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March 25, 2019

Monday, 25 March, 2019 - 3:34 pm

By Anna Schuessler, Daily Journal staff 

San Mateo getting new synagogue, preschool

Downtown site to become home to Chabad North Peninsula’s campus

After more than 17 years of moving from one rented space to another, the synagogue and preschool provided by Chabad North Peninsula are soon to have a permanent home on the northwest corner of the intersection of North San Mateo Drive and Monte Diablo Avenue once ground breaks on the Lent Chabad Center this fall.

Having started in 2001 Chabad North Peninsula’s first center out of an apartment on Third Avenue across the street from San Mateo’s Main Library, Rabbi Yossi Marcus and his wife and co-director Esty Marcus have long dreamed of creating a permanent home for the vibrant Jewish community they have helped foster on the Peninsula.

Expected to replace three single-family structures with a two-story building featuring six classrooms and a multi-purpose room serving as a sanctuary space, among other features, Chabad North Peninsula’s new campus in downtown San Mateo will not only allow the organization to improve and expand its programs but also build a community around a physical, spiritual home, said Yossi Marcus.

“The physical space is important,” he said. “People come to it and people know this is a designated space for spirituality, community and transcendence.”

Yossi Marcus said plans to build a home for the synagogue and preschool he and his wife started have been the works for years, noting the preschool filled to capacity just a few years after they opened its doors.He said it was challenging to find a property in San Mateo large enough to accommodate a playground, building and parking at a site close enough to where the community’s congregants live so they could walk to the synagogue on the Sabbath.

Serving some 60 students in four classrooms located in a converted office space currently, the Chai Preschool has had a lengthy waiting list for years, noted Esty Marcus, who is also the preschool’s director. Having developed a unique teaching approach through mentoring by Stanford’sBing Nursery School and in alignment with the Reggio Emilia education movement, she looked forward to the new building’s integration with its surrounding environment and the opportunity to teach students indoors and outdoors in the two playgrounds that will be included on the site.Esty Marcus also expressed excitement at the opportunity to expand the number of students the preschool can serve to some 100 students.

By providing a large space where students’ parents can come together as a community, the new center will offer more opportunities for those visiting the space to get to know each other, she added. Though the preschool is Jewish, Esty Marcus said the school is open to students of all backgrounds, noting the students’ families are representative of the Bay Area’s diversity.

As an orthodox-run synagogue, Jewish traditions as they’ve been kept for thousands of years will be followed in the space, noted Yossi Marcus. But he said those who visit the synagogue won’t be asked what they ate for breakfast or to commit to anything, adding the focus is to educate others and demonstrate how the traditions are followed.

“When you walk in the door, you’re our guest,” he said. “We ourselves are very committed to the tradition. We model it, but we don’t judge anybody who has not been raised in that way.”

With many seniors living near the center and a part of the Chabad North Peninsula community, the new campus will also offer opportunities for intergenerational programs, he added.

Having received approval from the city’s Planning Commission to build the campus in August, Yossi Marcus is hoping crews can break ground on the site in September and complete construction by December of 2020.

Esty Marcus said she and her husband have been working to find a spot for Chabad North Peninsula’s first permanent home for more than 13 years, adding it’s been a dream come true to see their plans come to life.

“I’m just really excited to be offering this to our next generation of children,” she said. “I think that it’s going to be really incredible.”

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