Facing a mountain of debt — $50,000 owed in mortgage payments and property taxes according to its rabbi and supporters — Chabad of Marin is in danger of imminent foreclosure.
Rabbi Yisrael Rice, the spiritual leader of the 24-year-old San Rafael center, has a message for the community at large: “Don’t feel sorry. Just click on the link to donate,” he said, referring to a green, circular icon that has been added to the homepage of www.chabadofmarin.com.
He is also accepting donations sent to the Chabad house at 1150 Idylberry Road, San Rafael, 94903.
Rice has lived and worked in that suburban, two-story house in Lucas Valley since 1988. But in recent years, he said, the sputtering economy has hit him and his organization hard. Some regular Chabad attendees have moved away, while others have reduced their donations, he added.
In arrears on mortgage payments since March 2012, Rice admitted he has been “a little shy to go out and say I need” help from the community, but now that creditors have given him only a few weeks to cover the debt, he is reaching out.
“I’ve already been pulling out the stops, doing various campaigns to raise money,” Rice said.
Like other Chabad centers, Chabad of Marin offers an array of services, including a preschool, adult education, Torah study, Shabbat and holiday observances and High Holy Day services. It also has an on-site mikvah, the only one in the area.
In recent years, the center has opened two affiliates. Chabad of Mill Valley, run by Rabbi Hillel Scop, opened in 1998, and last year saw the launch of Chabad of Novato, headed by Rabbi Menachem Landa. Neither of those institutions are affected by Rice’s current difficulties.
Supporters of Chabad of Marin sprang into action last week to help the rabbi get the word out.
David Berger of San Rafael has been affiliated with the synagogue for 24 years. He and his wife were married at Chabad of Marin by Rice, and his son has his bar mitzvah there.
He said that nothing will stop him and the Chabad of Marin community — an estimated 30 to 50 dedicated attendees —from leading Jewish lives. But, he added, “Having a building is very important as a center for people to come to. They know services will be here every week, as they have been for 24 years. We could hold services in somebody’s home. We could rent out space, but it wouldn’t be the same. And where would the rabbi go?”
Rice said he has maintained a positive outlook, and even though he has started receiving emergency donations, he is also continuing to work with his creditors.
“I’m sensing some flexibility [with the bank],” Rice said, but added that things are urgent.
The 5,100-square-foot, five-bedroom house is valued at $1.7 million on Zillow.com. Perhaps that is a high valuation, but it is surrounded by homes valued between $741,000 and $965,000, according to Homes.com.
The house is the site of religious services, educational programs and other events in addition to serving as Rice’s residence.
Berger pointed out that funds for the mortgage and the center’s operation are not provided by a national or international organization.
Rice said he hopes that changes he has begun instituting, including budget cuts and new fundraising efforts, will help make sure Chabad of Marin avoids similar shortfalls in the future.
“My focus for 25 years has been primarily teaching Torah and touching the Jewish soul,” he said. “That’s going to continue, but I’m definitely going to have to shift my focus to spending more time on fundraising and the importance of giving tzedakah.”
No matter what, he added, “Chabad of Marin is not going to close. We have people, we have a rabbi. When a person is under dire circumstances, things open up. What I hope will open now are people’s hearts and pocketbooks.”