Novato Jewish center holds menorah lighting ceremony in Festival of Lights
 By Janis Mara | Dec 9 2012
Marin Independent Journal

Novato Mayor Pat Eklund carefully lifted a white candle and used its flame to light the shamash, or starter candle, in the nine-foot-long menorah as more than 200 people watched in rapt silence Sunday evening.

It was the first moment of ritual in a celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, held in front of Whole Foods on De Long Avenue in Novato. The actual holiday began at sundown Saturday, but the Chabad Jewish Center of Novato event took place Sunday.

"It's wonderful to make history tonight. This is our first community celebration of Hanukkah," Eklund said afterward, holding a plate with one of the 400 latkes, or potato pancakes, supplied by Whole Foods, the event's co-sponsor. "All the religions represented in Novato create a more vibrant community." The event took place just blocks from the city's Christmas tree.

A band played spirited renditions of the Dreidel song, Henei Mah Tov and other favorites as four small children standing nearby at the front of the crowd nibbled on pink cotton candy and watched spellbound. The singers accompanied by one upright bass player and two guitarists were not a formal group, but "the Scott Warner family and friends," a band member said.

That family feeling was much in evidence in the crowd packed into the courtyard outside Whole Foods. "This brings back memories of my youth in Vienna," said 92-year-old Paula Ross of Fairfax, who was at the event with her daughter Cindy, also of Fairfax. As Rabbi Menachem Landa passed around candles to the group, Cindy lifted a slim blue candle and lit her mother's white one.

"Assyrian Greeks sought to Hellenize Israel 2,200 years ago," Landa told the audience. "They banned the study of the Torah and the rituals that are part of our faith.

"Judah Maccabee led a revolt and drove them out. When he and his men entered the temple and sought to light the menorah, there was only enough oil for one day. But it lasted eight days, and to celebrate the winning of the war, the sages instituted Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights," the rabbi said.

"We are excited that there is a large Jewish community in the city where we have lived for 26 years," said George Hagerty of Novato, who was at the event with his wife Pam and daughter Summer. Like many, Summer was wearing a necklace with a glowing menorah, which she bought at the event.

"It's nice that we finally have something in Novato," said Harriet Sette of Novato, referring to Novato's Chabad Jewish Center, which Landa founded.

"The rabbi officiated at my grandson Sage's bar mitzvah," said Barbara Jacobs of Novato. She was there with another family member, Charley, a tiny white poodle.

Mayor Eklund wasn't the only official at the event. Eric Lucan, Novato's mayor pro tem, was drawn into an impromptu dance with the rabbi and four other men. Michael Frank, the city manager, did the honors of lighting two candles on the menorah, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. One candle will be lit every day until all eight candles are lit.

Councilmembers Jeanne MacLeamy and Denise Athas were also in evidence, with Athas addressing the crowd at the rabbi's invitation.

After climbing an approximately 12-foot-tall scaffold that led to the menorah, wearing high-heeled boots, Athas told the crowd, "I now know what faith is all about."

Athas said, "Since he (the rabbi) and his family have come to Novato, there has been a true sense of community that continues to grow."

Gil Gross, another speaker, who currently hosts a weekday radio talk show on KKSF NewsTalk 910, simply said, "There have always been Jews in Novato, but we didn't have a community. Now we are together."


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Festival of lights draws a crowd to Novato

Marin Independent Journal | Dec 4 2013


20131204__nmij1205menorah~4.JPGThe Festival of Lights drew a crowd Wednesday night despite chilly temperatures in downtown Novato. The community celebrated Hanukkah with a menorah-lighting ceremony. The celebration, organized by the Chabad Jewish Center of Novato, featured dignitaries and community leaders, the lighting of a 10-foot menorah, a fire juggling show, music, hot latkes and doughnuts, and family activities. Rabbi Menachem Landa (top), of the Chabad Jewish Center, lights a menorah outside Whole Foods Market on the last night of Hanukkah. Above, Novato mayor Pat Eklund holds a candle during the ceremony.

Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal


New rabbi in town
By Nick Bensen  May 19 2012

With a downtown makeover, major retail development and a population now about 55,000, Novato has changed a lot in recent years. One thing the city lacked until now was a place of worship for its Jewish residents.

Rabbi Menachem Landa, 26, and his wife, Adina, recently established Chabad of Novato, a community for all Jewish people — unaffiliated, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. Originally from Montreal, Canada, Rabbi Landa comes to Novato via Brooklyn, Miami and Los Angeles. Adina Landa is a native of San Diego.

"Novato seemed like the perfect fit," Rabbi Landa said. "It has a large Jewish population (several thousand), yet no Jewish center to meet their needs."

He added that he is excited about relocating to Marin due to the county's weather, natural beauty, strong sense of community and friendly people.

"We are honored to be a part of Novato, and privileged to open a Jewish center," Landa said. "The warm reception we received in the past two months from the residents (both Jews and non Jews) has been incredible."

Chabad of Novato, located in Novato, celebrates the holiday of Shavuot at 10 a.m. May 27. The center also offers classes on subjects including Hebrew, Kabbala, the Talmud, prayer and kosher cooking as well as programs for children.

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Novato rabbi offers spiritual services to all

By Nicole Baptisa | May 23 2012

When Rabbi Menachem Landa and his wife, Adina, moved to Novato recently, they came with the intention of giving the town a Jewish community center. Now the Landas have opened the Chabad Jewish Center of Novato — in their home.

The couple are throwing open their doors and hosting a Shavuot celebration May 27 at 10 a.m. at 10 Westwood Drive.

Shavuot commemorates the day the Jewish people received the Torah 3,324 years ago.

“We just had 52 girls from L.A. visit on Sunday and there was plenty of room in the backyard,” Landa said. “We plan to rent a facility by the summer.”

Chabad, based on a 250-year-old philosophy, is a form of Jewish spiritual teaching. The word is a Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The Chabad-Lubavitch organization, in its own words, is “dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide.” The Novato center is one of 4,500 Chabad centers around the world.

“It ranges from prayer services and adult education to joyous holiday celebrations, Shabbat dinners, youth clubs, crisis counseling and much more,” Landa said. “The Novato community seemed like the perfect place for a Chabad. People may see themselves as unaffiliated, reform, conservative or orthodox. At Chabad, we see you as Jewish. No labels. No differences. Chabad is a home for every Jew.”

“We look forward to offering a stimulating, kid-friendly Jewish education, designed to inspire Jewish pride and awareness,” Adina Landa said.

Chabad emerged after the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of approximately 6 million European Jews during World War II. The Landas follow the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who spearheaded a worldwide reconstruction of post-Holocaust Jewish religious life and inspired a reawakening of Jewish awareness and observance, Landa said.

“Among the things the movement did was establish educational and outreach centers that provide social-service programs and humanitarian aid to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or background,” Landa said.

The Landas offer everything from counseling to teaching. Landa introduced himself to the community by walking door-to-door, often speaking with neighbors about a variety of topics.

“What a wonderful couple to have in our midst in Novato,” said Novato resident Peter Hass. “I urge you all to get to know them. You will be smitten by their charm and enthusiasm.”

Hass met Landa after answering his front door and encountering a man with a long dark beard and a smile.

“He introduced himself as Menachem and handed me a little package, which he said was a present for Purim.” Hass said. “He explained that this was a Jewish custom, or mitzvah, of bringing and exchanging presents during Purim. I was flabbergasted.”

Opening the box, Hass saw hamantash, a Jewish pastry. The two spent the next few minutes talking about the Landas’ move to Novato.

“I was really pleased with his friendliness, sincerity and commitment,” Hass said. “He has a passion and a vision. My wife and I have also had the pleasure of meeting his wife. She is very much like him — very warm, personable and kind.”

Landa was born in Vancouver and grew up in Montreal, where he graduated from high school. He studied in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn and taught high school and college students in Miami and Los Angeles until he completed his rabbinical degree. It was his goal to reach out to as many Jews he could, to help them and show them the beauty of the Jewish heritage, he said.

Adina was born in San Diego. After graduating from high school she attended Bais Chana Teachers Seminary in Tzfat, Israel.

“All are welcome,” Landa said. “The center will serve as a source for everything Jewish in a warm and friendly environment. “We’re here to serve the Jewish community in any way possible.”

The center will soon offer weekly services and programs targeted to adults and youth, Landa said. Sunday’s celebration will include the reading of the 10 Commandments at 11:30 a.m., followed by a “dairy buffet.” All are welcome.

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Children bake matzah in Novato to celebrate Passover

By Will Jason
Marin Independent Journal
 | March 25 2013

 Children from the Jewish Kids Club at Chabad Jewish Center of Novato were sent home with freshly baked matzah to celebrate the Passover holiday, which began at sundown Monday. The children, ages 5 to 12, baked the ceremonial unleavened bread last week in a special oven heated to more than 800 degrees. The matzah commemorates the Jews' hasty departure from Egypt, as described in the Bible, before their bread had time to rise. Many Jews refrain from eating regular bread and other grain-derived foods during the eight-day Passover holiday. "I had my (last) two slices of pizza for breakfast this morning," Rabbi Menachem Landa of the Chabad center said Monday.


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Mazel Tov! There's a New Rabbi in Town

Meet Rabbi Menachem, a Canadian roller hockey player who is eager to serve Novato's Jewish community and be friendly to all.

By Brent Ainsworth, Novato Patch | May 2 2012

For the past eight weeks, a young man with a white shirt, sport jacket, wide-brimmed black hat and long beard has been knocking on doors all over Novato. He's not selling anything. He would just like to be your friend.

He's Rabbi Menachem Landa — straight outta Brooklyn via Montreal via San Diego, and now he is making Novato home.

(Can anyone in town remember the last time we had a rabbi living and tending to a flock here? Is this a first? If not, it's rare nonetheless. Add a comment below.)

"I love this town. I'm so fortunate to be here," Rabbi Menachem, 26, said one recent day. "The people have been so nice. I introduce myself, to Jews as much as non-Jews, and they seem thrilled to hear there is a rabbi in town. I'm honored. I'm only here seven weeks and it feels like I've known some of these people forever."

Rabbi Menachem is in Novato with his wife, Adina, and their two young children to establish Chabad of Novato, one of 4,500 Chabad centers around the world. The rabbi said he envisions a brick-and-mortar Chabad Jewish Center of Novato someday, but for now he's handling all his duties out of a home on the east side of town.

There are other Jewish centers not far from here — Congregation Rodef Shalom in San Rafael, B'Nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma, Congregation Kol Shafar in Tiburon among them — but Novato, with no temple, has been underserved. Chabad of Mill Valley and Chabad of Marin in San Rafael have both been existence for decades, and now Rabbi Menachem is setting up shop right here.

"I was at with my kids and met a woman — a lifelong resident, she said — who had never run into a rabbi in Novato," Rabbi Menachem said. "She's in her 50s and single, and one of the things rabbis do is connect people. She said she's on board for whatever we do."

The Landa family landed in Novato three days before the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which it is appropriate and traditional to dress up. Rabbi Menachem and Adina dressed up their 1-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter as a king and queen and pulled them around in a wagon, knocking on doors.

"One woman who answered said, 'God has answered my prayers!'" Rabbi Menachem said. "It turns out she has a 12-year-old son who is getting ready for his bar mitzvah. She was so happy to see us, and of course we were so happy to have that kind of reception. Word is getting out."

Part of the Chabad-Lubavitch mission is to utilize the Internet to "unite Jews worldwide, empower them with knowledge of their 3,300-year-old tradition, and foster within them a deeper connection to Judaism's rituals and faith," according to its website.

"We're not reform or conservative," the rabbi said of Chabad. "Labels are for shirts, not people, you know? A Jew is a Jew. We were born into this. ... We work more to connect Jewish pride and touch lives of people who, if we weren't here, probably wouldn't connect."

Rabbi Menachem grew up in Montreal, got married three years ago and moved to Brooklyn, the hub of American Judaism. He had four siblings living there with their families. Adina is from San Diego, and they spent some time there before coming to Novato.

"I was reading a lot about this place — a city of almost 55,000 people with no Jewish center, and I felt like it was the thing to do," Rabbi Menachem said of the move. "You might think it's crazy or ambitious or naive to leave where we were. It's a big sacrifice — we have no family here and we have most of our Kosher food shipped up from L.A. — but we feel like we're creating a family here."

When he's not knocking on doors, he's planning special events, Kosherizing a kitchen, visiting senior care facilities, holding Shabbat candle lightings and watching Adina make her soon-to-be-famous challah bread. Adina also runs a women's circle.

A big focus for Rabbi Menachem now is the planning of a Shavuot service on May 27; Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People 3,324 years ago at Mt. Sinai.

"We're doing some traditional things but we're also making it an ice cream party," Rabbi Menachem said. "Hey, we're here for the future generations, so the kids need to get involved."

Speaking of ice, the rabbi is a huge hockey fan. He's Canadian, so that's pretty much the law.

"I don't skate on ice, though," he said. "You'd think since I'm Canadian, of course he does. No, I'm into roller hockey." (I told him about the pickup games out at Hamilton, so let's hope one of the players sees this and reaches out to him. If he scores three goals in a game, we'll have to call it a yarmulke trick, yes?)

The rabbi said he still has many neighborhoods to explore on his door-to-door campaign.

"People might be scared when they see the beard," he said with a laugh, "but from the reception I have been getting from Jews and non-Jews, it's like, 'Welcome, Rabbi, great to have you here. ... Judaism is alive, it's not just a history or a science. It's a way of life, and I think it's exciting."

Want to meet the rabbi? E-mail [email protected] or check

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Jewish Center makes a home in Novato
Marinscope staff Feb. 26 2014

After discussions and meetings for more than one year, Novato is changing the zoning laws about religious organizations. The Novato zoning code has been very strict against religious organizations.

With backing of the community, Chabad Jewish Center of Novato’s Rabbi Menachem and Adina Landa attended City Hall for the Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 3 and a proposal was brought forth by Community Development Director Bob Brown. It was agreed to allow religious organizations on certain commercial properties. It was voted on by the Novato City Council on Feb 25.

“It was a big day for our community and religious freedom in Novato,” Rabbi Menachem said.

In February, 55 Jewish women gathered for the first annual “Celebrate the Jewish Women,” an evening of empowerment and an inspirational talk by a guest speaker. The center is also offering a variety of other events and programs this season.

Since its inception two years ago, the Jewish Center, directed by the Landas, has been dedicated to providing every Jew, regardless of background, philosophy or level of commitment, an open door environment for strengthening and enhancing Jewish family life. Its many programs and events provide the education and means to promote Jewish knowledge, awareness and practice, and experience Jewish heritage in a meaningful way.

Jewish Kids Club: Where children ages 5-11 learn all about Judaism in a fun and interactive, hands-on way.

Jewish Teens Club: Focuses on making a difference in the community. The teens learn leadership skills and join in community service. They have cooked and delivered chicken soup for those in need, baked appreciation cookies for the Novato Police Dept, and are currently in the midst of a charity drive.

The Jewish Women’s Circle: Brings together Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds to learn, laugh, experience and rejuvenate the mind, body and soul.

The Jewish Men’s Club: Combines the beauty of living in Marin and living a Jewish lifestyle by bike riding through the beautiful trails after some words of prayer and enjoying a delicious breakfast.

Jewish holidays/occasions: Over the past year these have included a Purim Party, Festival of Jewish Unity in Pioneer Park, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Shavuot Ice cream party, Rosh Hashana Dinner, High Holiday Services at City Hall, Sushi in the Sukkah, Simchat Torah Celebration and a Grand Menorah Lighting at Whole Foods Market.

Adult education classes: The courses have seen tremendous success. They include: The Jewish History Crash Course, The 5 Books of Moses in 5 Hours, A Hebrew Reading Crash Course, Torah Studies for Women, as well as a variety of other lectures and ongoing weekly classes.

Hospital and senior visitation: This remains a strong fundamental component of our activities, ensuring every person has equal opportunity to connect with their heritage and feels important.

These are all in addition to the personal and one-on-one relationships that have developed within the community on a daily basis, helping to meet the needs of our growing and thriving Jewish community.

For more information, or 7430 Redwood Blvd., Suite D, Novato, Calif. 94945 or email[email protected] or call (415) 878-6770.

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A Light in the night Dec. 2014

by: Joe Wolfcale
Marinscope/Novato Advance Dec 24th 2014

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Menorah-making workshop celebrates Jewish heritage 2014

By Joe Wolfcale
Marinscope/Novato Advance  Dec 19th 2014

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In Novato, children get an introduction to matzo, with a dash of history

By Janis Mara
MarinIJ 3/29/15

Sophia Hamilton, 6, poured kernels of wheat from her cupped hand into a grinder, then grabbed the handle and began to turn it, making flour for matzo at Chabad Jewish Center of Novato on Sunday.

With the Jewish holiday of Passover beginning Friday evening, Sunday’s event was an opportunity to teach the children about Moses’ liberation of the Jews as told in the book of Exodus and give them a chance to make matzo from scratch.

“I’ve never made matzo before. This is a different kind of activity to share with my son,” said Kristen Zeitzer of Corte Madera, who showed up with
Xander, 3, as the event got underway.

In contrast, Dalit Miller of Novato grew up in Haifa. “When I was in preschool in Israel we would make matzo. We would make a hole in the ground and light a fire. It’s nice to teach my girls the same,” said Miller, who brought her daughter Bat-El, 6, to the event.

In the front of the room, two sheaves of golden wheat, each about the size of a bouquet of roses, adorned the table.

“We thought we’d introduce our little daughter to how to make matzo. I didn’t know they’d have sheaves of wheat — this is cool,” said Sivan Oyserman of San Rafael, who brought 20-month-old Maayan.

“Three thousand years ago there was an evil king in Egypt called Pharaoh, and he didn’t like Jewish people. When most people work, they get paid, but the Jewish people didn’t get paid and they had to work day and night,” Rabbi Menachem Landa told the children.

“Moses told Pharoah, ‘Let my people go,’” Landa said, adding that when the ruler demurred, plagues descended, and Pharoah ordered the Jews out of Egypt.

“God told us to take bread with us,” Landa told the group. “Because we were rushing, the dough didn’t rise. We left Egypt with our bread on our backs and our faith in our hearts.”

Mendel Rice of Lucas Valley, the assistant rabbi for the day, passed out a stalk of wheat to each child, instructing them to snap off the tassels at the end of the stalk.

“Each shell has a kernel. That kernel is what you grind to turn it into flour. Roll the husks in your hands to bring the kernels out,” Rice instructed.

“What do you have to do to make this look like flour?” Rice asked.

“Grind it!” the children said in unison.

Soon the youngsters were lined up in front of the grinder. As Sophia Hamilton turned the crank, flakes of flour fell into a glass bowl beneath the grinder.

The next step: Sifting the flour. With that accomplished, “We need water. Who knows how to make water?” Rice asked, to laughter.

“Well, you take two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, but today we’ll use a water bottle,” Rice said.

After Rice kneaded the dough, the children donned paper hats and plastic aprons, then rolled the dough flat with rolling pins.

The group then moved outside to the matzo oven. Each child painstakingly arranged a thin circle of dough on a giant spatula wielded by Rice, who slid the raw dough into the oven. After a spell in the oven, the matzo emerged.

“Once the Jews left Egypt, there were no more slaves to build the pyramids. They chased us and thought they would bring us back to Egypt. We were cornered next to the ocean, and God said, ‘Go ahead,’ and the sea split and we were saved from the Egyptians,” Landa said. “From then on we were a free people.”

Zeitzer, the Corte Madera mom, said, “Matzo has been around for centuries. (Making matzo is) something we do to remind ourselves of what it’s like to be enslaved and what it’s like to be free.”


Sounding of Shofar signifies beginning of Jewish New Year, High Holidays

By Joe Wolfcale
Marinscope/Novato Advance Sept 9th 2015

rabbi landa and ohr moshe.jpg

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Chabad Center celebrates Chanukah

By Joe Wolfcale Marinscope Newspapers 12/17/2015

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Marin kids open Hanukkah with menorah workshop in San Rafael


By Janis Mara, Marin Independent Journal 12/6/2015

Sophie Barkin, 6, dabbed orange paint on the wooden menorah she had just put together Sunday, impervious to the pounding of hammers, the cacophony of conversation and the strains of “Oh Chanukah” surrounding her.

“I like painting,” said the Kentfield resident, decked out in rain boots with pink and fuchsia hearts and a bright orange shop apron, the latter courtesy of The Home Depot.

About 150 children built menorahs at a free event presented by the store and the Chabad Jewish Center of Novato.

“They staple the base onto the top of the menorah and put hex nuts on the top to hold the candles,” said Mistie Silveira, the assistant store manager. “I love seeing the kids and the parents interacting. Everyone has been having fun.”

The San Rafael store donated the materials and a good portion of Aisle 21, the main lumber aisle, for the event.

Hanukkah is observed, in part, by lighting candles in the menorah, one light on each of the eight nights of the holiday. The holiday, known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians.

Alexa Hyman, 2, of Tiburon, sat on an overturned orange 5-gallon Home Depot bucket concentrating on gluing the hex nuts to the top of the menorah.

“Hanukkah starts tonight. She will put a little candle in it (the menorah),” said her mom, Dana Hyman.

Amelia Sharpe, 12, painted a black bird with wings outstretched against a pink background on her menorah as the Dreidel Song played on the loudspeaker.

“We’re here because we’re Jewish and we love being Jewish,” said Lisa Michael, who was overseeing her 3-year-old son Samuel as he painstakingly spelled out his name in white letters on his menorah. “Whether he’s 3, 13 or 33, it’s important to keep the Jewish traditions in the family.”

Samuel was wearing his heart, or at least his enthusiasms, on his sleeve; he was decked out in a black “Junior Firefighter” parka and wearing a plastic replica firefighter hat at a jaunty angle.

Likely the youngest participant on Sunday was Asher Siva, age one month, who accompanied parents Natalie and Max and sibling Maddox, 4, to the event. Maddox, who made a menorah last year in a similar Chabad event, held a hand up to the menorah base to leave a handprint.

Rabbi Menachem Landa jumped on top of an orange bucket to address the crowd, unfazed by the sound of hammering.

“The banging you hear is the power and force of our children to build our future,” the rabbi told the crowd. “Bring those Jewish values into your home

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