Five years ago I had the opportunity to write about a little Chabad synagogue starting up in Laguna Niguel. I had a personal history with the synagogue, having attended Shabbat and holiday services with the same rabbi during his stint in Costa Mesa. The move from Costa Mesa to Laguna Niguel seemed uncertain, as Laguna Niguel is not known to be a bastion of Judaism; however, the synagogue found substantial growth, and on Sunday, February 13, at the Laguna Hills Community Center, Chabad of Laguna Niguel will celebrate five years in Laguna Niguel.
“A Time for Music” is the theme of Laguna Niguel’s Chai 5 celebration. In addition to a concert by the popular Jewish rock, pop and blues band, 8th Day, the event will honor Miles and Esther Sterling. A committee of 10 members chose the Sterlings, who are longtime supporters and founding members of the synagogue, as the honorees. “Not only have they shown dedication and concern for the organization,” says Rabbi Mendy Paltiel, “they have put their heart and soul into Chabad of Laguna Niguel.”
The Sterlings are no strangers to philanthropy. Both Miles and Esther have a history of activism in the Jewish community: Jewish National Fund, AIPAC, Tarbut v’ Torah (to name a few). In addition, Miles has years of service with humanitarian groups such as Rotary International. To top off community service, the Sterlings have served on a personal level as well. In 2001, shortly after Miles and Esther married, the couple became legal guardians of Esther’s two granddaughters after Esther lost her daughter to a longtime illness. Rebecca, 15, and Victoria, 13, have thrived despite the trauma of losing their mother and having to make radical changes at such an impressionable period of their lives. They are active at school (one attends Tarbut v’ Torah, and the other attends public school), participate in ice-skating and keep Miles and Esther busy with school and extra-curricular activities. These girls have been the light of their life since joining them in 2001. In addition to raising Rebecca and Victoria, both Miles and Esther raised children of their own: Miles has four children, all of whom live in California; Esther has two sons, one in Israel, one in New York – both are Bal Teshuva (those who return).
Though Miles and Esther share a life together today bound by Yiddishkeit and a love for Israel, the couple’s backgrounds could not be more different. Miles is a second-generation native Californian – both he and his mother were born and raised in Los Angeles. He served in the United States Army, spending two years in Panama in charge of radar. After military service Miles went on to college and a career as a successful entrepreneur. Esther is a Holocaust survivor who went to Israel in 1948 just prior to independence and served in the Army from 1952 to 1954. She made her way to California via Buffalo, New York, and Guatemala (where she lived for 17 years).
According to Rabbi Paltiel, the Sterlings have been very open as lay leaders from the beginning. “They made it clear that they were here for us.” Says Paltiel, “In addition the Sterlings have been both financial and spiritual partners – a combination that is sometimes hard to come by.” This is evident in what the Sterlings have to say about Chabad of Laguna Niguel: “Rabbi Paltiel has brought a tremendous revival to Laguna Niguel. We hope others will find [Chabad of Laguna Niguel] and support the congregation as well.
A final message from Sterling on his view of Chabad: “Chabad has expanded Judaism across the world, taking Judaism where very few other movements go. It makes me very enthusiastic for the Jewish people, and I know that Chabad is not only serving Jews but it is bringing them back into the fold. Chabad is a home for Jews of every type, everywhere.”
Join the Chabad of Laguna Niguel celebration on Sunday, February 13, as the congregation honors this deserving couple and commemorates five years in the community. Regardless of your background, beliefs or Jewish orientation, be a part of sharing a love for Judaism, Israel and life through music and celebration.
Side Bar: Concert begins at 4:00 on Sunday, February 13, 2011. Adults: $20 advance, $25 at the door; Children under 13: $10 advance, $15 at the door. Tickets and concert information are available by calling (949) 831-7701 or by visiting www.chabadlagunaniguel.com. Chabad of Laguna Niguel thanks the concert committee: Eugenia Arluk, Dara Bertagni, Valerie Deltoro, Anna Gil, Hermine Mahmouzian, Kreinie Paltiel, Karen Rabin, Helen Rasner and Charlene Zuckerman.