Chabadniks turn Lake Tahoe into a winter wonderland

by drew himmelstein, j. staff

Bring nearly 200 Jews to Lake Tahoe for Shabbat and magical things start to happen — like two feet of snowfall during one of the driest winters on record in the Sierra Nevada.

And as the skiers rejoiced, the Jews davened. At 6,280 feet.

Rabbi Mordey Richler and his wife, Shaina, of Chabad of Lake Tahoe

Rabbi Mordey Richler and his wife, Shaina, of Chabad of Lake Tahoe


“People are coming to Tahoe anyway … you might as well make a trip out of it,” said Rabbi Mordey Richler of Chabad of Lake Tahoe. “It’s a beautiful place to spend Shabbat.”

South Lake Tahoe’s first Shabbaton Weekend Retreat was held during the last weekend of February, drawing men, women and children connected with Chabad chapters throughout Northern California.

For many who participated, it was their first full Shabbat experience, Richler said.

“It was truly amazing to hear how they want to start turning off the TV on Shabbat; they want to start lighting the candles,” Richler said. “They saw what Shabbat could bring to your family.”

Held at the Inn by the Lake resort — on the California side, two miles from the casinos — the three-day retreat included Shabbat services, workshops, a children’s camp and fully catered kosher meals. Chabad of the East Bay’s Rabbi Yehuda Ferris and his wife, Miriam, led a workshop on keeping passion alive in marriage. A panel called “Crossfire!” saw Rabbi Avremel Brod of Chabad of Stockton, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri-Valley and Miriam Ferris debate controversial “issues of the day.”

Flier for the retreat

Flier for the retreat


And in one particularly memorable moment — captured on video at — 69-year-old Chabad of San Francisco Rabbi Yosef Langer danced up a storm to the musical accompaniment of Yehuda Ferris on guitar and Rabbi Shmulik Friedman on drum.

“My intent for the weekend was to be in that space of what Shabbat is about, which is praying and learning and being with other people and trying to observe the mitzvahs of Shabbat,” said Andrea Campisi, 53, who attended the retreat with two friends.

Campisi, an event planner who lives in Pleasanton, said she has been going to Chabad events for years but doesn’t normally observe a traditional Shabbat at home. The retreat allowed her to unwind with a traditional Shabbat and spend time with friends. “It was kind of a girls’ weekend to get away, which was also really nice.”

The Chabad Center is new to Lake Tahoe. It opened in 2013 when Richler and his wife, Shaina, relocated from Southern California and launched it. Hosting a Shabbaton in the winter was part of their original vision, and they plan to continue to hold future gatherings, including one at the end of the summer.

When Shabbat was over, retreat attendees got a chance to enjoy that snow dump — they were eligible for discounted Sunday lift tickets. Many families spent Sunday skiing and sledding, though Richler, who is a skier, said he was too busy to make it onto the slopes that weekend.

Nevertheless, the retreat proved to be a great idea. It sold out more than a month ahead of time.

“If we would have known how many people would have wanted to come, we would have gotten a bigger hotel,” Richler said.