbi Moishe Leider, who has led the synagogue since 1986, especially personifies true Chabad warmth and acceptance.
Though Chabad UC (originally Chabad of La Jolla) wandered from members’ homes to rented office suites since it was founded more than three decades ago, the synagogue finally purchased its first home 11 years ago on Governor Drive in University City when a Bank of America branch closed. Rabbi Leider and his congregants jumped at the opportunity to purchase the building and property, which, after a year and a half of negotiations, finally transpired.
“We were able to accommodate larger crowds,” says Rabbi Leider, who remembers the years of celebrating holidays in hotels and outside venues. “All the big holidays we’re able to have here in the building. It can accommodate everyone, and we’re very comfortable.”
A few years ago, with more space, about 100 of the synagogue’s congregants — Sephadic Jews of Moroccan, Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian descent — approached Rabbi Leider about starting their own service in their own tradition.
“We had quite a few Sephardic members when we started here who were praying with us, but they feel more comfortable within the Sephardic traditions,” Rabbi Leider says. “They asked me if they could start [their own congregation] and I supported it very strongly, because it was a way to get more people in. In fact, we were able to bring a lot more people into the community and into the synagogue as a result of it.”
During that first year, they renovated the space upstairs to give it a Sephardic sensibility, built an ark and partitions for the men and women, purchased separate prayer books for each holiday (as Sephardim do) and acquired three Sephardic Torahs. Now, Rabbi Leider says, Chabad UC’s Sephardic congregation is the largest in San Diego.
Though their traditions, services and languages are different (the Sephardic congregation speaks in Hebrew, while the original congregation uses English), Rabbi Leider holds they’re both equal parts of Chabad UC and attend one another’s classes, lectures, activities, holidays and meals together.
Rabbi Leider gives sermons for both Shabbat services, which take place simultaneously (he speaks at one sermon toward its beginning and at the other toward its end), though both congregations meet together for weekday services and share Kiddush on Shabbat.
“It’s a very unusual thing,” Rabbi Leider says. “Colleagues of mine have been asking if it works out, if there are conflicts or problems. And it has worked out beautifully.”
In addition to two floors set up for two different congregations, Chabad UC also enjoys — and happily welcomes the community to share — children’s programs, a safe, fenced-in backyard with play equipment, a space for outdoor dining and summer barbecues and a full kitchen.
Besides welcoming an independent Sephardic congregation as part of the synagogue, Rabbi Leider has also reached out to others from very different Jewish backgrounds and not of his community. He’s been the Jewish chaplain of the Metropolitan Correctional Center and the Federal Prison downtown for about 30 years. His chaplaincy duties have taken him to other jails and prisons, as well as UCSD’s Thornton Hospital and Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, where he is the go-to rabbi for unaffiliated Jewish patients.
“I think that the Chabad [philosophy] lends itself to that,” Rabbi Leider says. “Chabad is a very free, open, welcoming, tolerant type of atmosphere.”
Chabad of University City
3813 Governor Dr.
San Diego, CA 92122