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.

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 rabbi@jewishnovato.com or check out www.jewishnovato.com.

Gail Giacomini May 09, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Welcome to Novato and Marin County, Rabbi Menachem, Adina Landa and family. There's always room for more spiritual leadership in the world of Judaism.
Marcia Blackman May 20, 2012 at 09:24 PM
I'm always leary of people banging on my door to sell their brand of snake oil religion. Last I looked, Jews didn't do this; it was the Jehovah's Witnesses who came calling to indoctrinate us non-believers. That's why I keep my front door locked; and double lock it when the 'religious fantatics' come down our street. I'm sure Landa and his wife are charming...and the hamentashen was delicious. And why did he leave Montreal/Brooklyn/Miami/Los Angeles/San Diego????
Tina McMillan May 21, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Marcia: Chabad is a "mission to reach out to others with goodness and kindness." The word Chabad means, "wisdom, comprehension and knowledge." http://www.chabad.com/about.html As I understand it Chabad is part of the Chasidic movement. It started in Russia over 250 years ago. Having a Jewish presence in Novato is a welcome addition to our already diverse religious community. Since we are without a temple it provides a place to learn more about Judaism. I am not sure why you would be suspicious of a person, even a Rabbi, moving from place to place. When I moved to California in 1976 I left New York, via Maryland, via Ohio, via Turkey, via France, via Connecticut, via California, where I was born. My well traveled early life was due to my father being in the Air Force. Let's afford the Rabbi the same benefit of the doubt, unless of course, it is religion as a whole about which you are suspicious, in which case it is okay to say you're not interested. Either way it's nice to have a new spiritual voice to learn from and I say welcome to the Rabbi and his family.
Brent Ainsworth May 21, 2012 at 04:23 AM
We are proud to have him here, Dr. Landa.
Rabbi Menachem May 21, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Marcia: I think Tina answered your comment straight on (thank you Tina), but I will do my best to clear up the air of misunderstanding apparent in your comment. First of all, I am not SELLING anything (quite clearly spelled out in the first paragraph of the article). When I knock on someone's door, I simply am letting them know that there is a Jewish center now available locally, if they wish to explore their heritage. As mentioned in the article, the feedback has been tremendous. People are happy and excited to have a Jewish presence in Novato. So far, I have met around 200 Jewish families who are thrilled to be a part of a budding Jewish community and join in the programs and services that will be offered. Recently, I was asked to conduct a Shabbat Dinner for a dozen Jewish residents in the Atria Senior Living, which happened this past Friday. I am not here to indoctrinate, nor am I a religious fanatic. In regards to the following comment, "And why did he leave Montreal/Brooklyn/Miami/Los Angeles/San Diego????" It is natural for people to study in various locations, as I'm sure you have done so as well. I relocated to Novato to settle permanently. It appears from your comment that you have pre-conceived notions of Rabbis or religion in general. I would be more than happy to meet with you in person (the Patch just rated Dr. Insomnia's the top coffee shop in Novato) and clear up any misconceptions you may have. Feel free to contact me personally at Rabbi@JewishNovato.com.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »