Better known for Apple than challah, Cupertino, Calif. – as headquarters to some of America’s top high-tech companies – has rocketed from a post-war suburban enclave to an important link in the Silicon Valley economy, fueling the growth of a local Jewish community as well.

Helping reach out to these transplanted Jewish techies is Chabad-Lubavitch of Cupertino, a multifaceted center that provides education, fellowship and a sense of community under the direction and spiritual guidance of Rabbi Reuven and Gitty Goldstein.

Its Gan Yeladim preschool, which currently operates out of the Goldsteins’ home, is bursting at the seams. Its enrollment is packed through June 2012, and its waiting list is filled with the names of children of arriving engineers, many of whom contact Gitty Goldstein before leaving Israel and other locations.

“Every month I get calls from people who haven’t even met me, just from word of mouth,” said Goldstein. “They were referred by their Israeli friends living in the U.S., or by those who previously attended the preschool and have now moved back to Israel.”

The preschool accommodates children from 18 months to three years.

“Some of our families have become like cousins to each other,” said Goldstein, “and when the grandparents come to visit from Israel, they’re happy to see their grandkids with challah. It moves them.”

For public school children, there’s a “Torah After School” program at the Chabad House, where students come to hang out with their peers and learn about their heritage.

Groups of friends, once in the United States, have reconnected at the preschool.

Nir and Dafna Shtrom Paikowsky enrolled their son Tomer at the preschool run by Chabad of Cupertino.
Nir and Dafna Shtrom Paikowsky enrolled their son Tomer at the preschool run by Chabad of Cupertino.

Tali Brauman and her husband, Sagy Volkov, enrolled their older daughter, Maya, when they moved to California. Their friends from Israel, Dafna Shtrom and Nir Paikowsky, enrolled their son Tomer when they arrived.

“A Jewish place like Gitty’s was the right place for me,” said Shtrom Paikowsky. “Through the day care we met other families; our children played after school together, and we met on holidays. The daycare definitely helped us with our adjustment to the community and our social network. My son found his best friend during those two years, and our families are very connected. We keep in touch and meet often.”

Chabad of Cupertino, which was established in 2005, remains the city’s sole official Jewish presence. Nearby Sunnyvale has had a Chabad House since 2002, and there are dozens of Chabad Houses and other Jewish organizations in nearby cities such as S. Francisco and S. Jose to accommodate the estimated 40,000 Jews who live in the Bay Area and work in the high-tech field.

In addition to the preschool, the Cupertino center offers a variety of programs designed to help new and native residents maintain their Jewish identities. High Holiday programs are held each year in the Cupertino Community Hall, the same building where Steve Jobs made his 2006 announcement about keeping Apple in the city where it was created.

For Passover, there’s a free community-wide Seder, and Chanukah features a public menorah lighting attended by the mayor and other city officials.

“We are non-judgmental, so people don’t feel like we’re pushing them,” said Goldstein. “Each mitzvah stands on its own.”

An oft-told story involves an Israeli couple, Rivka and Erez Marom, who asked Reuven Goldstein to come to Rivka’s office on the day she began her new job at Morgan Stanley. Goldstein was not told the reason for the visit, only that he was to bring a scroll of parchment known as a mezuzah. When he arrived, Marom gathered her fellow employees to watch while the rabbi installed the mezuzah on her office doorpost, explaining to her co-workers that she could not officially begin work until this was accomplished.

The attention to detail extends to local malls, where many Israeli expatriates run retail kiosks. The rabbi visits regularly, helps them don the Jewish prayer boxes known as tefillin and brings Shabbat candles.

Said Goldstein: “These kids are so touched.”