After a four-month break, Chabad by the Sea members began gathering again Sunday for a weekly Torah study.
The meeting was held in Rabbi Yochanan Friedman‘s new home, where about 10 people gathered around a dining room table as Friedman led an exacting study of the importance of the water in the parting of the sea, which allowed the Jewish people to reach Mount Sinai and receive the Torah.
Before the meeting, Friedman said he believed it was time for Chabad to expand again, as his condominium off Market Street is too small for a large gathering.
Chabad relinquished its Mission Street headquarters when the economy soured, Friedman said.
Friedman, 38, got a couple of side jobs to help make ends meet, saying he did not want to burden the members.
But now, things are looking up, and the father of four says it would be nice to stretch the group’s wings a bit, either with a large home or a temple space.
“So, if some angel steps up, that would be wonderful” he said. “The economy has raked us over the coals, but with God’s help the community will come through this stronger than before.”
Chabad by the Sea, part of the Hasidic branch of Judaism, was started in Santa Cruz 11 years ago.
Friedman began it after being sent as an “emissary,” moving from Minnesota, he said.
Chabad seeks to bring traditional Judaism to every Jew, he said. The group’s mission also is to “recapture the world with goodness.”
“The idea is to bring Jewish tradition and awareness to the individual at his or her level or pace,” he said.
On Saturday, Chabad will celebrate Yud Shvat, the 60th anniversary of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn becoming the leader of the movement. Schneersohn was a key figure in the growth of Chabad and the celebration is a chance to focus on the spiritual message of his life.
Friedman said Schneersohn was reluctant to take the leadership, or Rebbe, position.
But then he agreed to do so, if it were to “conquer the world with goodness,” Friedman said. To that end, he helped bring traditional Judaism to every Jew, he said.
The impact has been vast, Friedman said,
During Schneersohn’s leadership, the number of emissaries grew from less than 100 to more than 4,000, he said.
There were just five Chabad organizations in Northern California when Friedman and his family moved to Santa Cruz in 1990, and now there are 24, he said. Each is completely independent.
“It’s amazing how much it has grown,” he said.
Sharon Rappaport of Santa Cruz attended the “practical Torah” study Sunday. She said she was a member of a conservative Jewish group before Chabad began in Santa Cruz.
Friedman “has been really instrumental in revitalizing what we call Yiddishkeit Jewishness here,” Rappaport said. “And he is a phenomenal teacher; there is not a single class I don’t come away from with something meaningful.”
Friedman said his group takes on every educational or humanitarian mission it can in Santa Cruz, “to flood the market with goodness.”
An example, he said, is a new “J-text” program in which group members text Jewish trivia questions to teens and those who answer correctly are eligible for monthly raffle prizes.
On Sunday, Friedman’s wife, Baily, their 9-year-old daughter, Rivka, and others were conducting a weekly arts and crafts group at Sunshine Villa.
That group began as a Bat Mitzvah project last year and is open to anyone who wants to help, Baily Friedman said.
“It’s been great,” she said. “We are really getting to know the people well.”
Emily Apelt, 14, was working on a painting as several Sunshine Villa residents worked beside her or watched.
“I like to be able to help, and to see everyone’s familiar faces,” she said.
Darleen Krohn, 87, who was putting some finishing touches on a brightly painted toucan, said she enjoys the group.
“It’s fun,” she said. “And it’s always nice to see some kids.”