Rendering of new Chabad North Peninsula, designed by Studio Bondy Architecture
Rendering of new Chabad North Peninsula, designed by Studio Bondy Architecture

North Peninsula Chabad on course for a new building

In the hot Bay Area real estate market, sometimes you need more than money to expand a Chabad center. Just ask Rabbi Yossi Marcus of Chabad of the North Peninsula.

“It was a very long process of finding the property,” Marcus said. “Finding an available property in the right location. And raising the funds.”

But they have found it all, and now Marcus is planning an $18.9 million new building in San Mateo, complete with sanctuary, expanded preschool, classrooms, social hall and a rooftop garden, with a planned opening for the end of 2020. It’s a big expansion for a rabbi who, like many Chabad emissaries, started his outreach by working out of his apartment with his wife.

“We’ll be able to do more of what we’re doing,” Marcus said. “More lectures, more classes, more Friday night dinners.”

The project was kicked off by a $6 million gift from Bobby and Fran Lent, a Hillsborough family that’s been attending the North Peninsula Chabad and donating for about a decade; the building will be known as the Lent Chabad Center.

“The reason we partner with Chabad is because all the emissaries are extremely dedicated,” Bobby Lent told J. “They spend every waking hour driving programs.”

The Lents’ donation was the seed money for the project, Marcus said. “We couldn’t even have imagined doing anything at that scale without that gift,” he said.

Since that first donation, new gifts toward the capital-campaign goal have rolled in, including an anonymous $1.5 million gift for the preschool (donated in memory of Eva Chernov Lokey) and a $1.5 million gift from Jack and Candee Klein, as well as many six-figure donations. More than $14 million had been raised as of Feb. 28.

Marcus said they expect to break ground in fall and that the building will take 14 months to build. In the meantime, the fundraising continues, such as a benefit dinner at the 1-year-old Hotel Nia in Menlo Park on Sunday, March 10, an event that was “nearly sold out” according to as of Feb. 28. “We are working with the hotel to add space but cannot guarantee it,” the website added.

At the event, the Lents and other donors will be thanked and honored, kosher food will be served and guests will hear “some nice Jewish music,” Marcus said. There also will be a silent auction. Attire is “festive and formal.”

Marcus and his wife, Esty, set up Chabad of the North Peninsula in 2001. Since then, the Chai Preschool, founded and run by Esty, has become a popular place for children. The couple opened a day camp and hired new rabbis to help with the workload. Rabbi Yale Spalter is the current program director and director of Chabad of Burlingame, which is part of Chabad of the North Peninsula.

With a new building in San Mateo, Chabad will be able to expand its preschool from four small classrooms to six large ones. The Marcuses also want to partner with seniors living in the area for joint senior-preschool activities. And, of course, they want to bring more people in to celebrate and learn about Judaism.

“I’m very excited about all the uplifting moments people will have here at the center,” Marcus said. “Friendships that’ll be made, friendships that’ll flourish.”

And for the Lents, whose gift got the ball rolling, the decision to commit to Chabad of the North Peninsula wasn’t a hard one.

“It’s where we personally plan to hang out!” Lent said.

“Growing Together Benefit Dinner.” 5 p.m. March 10 at Hotel Nia, 200 Independence Drive, Menlo Park. $195. or (650) 453-8136.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.