La Mesa's newest place of worship is one-of-a-kind. Chabad of East County has opened its doors near downtown La Mesa, having relocated from a home in San Carlos, and in January became the city's only synagogue.
Started by Rabbi Rafi Andrusier, 26, in July, Chabad of East County drew 150 people to Grossmont Center for a menorah-lighting ceremony in December. The rabbi says that synagogue, located at 8691 La Mesa Blvd., will serve all of East County.
“We welcome them with open arms,” La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid told U-T San Diego. “It confirms they chose La Mesa, I’m confident in saying, because they know they’ll be welcomed in an inclusive community. We hope that all the members of the synagogue continue to embrace East County and La Mesa because of the support in our community.”
Rabbi Rafi recently did an email Q&A with La Mesa-Mount Helix Patch. The New York native is excited about the opportunity being in La Mesa will bring.
Patch: When did you complete they synagogue's move to La Mesa?
Rabbi Rafi Andrusier: We moved into the space at the end of January. We actually had a baby boy just then, and the bris (circumcision) ceremony was the first event held there.
Patch: Where was the synagogue previously, and how long had it been there?
Andrusier: We operated Chabad of East County's activities in our home in San Carlos since July 2012.
Patch: Why did you choose La Mesa?
Andrusier: Our mission is to serve the Jewish population in eastern San Diego. That means from Del Cerro in the west all the way to Alpine in the east. In truth, there really is no border on the eastern side. We are here to serve every Jew and make Judaism accessible. Participants from Descanso have joined some of our programs and we have responded to calls from as far as El Centro. We are the closest Jewish entity to Arizona along the I-8 corridor. We chose La Mesa for it's geographical location. It is central to serve the East County community.
Patch: How has the reception been to your arrival from your neighbors and the community in general?
Andrusier: Quite amazing. Members of other faiths have sent emails of welcome. I received a personal phone call from Mayor Art Madrid with warm words of welcome and an invitation to an interfaith council held every month, which I do plan on attending.
Patch: Is the Chabad planning on doing any community events, community service projects, etc?
Andrusier: We offer many events serving the Jewish community and some of which the greater community is invited to as well. A Passover Seder for the Jewish community is on the calendar for the end of March. In December, we made a Chanukah Celebration which included a giant Menorah Lighting at Grossmont Shopping Center. Over 150 people attended from all walks of life. As our community grows, we will, God willing, expand our projects with different services to the community.
Patch: What's your age and where are you from originally?
Andrusier: I am 26 and hail from Staten Island, NY.
Patch: Are you married? Kids?
Andrusier: Yes, I am married to Chaya, a native San Diegan. Her parents are teachers for 25 years at Chabad Hebrew Academy, now located in Scripps Ranch. We thank God, are blessed with 2 children. Our daughter Yehudis is 15 months and our son Isaac is 5 weeks old.
Patch: How long have you been a rabbi? Where did you go to school?
Andrusier: I have been a rabbinical student since high school and ordained in 2009. I attended high school in Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh, PA. I began rabbinical seminary in Tomchei Tmimim, located in Brunoy, France (suburb of Paris). I returned to NY to continue Rabbinical Seminary at Oheli Torah in Brooklyn. The next two years I spent as a student mentor at Chabad high schools in Chicago, IL and Toronto, ON.
Following that, I completed rabbinical seminary and ordination at the Central Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch seminary in Brooklyn, NY. My time off from studies served as rabbinical training in far flung Jewish communities around the world, where Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters sent rabbinical students to serve the small Jewish communities. Some of these places include: Kobe, Japan, Dubrovnik, Croatia and throughout Peru.
Patch: What are your hobbies?
Andrusier: I enjoy teaching and communicating with others and breaking stereotypes of what religious Jews think or talk. So naturally, I love going out for a coffee. And if and when I have the chance, I love to travel.
Patch: Is there a message that you'd like the readers of La Mesa Patch to know?
Andrusier: Every person has numerous opportunities thoughout their day for helping one another. We need to seize these moments and increase in acts of goodness and kindness to make this world a better place.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Andrusier: I am available to talk and to answer questions people may have about the Jewish way life. Part of my mission is to make speaking with a Rabbi as easy and accessible as possible.