Joy in Berkeley as Chabad dedicates new headquarters

At the appointed hour, Lavey Welton called on the throng to gather in the sanctuary, bellowing, “You can bring anything inside you like: cats, dogs, goats!”

No one brought any goats, but there was an abundance of good will and joy at the dedication of the new Chabad house in Berkeley. The Sept. 18 ceremony drew more than 100 people to the sleek building.

“On the outside, it looks like a giant pair of tefillin without the straps,” said Chabad of the East Bay’s Rabbi Yehuda Ferris about the building. “We have a sign outside that reads, ‘People helping people.’ That’s what this place is about.”

Ferris leased the bottom floor of 2730 Telegraph Ave. four months ago after 21 years at a homey house on College Avenue. It had been a popular refuge for U.C. Berkeley’s Jewish students, but the place had “no air conditioning, no parking, no zoning,” as Ferris put it, adding that it had become unacceptably run-down.

Lavey Welton leads shofar-making workshop for kids at Chabad dedication in Berkeley. photo/david spieler

That prompted the search for another home. Many friends of Chabad turned out to celebrate the new one on a bright and warm Sunday afternoon.

After opening remarks from Ferris, his wife, Miriam, and Berkeley councilman Kriss Worthington, Ferris hung a mezuzah by the office door. And not just any mezuzah. The scroll was fashioned from a remnant of the blinds that hung in the Brooklyn office of Chabad Rebbe Menachem Schneerson.

In the parking lot, Welton, who is the son of Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin Ben-Tzion and Sharona Welton, ran a mini-shofar factory, showing children in attendance how to turn a ram’s horn into a Jewish trumpet.

“This shofar needs some serious skin lotion,” he told the kids as he took out sandpaper to polish the instruments-in-progress.

Urban beekeeper Alice Rosenthal was on hand with one of her busy hives (encased in glass) to show how honey is made. A basket of Rosh Hashanah apples sat nearby, ready for dipping.

Jane McMannis ran a challah workshop for kids, helping them knead dough and add colored sprinkles. Afikomen, a Berkeley Judaica shop, set up a booth offering children’s books, ritual objects and chachkas, such as the children’s apron emblazoned “Kosher Kid.”

The Ferriss’ daughter Devorah Leah Romano and her husband, Rabbi Yosef Romano, sat at a table touting their new chapter of Friendship Circle, which, like similar branches in the South Bay and San Francisco, pairs teen volunteers with younger special-needs kids.

Several area Chabad rabbis turned out to support Ferris, including Yossi Marcus of Chabad of North Peninsula, Yosef Langer of Chabad of SF and Yosef Levin of Chabad of Greater South Bay.

“Rabbi Ferris pulls a lot of weight,” Marcus said, “especially being the tallest Chabad rabbi in the Bay Area.”

Ferris was pleased with the turnout and good wishes. “Now we have a decent building,” he said. “This was a transition to a more permanent structure.”

“It’s a big deal,” added Berkeley resident and regular Chabad congregant Daniel Silverman. “Now we want more people to come.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.