A Double Blessing for San Francisco's Jewish Community

by Fay Kranz Greene - S. FRANCISCO, CA

February 5, 2004

On any given Shabbat, the dining room of Rabbi Yosef and Hinda Langer’s home in San Francisco is jam-packed with 40-50 people enjoying good food, spirited singing and spiritual nourishment.

"The Langers bring together a diverse group of people every Friday night for the sole purpose of spreading the joy of Shabbos” says Joel Greenberg, a young social worker, who attends regularly. “Their warmth and kindness make you feel like family and it's a blessing for us in San Francisco."

The Langers received a blessing of their own recently, when their long awaited dream came true and they were able to purchase a permanent location for their burgeoning Shalom pre-school, Camp Gan Israel summer and winter camps, and the ever-expanding Chabad House programs.

The location had not one, but two buildings with a combined 6,700square feet. Previously owned by a prestigious private school, the buildings are separated by a one-acre, fully outfitted public playground, with tennis and basketball courts as well as play structures for all ages. A half block away is the Golden Gate Park, famed for its natural beauty. A grand opening celebration is slated for the spring.

“Getting these buildings at the relatively low price of $l.2 million was nothing short of a miracle” says Rabbi Yosef Langer, director of Chabad of San Francisco, “especially since the lease on our rental facilities had just run out.”

Noted San Francisco community leader and philanthropist Hal Dryan spearheaded the project with a substantial donation and also kicked off a fund raising campaign to retire the mortgage. “Hal felt this site was the perfect solution to our rapidly expanding school, synagogue and programming activities” said Langer “Thanks to him and our other supporters, including George Zimmer (The Men’s Wearhouse) we are going full steam ahead with long term projects and development goals.”

Langer’s ambitious plans include expanding the pre-school into a yeshiva day school. A kindergarten is already in formation for 2004. Also on the drawing board is a state of the art women’s mikveh and Judaic library, as well as a multipurpose auditorium that will serve both the school and the synagogue.

Hinda Langer, director of the Shalom School has her own vision for the new space. "I am looking forward to bringing a wider group of Jewish families into Shalom. With more space, and an amazing playground next door, I know that our goal of giving children the best start in their Jewish education will be enhanced by the beautiful surroundings” she said.

Monica and Ofir Levavi, whose daughter Sivan attends the school, echo the sentiment. "The Shalom School has been a hidden treasure in the community and our new building will take its good reputation to the next level. We are so proud to be a part of it.”

Opening soon on the new campus, is a Judaica book and gift shop named “Your Jewish House.” It will feature the highest quality Jewish educational toys, books and gifts and will be the only venue in San Francisco for Mezuzot and Tefillin. “In fact, we will carry everything that is needed for ‘your Jewish house’" says Hinda. She also is pleased that beginning in March, the parent-baby groups will have a space for mothers and fathers to share ideas about bringing up baby with a "Jewish" touch.

Chabad of San Francisco has expanded, but so have Rabbi Langer’s dreams. He says the next phase will see a Chabad House on the campus of San Francisco State to cater to the 2,000 Jewish students and he is searching for a "mitzvah mobile" to station next to Union Square, the busy shopping and business center of the Golden Gate city, for daily prayer services and mitzvah outreach.

Rabbi Langer likes to tell visitors that San Francisco has the distinction of being “the first city in the world to have a large public Chanukah Menorah.” Built by the late Jewish music impresario and Holocaust survivor Bill Graham in 1975 and erected in Union Square, it remains the site of an annual Menorah lighting and concert which attracts thousands of people.

“We want to channel that energy and passion into all areas of Jewish life in San Francisco,” says Langer, “and our new campus is a wonderful step in that direction.”

According to Langer, there are 90,000 Jews in San Francisco, and only a fraction of them profess to be Sabbath observant. It’s a safe bet that the rabbi and his wife are working hard to change those statistics - one Shabbat meal at a time.

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