Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad at Sea wants to buy a boat — this boat. (Photo/Courtesy Five Star Yachts)
Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad at Sea wants to buy a boat — this boat. (Photo/Courtesy Five Star Yachts)

Chabad at Sea? SF’s ‘Rally Rabbi’ is hoping his ship comes in

Rabbi Yosef Langer has his eye on a boat.

The venerable leader of Chabad of San Francisco has a vision to launch a new concept: Chabad at Sea.

“This will be the first floating Chabad house in the world,” Langer, 74, said of his plan. “In times like these, people are searching, and looking at how we approach people. What better way than a Noah’s Ark for saving the world?”

Sound crazy? It’s no crazier than facilitating to stage a public menorah lighting in Union Square in the mid-1970s, which is now an annual event. Or blowing the shofar in front of 38,000 people at the San Francisco Giants’ annual Jewish Heritage Night (and subsequently being honored with a “Rally Rabbi” bobblehead, which now routinely sells for hundreds of dollars on eBay). Or opening the only Jewish house of worship in the city’s South of Market area.

Indeed, he brought all these “crazy” ideas to fruition.

On Langer’s drawing board for months, his newest idea is ready to come out of drydock, the rabbi said.

He envisions sailing on the bay for Jewish teen excursions, night cruises for Havdalah, pop-up kosher dinners on the water, Sunday morning bagel-and-tefillin events, b’nai mitzvahs and simchas of all stripes. And, sure, why not anchoring in McCovey Cove during Giants games and maybe recovering a splash hit or two?

This is no pipe dream.

Langer, who launched Chabad of San Francisco more than 40 years ago, already has a team of advisers in place to help with fundraising and formulating a solid business plan. He even has a vessel picked out, which he hopes to buy, with a little mazel.

It’s a 75-foot, three-deck commercial yacht that can accommodate up to 50 passengers. Currently moored at San Francisco’s Mission Bay, the boat has been available for charter for weddings, parties, fishing expeditions and even burials at sea. It has elegant wood paneling, a bar area, two staterooms, a broad foredeck and flybridge. Asking price: something just starboard of $500,000.

Langer has a long beard and a black hat. The ads feature drawings of a cow with a third eye wearing a bowler hat.
Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad of San Francisco on patrol in SoMa. (Photo/Max A. Cherney)

As of recently, Langer, a former merchant marine, had pledges totaling $100,000. Though that’s still on the port side of not enough, he’s only just starting the fundraising campaign. He thinks the idea will sell itself.

“I want to do chesed [acts of mercy] for parents with sick kids, and take them out on the boat,” Langer said. “I want to do a lot of tzedakah work. A lot of deep Torah on the sea. People will want to go.”

Langer’s Chabad at Sea, by the way, is not to be confused with Chabad by the Sea, which is the official name of the chapter just south of Santa Cruz, less than a mile from the ocean.

On Langer’s advisory team is Richard Sinkoff, the director of environmental programs and planning at the Port of Oakland and a strong, longtime supporter of Chabad. Sinkoff said the inspiration for the project was the idea of an ark, which he calls “a symbol that brings together not just the Jewish community but all of humanity. It’s applicable to all, Jews and non-Jews.”

He and Langer both pointed to the Noahide Laws outlined in the Book of Genesis, commandments that apply to all human beings, among them prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft and idol worship. These are universal laws, and the plan is to open the floating Chabad to all.

“It’s a big, powerful idea,” Sinkoff said, “and now it’s a matter of taking the next steps to make this idea grounded in reality, with funding, a business plan, a staffing plan. We’re not quite there yet.”

Does it make sense to undertake a project like this in the middle of a global pandemic? The organizers think it makes perfect sense.

“The Covid crisis is not something we’re ignoring,” Sinkoff said. “This creates a new relevance and screen for thinking about sustainability. It’s a moment of reflection: How are we really connected to the natural world?”

Though the boat in question is indeed classified as a yacht, Langer prefers to consider it a vessel, because of the Kabbalistic overtones. According to the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, a vessel or some sort of container is needed to hold together spiritual energy.

“It’s a beautiful vessel,” Langer said of his dream boat. “This is what I really want to do, and is what I’m passionate about.”

To donate to Langer’s boat campaign, go to chabadsf.org/donate.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.