Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York has long been known for the therapeutic waters of its namesake, in addition to the “three H’s”—health, history and horses.

You can also add a “J” to that equation. Among many other tourists, Jews from Montreal and New York’s metropolitan area flock to Saratoga during the summer.

Chabad Lubavitch of Saratoga Springs welcomes the overflow.

Rabbi Abba Rubin and his wife, Raizel, serve local Jews who live there year-round, as well as travelers visiting for a day or a week. They draw from the town and its environs; from nearby Lake George; from prestigious Skidmore College; and in the summer, from tourists and campers passing through.

“We appreciate and welcome both locals and tourists,” says the rabbi.

Saratoga’s year-round population of 27,000 triples in the summertime, with people staying there for a month or more, according to the local chamber of commerce. More pour into the area for shorter stays, including nearly a million people who go to the Saratoga Race Course.

Less than a mile down the road from the track sits Chabad.

The center is also located just five minutes from hotels off the main street, Broadway. The Rubins, who have four children, have extra bedrooms inside the Chabad House for visitors and also converted their large carriage house into guest rooms. For Raizel Rubin, the best part of the summer is having so many folks around: “I like it when we meet more people—it’s so nice.”

Plenty of Activities

The minyan draws hundreds of worshippers most of July and all of August.
The minyan draws hundreds of worshippers most of July and all of August.

The pace picks up at Chabad this time of year.

The popular “Lake George Minyan” in a large tent behind the Magic Forest Family Fun Park on Bloody Pond Road draws hundreds of worshippers most of July and all of August. (There is no minyan on Shabbat, as the site—two miles south of the well-known lake—is not within walking distance.)

Rabbi Rubin calls it a unique setting for a minyan—the quorum of 10 for public prayer services—with people praying in a field under a tent, some in full-length caftans, many in shorts and T-shirts. No matter; he says, again stressing the fact that all are welcome.

During Havdalah on Saturday nights in the summer, the rabbi is a familiar site along the main streets of Saratoga Springs talking to people, bringing spices to smell and handing out a little paper explaining what Havdalah is all about. It’s for Jews and non-Jews alike, whoever is walking by, adds his wife. They even hired a cellist to play as they spoke to people, all part of the effort “to make the locals and the tourists feel special.”

The Rubins also offer take-out and catered kosher meals, from salmon to schnitzel. That means a great deal of preparation, especially if they get orders from the numerous camps in the area.

Last summer, they made several thousand meals. Raizel Rubin recalls preparing 300 meals in a single day for a camp with 100 kids who needed breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are also catering a wedding this summer for 70 guests.

People pray in a verdant field, some in full-length caftans, many in shorts and T-shirts. No matter, says the rabbi; all are welcome. (Photo: JDN)
People pray in a verdant field, some in full-length caftans, many in shorts and T-shirts. No matter, says the rabbi; all are welcome. (Photo: JDN)

Then there is something Chabad offers for one day only in the summer, though it takes months of pre-planning: the 14-year-strong Shalom Festival in nearby Historic Congress Park. This year’s event is set for Sunday, Aug. 30. On tap will be Jewish music, kosher-food vendors, people selling crafts and artwork, family entertainent like jugglers and games like a big “Connect 4,” which requires participants to match four Jewish-themed similarly colored checkers in a row. Last year, the festival drew 1,000 people.

‘Come One, Come All’

Ana Avital, a radio producer and year-round resident of Saratoga Springs, has known the Rubins and their family for many years. “They are wonderful people,” she says, “with hearts of gold. They open their door with a smile.”

She’s more than familiar with how the town fills up right now. When the Saratoga Race Course opens, she notes, there are “tons of people and not one available hotel room left.”

She says she loves the Shalom annual festival, when the park is packed with people enjoying all the event has to offer.

There are more people around for Shabbat during the summer, says Avital, yet it doesn’t matter if one person or a big crowd shows up; the Rubins don’t change their approach—the way they warmly welcome every person.

Music is part of the annual Shalom Festival, this year on Sunday, Aug. 30.
Music is part of the annual Shalom Festival, this year on Sunday, Aug. 30.

“They are such a hard-working, creative, loving people doing wonderful work,” she says. They reflect what she embraces about Chabad: “Come one, come all, come for study, come to eat, come for the festival. It doesn’t matter what you wear. Just come.”

The rabbi says he enjoys helping people and guiding them on their spiritual paths. With the tourists passing through, it’s often done on the go, but no matter. Even if they see him only once, he maintains that it’s a satisfying interaction.

During this time of year, the rabbi can field as many as 100 calls a day. “It’s a challenge to answer everyone’s needs,” he acknowledges. “At the same time, I could speak to them for hours.”

‘A Nice Place to Live’

Betty and Arthur Kay of Teaneck, N.J., have visited Chabad of Saratoga Springs a few times over the years, most recently in early July. They were staying at a bed-and-breakfast within walking distance of Chabad and ate their Shabbat meals there.

Betty Kay calls the Rubins lovely people, noting how they bring others together: “They offer a nice array of food and make you feel comfortable around their table. They ask people to speak about themselves, about Torah, whatever you like.”

On tap at the outdoor festival will be jugglers, kosher-food vendors, artwork and games like a big “Connect 4,” which requires participants to match four Jewish-themed similarly colored checkers in a row.
On tap at the outdoor festival will be jugglers, kosher-food vendors, artwork and games like a big “Connect 4,” which requires participants to match four Jewish-themed similarly colored checkers in a row.

An occupational therapist, she and her husband, a doctor, enjoy Upstate New York, where they typically stay in a place they have near Lake George. They also visit the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a region, Kay says, where they feel connected to nature, to one another and to G‑d.

The rabbi understands the allure. A native of Albany, N.Y., he enjoys hiking and soaking in the natural scenery. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Raizel Rubin says she never hiked until she married. “I was a real city girl,” she shares. “But you adjust to where you live. This is a nice place to live and raise a family.”

Kay confirms that the Rubins make the area even nicer. “I wish that they continue to do G‑d’s work,” she says, “and continue to attract more people to their Shabbat table.”

Last year, the festival drew 1,000 people, many for its unique crafts.
Last year, the festival drew 1,000 people, many for its unique crafts.
The festival is a big draw for families, both local residents and visitors alike.
The festival is a big draw for families, both local residents and visitors alike.
This will be the 14th year that the Shalom Festival has taken place.
This will be the 14th year that the Shalom Festival has taken place.
 Rabbi Abba and Raizel Rubin
Rabbi Abba and Raizel Rubin
Lake George is a well-known and serene area attraction, and part of the allure of nature that the Rubin family enjoys. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Lake George is a well-known and serene area attraction, and part of the allure of nature that the Rubin family enjoys. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)