Bay Area Chabad history

For a complete history of Chabad in the Bay Area Click here

From musicians to charm vendors, mimes to multi-lingual tourists, S. Franciscans are accustomed to seeing almost anything on their streets. Yet the sight of a Chassidic rabbi on a motorcycle, long beard and yarmulke flying in the breeze, rarely fails to turn their heads. Often there’s someone else on the bike with him. Perhaps it’s a local businessman who needs a ride to morning prayers or it may be a Jewish child having the time of his life. The bike, a symbol of Rabbi Yosef Langer’s innovative outreach style, scampers around the Financial District, putting smiles on people’s faces and breaking down their stereotypes of Chassidic Jews.

The story of that rabbi, his family and the legendary rise of Chabad-style Chassidism in the S. Francisco Bay Area, dates back to the early ‘70s, when young Jews on college campuses were searching for greater meaning in their lives. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson MH”M, leader of the Chabad movement since 1950, sensed that these young people were ready for a Jewish renaissance, and he systematically set about to make it happen.

The Rebbe’s concept was to create a Jewish “home away from home” for students, as well as a community for young people and travelers. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, sent Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin to California in 1965 to direct Chabad Lubavitch activities on the West Coast. The first Chabad House opened next to the UCLA campus in Los Angeles in the late ‘60s. The Berkeley Chabad House was the second to follow.

Since that time, more than 200 Chabad community centers, educational and social service programs have been established making Chabad the largest network of educational and social services on the West Coast. Chabad Houses number almost 3,000 globally, as part of an international network of educational and social services sponsored by the Lubavitch Chassidic movement.

S. Francisco was one of the last major U.S. cities without a Chabad center. Yet for a variety of Jewish populations, from conventioneers and tourists to established families and young transplants, the expansion of Chabad to S. Francisco began to meet several needs in the community.

Chabad began to provide traditional Jewish education, to encourage community affiliation, and to offer a Chassidic synagogue for inspired worship.

Like elsewhere in America, S. Francisco’s young people were ready to explore their roots. Many had been exposed to Chabad in Berkeley and wanted a similar spiritual Jewish atmosphere closer to home; so Rabbi Langer and Hinda moved to the city in 1985.

Interest in Chabad grew rapidly, from a Jewish singles group in the Marina, to store owners, stockbrokers, and many others. No other organization at the time offered such a no-strings attached welcome. Open House Shabbos dinners brought a taste of tradition to town. Free, inspiring High Holiday services attracted thousands of Jews. Many participants from those initial gatherings are today’s Jewish community leaders and activists.