As Chabad of Clearwater, Fla., prepares to open the doors to the Tabacinic Chabad Center—a picturesque new facility in the western part of the state—Rabbi Levi and Miriam Hodakov are eager to welcome to it Jewish families and individuals from Clearwater, Belleair, Largo and the nearby beach communities.

“We’ve been looking for a new space for some time. During the last few years, we’ve operated out of a very small office, where space was limited,” explained the rabbi. “To accommodate the 70 men, women and children who wanted to attend our Yom Kippur services this year, we had to rent space at the Holiday Inn.”

Renting venues has enabled them to hold Shavuot, Purim, Chanukah, and other programs and events for the community over the past two years.

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The Hodakovs, co-directors of Chabad of Clearwater, relocated to Florida from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2006, originally to be the programming and youth directors under Rabbi Shalom Adler, who was appointed shaliach by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—26 years ago. Working to promote and strengthen Jewish awareness, pride and observance, the Hodakovs—the parents of seven children—went on to assume leadership of Chabad of Clearwater two years ago.

Ideas and Enthusiasm

There are presently three Chabad centers in Florida’s Pinellas County, which is approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, and home to approximately 30,000 Jews. The rabbi estimates that several thousand Jews live in the area surrounding the new center.

The new facility at 2280 Belleair Road in Clearwater is named in appreciation of the generosity of Moshe and Lillian Tabacinic of Bal Harbour—more than four hours away in Southeast Florida. It offers enough space to hold a variety of religious, educational and social programs, some at the same time.

Rabbi Levi and Miriam Hodakov are eager to welcome Jewish families and individuals from Clearwater, Belleair, Largo and the nearby beach communities.
Rabbi Levi and Miriam Hodakov are eager to welcome Jewish families and individuals from Clearwater, Belleair, Largo and the nearby beach communities.

In fact, the center just held its first service on a recent Shabbat.

“Thanks to Hashem and a lot of work on our part, we got a tremendous and encouraging amount of community support for this,” says Hodakov, “with about 40 men, women and children in attendance at services and for a gala sit-down kiddush following the service as well. “And we’re going to be hosting guests for upcoming Shabbats.”

The rabbi says he has many ideas and abundant enthusiasm for trying to reach and include every Jew, and aims to start on a small scale and grow from there.

For instance, he and his wife plan to hold services at their new location once a month for now. Then, says Hodakov, “we hope to offer frequent Friday-night dinners. The Shabbat Club for kids is already underway, and my wife has scheduled the next challah-baking for February. There will be snacks and games and things for the kids to do, and programs for them when the adults are davening in shul.”

He shares his vision for the new facility: “We want to offer a ‘Mommy & Me’ program for families with young children who are putting down roots in the community. We’re going to hold a weekly after-school program that combines learning and dinner for kids of all ages. And we will hold regular classes, in addition to Sunday-morning bagel, lox and tefillin breakfasts (what is light-heartedly called ‘BLT’). We’re planning to have a dedicated guest room that can be used by people visiting the area or be available to give people in the community who don’t live within walking distance the option to experience Shabbos from start to finish.

G‑d willing, we’ll have a community-wide grand opening some time before Pesach,” he reports.

The rabbi says he has “a nice amount of young families in the area, and a core group of about 20 families currently involved that includes middle-aged Jews, young children, elderly people and, of course, the snowbirds.”

He notes that they even want to open a small kosher grocery.

The new center will offer even more programs for children of all ages.
The new center will offer even more programs for children of all ages.

Marvin Feldman has been living in the area served by Chabad of Clearwater since 1972. “We’re members of another shul, but I got involved with Rabbi Hodakov about a year-and-a-half ago, and I think what he’s doing is definitely worth supporting,” he says. “I feel this work the rabbi is doing is very important.”

Feldman assisted the rabbi in checking out some of the possible properties before the present site was purchased. “The rabbi knows his demographics and has got a good place to put the shul. Parking won’t be a problem, and there is room to expand later if that is needed,” he says.

“Rabbi Hodakov gets a lot of respect from the people in the community; he is one of the most dynamic, energetic, driven people I’ve ever met.”

Lectures and Torah classes for adults promote and strengthen Jewish awareness, pride and observance, like this talk by Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, author of “A German Life: Against All Odds, Change Is Possible.”
Lectures and Torah classes for adults promote and strengthen Jewish awareness, pride and observance, like this talk by Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, author of “A German Life: Against All Odds, Change Is Possible.”

Feldman then goes on to explain a bit of personal history. “I grew up Orthodox in St. Louis, where there were little shuls on every corner and Judaism was all around me. I want to help bring a little bit of that here.”

From his own experience as a child growing up in a tight-knit Jewish community, he sees the value in “an extended family that includes dozens and dozens of families in order to insure the strength and future of the Jewish community.”

He pauses before adding that the rabbi “can open doors to bring people in, regardless of their background or level of observance, and he includes the rest of the community as a part of his family.”

Lior and Judith Hason have lived in Clearwater for 21 years, and have been connected to Chabad, first with Rabbi Adler and now with the Hodakovs, since they arrived.

“We are looking forward to the new building, which will be closer and more convenient to us, and to having even more programs for our kids—four girls, ages 13, 10, 9 and 3. Rabbi [Hodakov] is really good at keeping the kids involved,” reports Lior Hason. “The girls were baking challah, and he has services and parties for the holidays, and social things for them and for us, too.”

Since the Jewish school where the Hason children used to go closed three years ago, their father notes that “the kids have more need for the Jewish traditions, and that’s what they get from the [Chabad] programs. The more Jewish traditions they know, the more they will carry with them joy” of their heritage.