“We’re creating here what I like to call a house of love and spirituality,” said Rabbi Moishe Carlebach of Chabad of Toluca Lake. “A place where people that come will feel welcomed, and when they leave they’ll feel missed. As well as for people to grow in their spirituality and their lives.”
Carlebach, 29, and his wife Michal, 26, have been running programs, classes and worship services at Chabad of Toluca Lake as a staff of two for the past two years. They’re currently poised to throw open the doors of their new, larger location at 10660 Riverside Dr. in time for Rosh Hashana, beginning on Sept. 28.
The Toluca Lake center is one of 25 under the umbrella of Chabad of the Valley, part of the movement of Chasidim, scholars of Torah, Talmud and Zohar, whose mission includes reaching out to Jews of every background in order to provide them with community, spiritual nourishment and a host of social services. Carlebach talks about the movement’s origins and philosophy in the video excerpts from our conversation linked on this page.
“Because we offer a variety of events like the educational, the shul [synagogue], the children’s events and the holiday programs we get quite a mixture of different people. We’re open to all whether you feel yourself affiliated, unaffiliated, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox. We have all sorts of variety of people that come,” the rabbi said with a smile.
Earlier this week at the center’s new home, still undergoing last-minute renovations, all the furniture was crowded into the middle of the main room, the sanctuary and social hall. A large double space behind one door is planned for use as a children’s activity room and, someday, a kitchen. The rabbi’s soon-to-be office contains only a large display menorah. Carlebach arrived for our interview from Home Depot carrying a new lavatory seat for the suite's bathroom.
Carlebach comes from a rabbinic family. His Canadian father and English mother were emissaries for the Chasidic movement who helped bring Chabad to South Africa, where Moishe was born and grew up. You might recognize his surname on account of his famous cousin, the late rabbi, folk singer and spiritual teacher Shlomo Carlebach, whose original songs have been integrated into synagogue services all over the world.
Before he became ordained, Carlebach’s educational journey took him to Russia where he led a Pesach seder for a community of 100 Jews who had no rabbi or leader to conduct services. He has participated in Chabad outreach in Australia and South Africa in addition to his work here in America.
“Every person has what to contribute and what to share and we can learn from everyone,” the rabbi said in response to questions about his young age. “I’m here to give the teachings that I know and my experience, and I invite people to come and share with me their experiences and their teachings so we can learn together.”
Carlebach will soon be teaching a weekly class in Torah studies as well as a “crash course” in Hebrew that starts in November. Of course, he will also be leading Sabbath and holiday services, and the community will be invited to lectures and special programs throughout the year. Religious services are read in Hebrew and English.
“Our policy is that God understands all languages,” he said, “and we try to infuse a lot of singing and joy in the prayers and we explain and give meaningful insights throughout the prayers.”
Michal Carlebach, the rebbetzin, is a native Angeleno, Long Beach born and bred. In addition to being the mother of a son nearly 1 and a daughter under 3, she leads a Women’s Circle that meets roughly once a month. It gives female members of the community an opportunity to socialize while learning or doing something related to Jewish customs of the current season.
The night of our meeting, the group was scheduled to gather in the Carlebachs’ kitchen to bake challah and discuss how the different shapes of the traditional loaves of bread symbolize spiritual elements of ritual observance. Previous meetings focused on flower arrangements for the holiday of Shavuot and kosher cooking with a professional chef.
Starting in November, Michal will be leading a monthly class for women.
“The theme of this course is going to be all about the woman and the various roles that women have,” she explained. “For example, the career woman, the family woman, the spiritual woman, how to balance all the different roles that we as women have in our lives.”
In service to the larger community of Toluca Lake, Chabad's congregation collects and distributes toys to children in hospitals during Hanukkah, a charitable outreach that grows larger every year. (Photos of last year’s distribution are in the gallery.) They participated in the this month, and Carlebach offered a blessing at L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s swearing-in ceremony. The rabbi referred to LaBonge as “a real mensch,” as you can see in the YouTube video linked on this page.
“We try to do our part to contribute to the community as much as we can,” the rabbi said. All of the activities of each Chabad center are entirely self-funded, he said.
Carlebach speaks five languages, including Afrikaans and a little Zulu. In the accompanying video, he proffers blessings and holiday wishes in four of those languages.