Founded in 1851 with a population of barely 300 people, the city of Vacaville, Calif., was once a stopping point of the Pony Express. A century-and-a-half later, the northern California city, which today has grown to a population of roughly 95,000, earns the distinction of having the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world.

And it now has been brought up to speed with its first synagogue, just in time for the High Holidays.

When Rabbi Chaim and Aidel Zaklos (natives of Detroit and Brooklyn, N.Y., respectively) first touched base in the Northern Californian city in 2009, they knew almost no one. Seven years later, they were surrounded by hundreds of congregants and well-wishers as they inaugurated the Judy Stein Sanctuary and welcomed the community’s brand-new Torah scroll.

“There was no synagogue within a 25-mile radius, and we met people one by one,” recalls the rabbi. “Each person told me, ‘I’ll be happy to join you, but I don’t think there are any other Jews in the area.’ They all were pleasantly surprised when they’d come to a Passover seder or Chanukah party, and see hundreds of fellow Jews from around Solano County.”

As the operations of Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County grew, the Zakloses began renting hotel space for their programs to accommodate attendees.

By the end of 2014, they secured an 8,500-square-foot facility on Main Street in historic downtown Vacaville. A former church, the building was in serious need of repair.

Inside the sanctuary of Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County: The sign says it all.
Inside the sanctuary of Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County: The sign says it all.

The rabbi says that much of the funding was provided by the local Stein, Fine, Sillen, Kaylin and McCain families, and that many community members contributed financially and otherwise. “Our friends did the wiring, cleaning, building and so much more to keep the contractor costs low, and allow us to finish the project within budget,” he said.

At the same time, the Harris family commissioned a brand-new Torah scroll, which was started in the unfinished facility and then sent off to Israel, where a scribe painstakingly continued to write its letters.

This summer, the Torah scroll neared completion just as the new sanctuary was beginning to take shape. The final touches were coming together. With the help of an online crowdfunding campaign, the community purchased custom-made furniture from Israel.

Local supporter Andrew Wise, left, writes a letter in the community's new Sefer Torah, assisted by the scribe, Rabbi Moshe Klein.
Local supporter Andrew Wise, left, writes a letter in the community's new Sefer Torah, assisted by the scribe, Rabbi Moshe Klein.

‘The Story of Our People’

On Sept. 25—exactly seven years after the Zakloses came to Solano County and one week before Rosh Hashanah—the newly completed scroll was marched into the freshly renovated sanctuary, where it will be cherished and read on a weekly basis.

The momentous occasion was lost on no one, with a mix of age groups gathered to celebrate.

“This past summer, I joined Camp Gan Israel in Vacaville,” said high-schooler Mazal Shevratov. “There, I learned that the Torah is not like any other book. It is a living Torah. It is an eternal Torah. It is the story of our people. It is our story. And each generation passes it on to the next.”

Speaking of the next generation, while some rooms in the new center remain under construction, the rabbi reports that the children’s play and learning areas were completed alongside the sanctuary. “This is a center of a living, breathing, exciting Judaism,” he notes, “and the children are at the very center of that dynamic.”

This Torah breastplate was dedicated by the Sillen family.
This Torah breastplate was dedicated by the Sillen family.
The Sillen family writes Hebrew letters with Klein; Rabbi Chaim Zaklos, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County, observes behind them.
The Sillen family writes Hebrew letters with Klein; Rabbi Chaim Zaklos, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County, observes behind them.
The Harris family
The Harris family
Rabbi Hershel Zaklos, the father of Rabbi Chaim Zaklos, blows shofar in the shul.
Rabbi Hershel Zaklos, the father of Rabbi Chaim Zaklos, blows shofar in the shul.
Parading the Torah for all to see before it is placed in its new home.
Parading the Torah for all to see before it is placed in its new home.
All age groups took part in the celebration.
All age groups took part in the celebration.
By the end of 2014, the rabbi and his wife secured an 8,500-square-foot facility on Main Street in historic downtown Vacaville for their growing attendance at Jewish events, classes and holiday programs.
By the end of 2014, the rabbi and his wife secured an 8,500-square-foot facility on Main Street in historic downtown Vacaville for their growing attendance at Jewish events, classes and holiday programs.
Formerly a church, the new synagogue was in serious need of repair.
Formerly a church, the new synagogue was in serious need of repair.
The sanctuary is finished, as are the children’s play and learning areas, though some rooms remain under construction.
The sanctuary is finished, as are the children’s play and learning areas, though some rooms remain under construction.
The Vacaville Hills during the drier summer months (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Vacaville Hills during the drier summer months (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)