After destructive fire, San Jose Jewish community close to new site purchase

Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld says it’s important to focus on the positive. And that ‘s what he’s done ever since tragedy struck his community his in December after his Chabad Almaden found itself without a permanent home when a fire destroyed their building on 1088 Branham Lane.

In the wake of the incident, Chabad Almaden received an outpouring of financial support and Weinfeld, 24, soon realized that he could turn the dark moment last winter into an opportunity to relocate the Jewish community to a space near the Westfield Oakridge mall. The site is over double the size of their previous location and will be able to accommodate even more programming.

“People started giving from all over. So many phone calls, emails and letters. People we had never met,” said Weinfeld, who moved to the Bay Area from Brooklyn two years ago to start Chabad Almaden. “Especially after seeing the fire – it woke up something in the community.”

Weinfeld’s synagogue is currently in escrow to purchase the $4.5 million, 8,750-square-foot property on 5580 Almaden Expressway. Their capital campaign “Rise from the Ashes” has raised nearly 90 percent of the $1.4 million goal.

At the moment, it’s a race against time. Weinfeld must raise the remaining amount — approximately $140,000 — by May 30. But the rabbi remains calm and collected.

“We’re confident the community is behind us,” he said when asked about the remaining funds.

SAN JOSE CALIFORNIA – MAY 15: Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld, of San Jose, stands for a portrait at the new Chabad Center in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, May 15, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

The new Chabad center will include a synagogue, library, Hebrew school and gift shop and possibly a performing arts center.

“It’ll be a community center for Chabad Almaden,” Weinfeld said. “A place for people to come any time of the day to read a book, have their children play or come in for a class. A warm place for the community to enjoy.”

So far, around 3,500 people have contributed for the new site, said Weinfeld, and the rest of the facility’s cost that isn’t covered by the capital campaign will be made up for by some larger donors and a mortgage.

Some of those larger donations come from Silicon Valley billionaire Chris Larsen, co-founder of the San Francisco-based technology company Ripple. In addition, the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles has also provided funding. (Israel and Azerbaijan have had close diplomatic ties since 1992.) Weinfeld wouldn’t disclose how much money Larsen or the Consul General gave.

Barbara Dieker, who has been affiliated with Chabad Almaden for close to two years and donated $10,000 to the capital campaign, said what Weinfeld is offering the Jewish community is something unique.

“What they bring to the community is not just another Jewish place of worship,” Dieker said. “It is a way to come together more inclusively. Where people can just learn and worship and fraternize with people across the Jewish spectrum.”

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