As Shabbat approaches, Jews throughout the world exchange warm wishes of “Shabbat Shalom.” But how do we achieve that transformative Sabbath peace? As I discovered during my stay last summer on the Monterey Peninsula, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbetzin Binie Holtzberg, directors of Chabad of Monterey, extend hospitality to all in an idyllic setting, which together elicit exactly that feeling.
The Monterey Peninsula, which includes the cities of Carmel, Monterey, and Pacific Grove in Northern California, was without a Chabad House until 2003. At that time, the Holtzbergs, married two years, were looking to start a Chabad; at this new shul they would further connections between Jews and Judaism through Shabbat meals, holiday celebrations, and other programs. Binie recalled, “When we came to check out the Peninsula, we both fell in love with it.”
For the past 16 years, the Holtzbergs, now the parents of six children, have served an eclectic community, drawn from locals, groups visiting from Israel, and other visitors.
Chabad’s location in Pacific Grove is ideal. Weather throughout the summer usually varies from the low to high 60s.To me, PG, as the locals call it, is a bit of paradise at the tip of the peninsula. On Shabbats spent at Chabad, after a short, brisk walk, I would arrive at the shul; it is centrally located and just three blocks from the peaceful waters of the Pacific Ocean. (The ocean’s name itself means peaceful.)
Catching a glimpse of the ocean peeking through the trees, I would enter the shul with a feeling of tranquility just in time for … kiddush followed by lunch! As a devout cardiac Jew (Jewish in my heart) I enjoy socializing with other Jews, especially on Shabbat, and appreciated being welcomed by the rabbi and Binie even on “Jewish standard time”!
A tasty repast was always served after kiddush that included homemade challah, gefilte fish, cold kugels, and a variety of other dishes.
What fun it was during my last Shabbat lunch at Chabad to meet a family of five, originally from Paris, France … and how humbling to realize that the three young children spoke a better French than I did!
Though the Monterey Peninsula was the right choice for the Holtzbergs, housing has always been an issue. After renting four different homes in 12 years, they felt it was time to buy. The rabbi reflected, “Unfortunately we couldn’t afford houses on the peninsula, which is why we moved to Salinas. We like living there, as we can count on the sun coming out almost every day.”
However, living over 20 miles from the Chabad House does present its challenges. Binie explained, “For a regular Shabbat, I do most of my cooking at our home in Salinas and bring everything over to shul before Shabbos. Fortunately, we have a kitchen there, which allows me to prepare everything at Chabad for bigger events.”
The family spends Friday night at a member’s guest house.
In addition to preparing and hosting Shabbat and holiday meals, the Holtzbergs facilitate many other activities. The rabbi leads a men’s club and also does hospital visitations and bar mitzvah training, among other rabbinic duties. Binie holds a women’s circle and teaches a children’s Hebrew school class.
Her two oldest children attend Jewish schools outside the area. The rebbetzin home schools the younger ones (except 2-year-old Zev) in their secular subjects and supervises learning of Judaic subjects on the computer. Maintaining a hectic schedule throughout the school year, Binie takes a well-deserved six-week summer hiatus every year with the children in New York, where all but Zev attend Jewish camp. These camping experiences give the kids an opportunity to interact with children of a similar background and to spend time with family members they rarely see.
During this time, the rabbi, Chabad’s sous chef, prepares all the Shabbat meals. I wondered how he was able to perform these varied domestic duties. “I learned from the best!” was his reply.
As I think of many enjoyable experiences from last summer’s interlude on the Peninsula, I recall the invigorating weather, the close proximity of the ocean’s soothing waters, and Shabbat lunches with the Holtzbergs. At Chabad of Monterey, I got it all. For me, Shabbat doesn’t get more perfect than that.
For further information on Chabad of Monterey, located at 620 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, CA 93950, call (831) 643-2770 or visit www.chabadof
Note: My personal recommendations for other places to visit on the Monterey Peninsula include the Monterey BayAquarium, with its changing exhibits; Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, which offers a spectacular view of the ocean; and downtown Carmel and its array of art galleries and fine shops.
Barbara Russek, a former French teacher, is a local freelance writer.