The History of Chabad in Oakland dates back to the turn of the century when Rabbi Shlomo DovBer and Hadasah Goldberg immigrated from Russia to Oakland in 1900. In 1908 Rabbi Ephraim and Rachel Garfinkle moved to Oakland from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. They and a group of other Chabad Chasidim established “Congregation Zemach Zedeck” named after the third Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe. The Synagogue was located at 755 7th Street (then 8th and West) in West Oakland and later moved nearby to 720 Filbert Street. Congregation Zemach Zedeck was formally incorporated in 1919.
The original board of directors were: Yitzchok Kessler, Rabbi Shlomo DovBer Goldberg, Harris Kessler, Yisroel Porris, Avraham Menachem Mendel Goldberg. President: Rabbi Ephraim Garfinkle (former Rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob). Secretary: Rabbi Chaim Ber Garfinkle (former rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham).
An ad placed in the Oakland Tribune in Sept. 1923 advertising the sale of tickets for the high holidays at $1 and $2 per seat and free admission for those unable to pay.
In a letter from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe dated Dec 24, 1923, Grand Rabbi Yosef Y Schneerson urges Rabbi Garfinkle to increase Torah classes at the Synagogue both in Talmud and Chasidut for Jews of all ages and especially for the youth. He encourages Rabbi Garfinkle to reach out to the youth in Oakland and bring them closer to Judaism by studying Torah and preforming Mitzvoth.
During Prohibition the synagogue provided Kosher wine for sacramental purposes for all members and the wider Jewish Community.
At about 1930 Rabbi Chaim Bear Garfinkle took over his father as Rabbi of the Congregation.
In 1931 Congregation Zemach Zedeck together with Congregations Bnei Isaac, Beth Jacob and Beth Abraham of Oakland created “The Board of Kashruth of the United Congregations of Oakland and the Bay Cities“. The Kosher bill passed the legislature in July 1931 in an effort to assist in regulation the sale of Kosher meat and food.
In 1950 Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Chana (Shneerson) Bezpaloff arrived in S. Francisco from Crown Heights, NY. Rabbi Bezpaloff officiated at Congregation Bnai David in the Mission and was the Chasidic teacher in the city reaching out to all Jews until his passing in Oct of 1960. In addition Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Reichik, the Rebbe’s Shadar (traveling Shliach) in the west coast would visit the bay area every few months starting in mid-1951.
In 1958 Rabbi Bear Garfinkle passed away. In the same year the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent Rabbi & Mrs. Joseph Rosenfeld to operate Chabad in S. Francisco. Rabbi Rosenfeld was elected Rabbi of Cong. Adath Israel and together with Rabbi Zalman Bezpaloff they opened the Oholei Yoseph Yitzchok Lubavitch school (Sunset Talmud Torah), the N’Shei Chabad Women’s group and Chasidut study groups.
In 1971 Rabbi Chaim and Leah Drizin are sent by the Rebbe to become the youth director of Adath Israel in San Francisco.
1972: Rabbi Drizin purchases a large house in Berkeley to serve as the Chabad headquarters in the Bay Area.
In 1976 Rabbi Aron D. Berkowitz opens Chabad of Palo Alto out of his garage.
In the early 1980’s Chabad houses have gradually spread all across the bay area with a new centers in S. Francisco – Rabbi Yosef & Hinda Langer; Palo Alto – Rabbi Yosef & Dina Levin; and San Rafael – Rabbi Chaim Dalfin; in addition to Berkeley – Rabbi Yehudah & Miriam Ferris.
Chabad has continued to operate in Oakland and in it’s various synagogues and Talmud Torahs through 2000.
In 2006 Rabbi Dovid & Shulamis Labkowski established the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland & Piedmont.
In 2018 with the purchase of a 8,200 square foot building on Lake Merritt, The Chabad Center for Jewish Life is growing and flourishing with hundreds of services, classes and events for Jews of all ages.
Chabad has branched out from a small synagogue in West Oakland in the early 1900’s to more than seventy(!) centers in Northern California and eighteen centers in the East Bay alone, from Tracy to Richmond, Brentwood to Fremont, becoming the largest Bay Area Jewish organization serving every Jew with love and kindness regardless of affiliation or background.