As you drive up to Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda, the simplicity and beauty of its campus is a welcome refuge from the world. It was what Rabbi David Eliezrie has wanted for this part of Orange County for a long time.
Twenty eight years ago, Eliezrie and his wife, Stella, started the Chabad Center in Anaheim. In 1988, they moved the center to Yorba Linda and, with the generous help of Said Cohen, purchased the present campus, founding Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen. It was just an old yellow farmhouse with a little land, but with the support of the community and the very energetic and dedicated rabbi, a new sanctuary emerged — the first phase of Eliezrie’s vision.
From the beginning, Eliezrie was committed to his primary goal — educating Jews. He believed that there are so many American Jews who seek a way to be Jewish that is meaningful; they want to know how to be Jewish in a culture that offers so much freedom and choice. Eliezrie wants to educate all Jews, so that they can answer that question. As strict adherents to Halachah and Torah teachings, the Rabbi is wise enough to recognize that Jews come with varied degrees of observance and knowledge, and he doesn’t expect them to change. However, he feels it is imperative for there to be a place where traditional Judaism is taught and observed. In so doing, other Jews may gain more understanding and appreciation of their heritage.
“I knew that to become a center for the Jewish community in the area,” said Eliezrie, “it would be necessary to expand our facilities.” Once again the congregation turned to the community for support. With the generous help of Said Cohen, Brian and Sara Chisick and more than sixty other families, the congregation was able to complete the building of the new campus.”
The building project started five years ago. “The community has built this campus,” said Eliezrie, and on June 26 it is holding a gala celebration –“A Night of Appreciation” — to thank the many people who made the dream a reality.
Everything from the sanctuary on is new. The newly expanded shul holds up to 400 people for its lecture series. The sanctuary was expanded by 25 percent, and a larger lobby, a library, restrooms, state of the art kitchen and social hall were included in the add-on. The new kitchen serves as a place to cater numerous Shabbat and Holiday dinners as well as family celebrations. The new library is a great place for individual study and group classes.
The social hall offers a lovely location for hosting simchas and community events, and is equipped with audiovisual facilities for film screenings and presentations. Adjacent to the Social Hall is the Sukka Promenade and Garden Veranda that holds 300 to 400 people. The area provides a beautiful and private setting for social events and holiday celebrations. A fountain and gazebo will soon be added to the area.
The outside space will also accommodate a full playground and a half-size regulation basketball court, both totally separate from the patio area. That is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the campus. Each area functions separately without imposing its use on other parts of the building.
“The new campus has allowed us to expand our existing programs and develop new ones,” said Eliezrie. “We have an active senior center and extensive adult education programs. In addition, our outreach programs at Cal Sate Fullerton and the county jails continue to expand as well.”
The new education building has classrooms for a new pre-school, opening soon, which can serve 50 children, and permanent classrooms for Hebrew School. The building also houses offices for staff, a gift shop and a Mikvah with its own private parking and a rose garden just outside.
A Biblical garden, with olive trees and etrog trees and pomegranates, is set across the driveway and will ultimately be a place where one may sit and enjoy the fragrances of the Holy Land. “We want people to have the feeling of being connected to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Jerusalem stone floors and trim throughout the campus, the soft muted colors and arched windows all contribute to that sense of connection. The curved paths that lead between the buildings, to the patio and the front of the campus, offer a sense of serenity. “We are planning to put benches, here,” said Eliezrie, “so people can sit and chat with a friend or just have a quiet moment.” Additional trees will be planted to provide shade and additional privacy as well.
As aesthetically beautiful as the campus is, the facility boasts the best in high-tech capabilities. Internet access is available in just about every room, with flat-screen televisions that descend from the ceiling for use during programs and classes in religious school.
“I think we have inspired many Jews to connect with their heritage,” said Eliezrie. “We serve a broad spectrum of the Jewish people from every level of observance. The great majority are not Orthodox — just regular Jews who care about their heritage.”
“We do good stuff, and people recognize that,” said Eliezrie. “We also have so many of our second generation taking up leadership in our movement throughout the county. The sons and daughters of the rabbis who brought Chabad to Orange County are now part of the movement as educators and rabbis, so people recognize that we ‘walk the talk.’”
While Congregation Beth Meir Ha Cohen, doesn’t have a published membership, hundreds of Jews from around the county attend the services and take advantage of the programs offered by the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute and feel this is their home. “When we first came here, there was just this little yellow house, and we have so many fond memories,” said Nathan Kvetney. “The change is unbelievable, but we still cherish our humble beginnings.”
“It is very much a real community here,” added Joyce Lovinger. Rabbi Eliezrie nodded and said, “Yes, we have created a successful center for Jews living in this part of the county” – Jews from Anaheim Hills, Fullerton, Brea, Phillips Park and even from Corona.
“I always dreamed of building a beautiful shul and a center for Jewish living,” said Rabbi Eliezre. “It took a lot of work, wonderful partners and 22 years, but today I can look at what we have built and smile.”