Rabbi Mendy Paltiel knew the Moulton Niguel Water District building well — you can’t live in California’s southern Orange County without visiting once or twice. But it wasn’t water that brought him to the Water District’s monthly board meeting last November. It was a chance to move his overflowing Chabad house to a new home.
The Chabad Jewish Center of Laguna Niguel, California, opened its doors in early 2006. It might have just been Rabbi Mendy and Mrs. Kreinie Paltiel’s living room, but they quickly grew it into the nucleus of a warm Jewish community. A year and a half later, Rabbi Paltiel secured a two-thousand square foot space in a nearby office park, where Chabad’s growing bevy of activities soon attracted substantial crowds. “We started with Shabbat and Sunday morning prayers,” Rabbi Paltiel says. “Whenever someone observed a yartzeit, we pulled ten men together to ensure there’d be a minyan.” Gradually, a thriving daily minyan evolved.
With its picturesque views and pristine natural setting, suburban Laguna Niguel is home to many young families, so in 2008 the Paltiels launched a Hebrew school. The first year they had just twelve students, and classes took place in an assisted living facility around the corner from their home. “It might not have been the most typical setting for a Hebrew School,” Kreinie Paltiel laughs, “but the residents enjoyed seeing the children singing their prayers and studying their Aleph-Bet every Sunday morning.”
The Paltiels poured their hearts and souls into giving each child a firm Jewish foundation. The children came home with a strong knowledge of Hebrew and a rich Jewish identity. “Individuals make up communities,” Rabbi Paltiel says. “We do our best to be there for every child and family, one person at a time.” Proud parents passed the word around the South Orange County’s Jewish community, Hebrew School moved into Chabad’s space, and enrollment boomed.
The community grew steadily, outgrew Chabad’s space, and kept growing. Hebrew school hardly fit in the synagogue anymore, and holiday events were overbooked. Last November, Chabad’s community was still growing, and the Paltiels desperately needed more space to host programming for teenagers, and more breathing room for services, adult education, and social events. Chabad was bursting at the seams, but there were few options for expansion.
The laid-back suburbs of Laguna Niguel have almost no commercial space and even less zoned for a community center. Then, the Moulton Niguel Water District building hit the market, and Rabbi Paltiel knew he was looking at a rare opportunity. It was an entire acre of property at the heart of the Jewish community, with plenty of space to accommodate Chabad’s burgeoning activities.
“You serve the community, and this building has always served the community,” Rabbi Paltiel pitched the Water District board that November night, “and that’s exactly what we do.” The board was impressed, but lucrative offers from big investors with cash on hand were pouring in. While Rabbi Palitel lobbied the board, the community quietly rallied together and opened their pocketbooks. In late May 2022, after months of prayers and sleepless nights, Chabad held the keys to a twelve-thousand-square-foot property at a price tag of 5.1 million dollars.
“We already need every inch of the new space,” Rabbi Paltiel says. After preliminary renovations, Chabad plans to move in before Rosh Hashanah. But the second phase of renovations is already in the works. When complete, the building will house a full-scale sanctuary, a social hall, and two commercial kitchens. There will be spacious classrooms for the Hebrew School, a CTeen lounge for the teenagers, a Jewish Library, and a unique International Jewish Life Exhibit that aims to reinforce Jewish pride by showcasing the Jewish people’s contributions throughout history.
But despite all the big plans, Chabad of Laguna Niguel’s personal approach hasn’t changed. For Rabbi Paltiel, it’s less about the building and more about the people it will touch. “Chabad aims to be there for each and every person,” he says, “We’ll keep working to cultivate every Jew’s uniquely beautiful relationship with G-d, Torah, and the Jewish people.”