Rabbi Moshe Bryski never focused much on where his temple congregation met. The building, he said, wasn’t important. The people were.
“I remember when I first came here from New York being told that if I formed this without membership fees, we’d never survive,” Bryski said. “But I wasn’t worried about it. We’ve always existed on the generosity of the people here.”
A decade later, Bryski’s Chabad of the Conejo is a large and ever-expanding Jewish organization that serves more than 2,000 people in various capacities. The group is in the last stages of erecting a new building, directly behind its current headquarters on Canwood Street in Agoura Hills.
The Center for Jewish Life will serve as administrative headquarters for Chabad of the Conejo and all of its outreach and education programs. The current building will remain a sanctuary for religious services until it is razed and a new sanctuary is built.
On Monday at 5:30 p.m., Chabad of the Conejo will hold its gala banquet and concert at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. Dubbed “This Is the Moment,” the event will feature Broadway actor and singer Jordan Bennett performing live. All proceeds will benefit Chabad of the Conejo’s programs and operations.
At 7,000 square feet and two stories, the new building is wired for Internet and computer connections, and has smart boards in every classroom, drop-down screens for projection, a large kitchen, and office space for staff and all the outreach programs. But it’s not just a modern facility.
“This whole wall in the entry lobby will be covered in Jerusalem stone,” said Bryski, pointing to where the marble imported from Israel will be installed. “It’s not just going to be a busy hub of activity, but a real touchstone of Jewish life.”
Martin Teitelbaum, a local builder and developer who attends chabad services, said: “We’re still fundraising to pay for all of it. It’s taken us about 16 months to get to this point. The sanctuary is phase two, and that will come next.”
Teitelbaum said both buildings will cost about $4 million.
The campaign to build the center began in 2006, before the recession.
“We did run into some obstacles with banks and things,” Bryski said. “But the city of Agoura Hills worked with us and we were able to continue on with the building.”
Teitelbaum said: “The building itself isn’t special. It’s what goes on inside the building that counts.”
In addition to religious services, Chabad of the Conejo offers an accredited Hebrew language school, an adult education institute, a program for seniors called the Sunshine Club, a program for special-needs children called Friendship Circle, and community outreach featuring crisis counseling and help for the homeless and hungry.
“You just come and you belong,” Bryski said. “We don’t have membership, and you don’t have to join. People are so excited about the new center, and you can really sense their passion and excitement. It’s because chabad touches so many people.”
Bryski, who has been a rabbi for 27 years and with Chabad of the Conejo for 15, said he has always focused on individuals.
“For me, it’s about one life, one child, one person at a time,” he said. “My focus was never on the building. We have spread out all over the Conejo Valley and used facilities everywhere. My own home has always been an open house, whether for Shabbat meals or education, whatever.
”Because the individual was our focus, now the foundation has been laid. Now we can begin to build.”