Rabbi opens local Chabad Jewish Center

By: Eric Heinz 

Rabbi Mordechai Richler has been in South Lake Tahoe for about a week, but he is already making headway on South Lake Tahoe’s newest Jewish cultural organization.

Members of Chabad Jewish Center are working to connect with as many people as possible by hosting ceremonies, groups and classes out the rabbi’s home. The members of the center look to unify people in the community through traditional education.

Richler grew up in Long Beach where he attended a Hebrew academy in the area. He studied in Brunoy, France, and then he moved on to a rabbinical college in Montreal. After that, he studied in New York City for a year, where he met his wife, Shaina.

“The way it works is they (the rabbinical schools) send you out to different places around the world,” Richler said, adding he worked in small towns in Ukraine for a year to help people learn more about their Jewish heritage and culture. Richler said there are still tens of thousands of Jewish people living in those rural areas.

“You go to small towns, which don’t know anything; they just know that they’re Jewish, and they’re so happy to learn more,” Rabbi Richler said. “It’s changed my life.”

Shaina Richler, originally from Australia, has worked with various Jewish youth organizations around the world. She has experience with all ages of Jewish students.

The rabbi also spent a year in Jerusalem at a school to further study how to educate Jewish people on their background.

“Every person here has a mission and a goal, and every person has their own goal, and we’re all here to fulfill our goal and help each other,” he said. “We all have to work as a team.”

The newcomer rabbi said he and his wife came to South Lake Tahoe because they received messages from members of the local Jewish community.

“There’s been a request for a Chabad Jewish center to open up,” Richler said. “There are a lot of tourists who request a Chabad. We spoke to many of the rabbis in the area. It’s a gorgeous place to be close to God.”

The rabbi said Chabad is an international method of Jewish education to help foster the culture. Some of the programs Richler intends to start include elderly citizen organizations, programs for children, a “mommy and me” time for mothers and their newborns, Hebrew schools, weekly Torah classes and a women’s group.

“We’re going to be really busy, but we’re really excited about it,” he said.

Slowly but surely, Richler said he hopes the Chabad center will grow. The rabbi will host weekly Sabbath gatherings, which take place on Fridays, at his home.

On a decorated table inside his home Friday, Richler had two loafs of challah, traditional bread used in Jewish ceremonies, and kosher wine.

“The candles, which the women light, show how much light women bring into the world and how much light the Sabbath brings to the world,” he said. “We have a three-course meal every Friday.”

There also was a shofar, a small wooden instrument that is blown during the month of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins the evening of Sept. 4 and ends the evening of Sept. 6. Rosh Hashanah services will take place at the center Sept. 4. A special children’s program will take place with the adult services. Services for the New Year will take place Sept. 4 at the center.

Chabad is intended to bring every person in as an equal of the Jewish faith. Its primary function is education, preserving Jewish traditions and spiritual guidance.

“We don’t label anybody in Chabad,” Richler said. “Labels, they say, are for clothing. But Chabad, everyone is the same. We’re here to unite and reach out to everybody and give their soul a little shine and bring it out.”