Donya Sarrafian never let elementary school bullies get to her when they teased her about her Jewish heritage. As a member of the Chabad of Bakersfield, Sarrafian felt confident and invincible through the support of her the Chabad Jewish community in Bakersfield.
"It's a small community so every single person here counts," Sarrafian, 17, said. Here being the new Chabad of Bakersfield Jewish Community Center at 6901 Ming Ave., which just opened its doors this Sunday, August 27.
"It's important that we have unity," Sarrafian said, "especially with the reemergence of hate groups these days." Sarrafian said she doesn't publicize that she's Jewish and doesn't wear a Star of David, but her experience of being Jewish in Bakersfield has changed for the better because of the close-knit community and support of the Chabad of Bakersfield.
Esther Schlanger, wife of Rabbi Shmuli Schlanger, came to Bakersfield 15 years ago with her husband, to help unite the Jewish community in Bakersfield, by starting the Chabad of Bakersfield in their home. Since then the Chabad of Bakersfield has had many places of congregation, but none that it called home.
"It's been a long journey," Schlanger said. "The basis of what we teach is love and kindness and we need a lot of that in the world right now," Schlanger said.
Schlanger said that she doesn't want the opening of the new Jewish Community Center to be an act against anti-semitism. "Just by us flourishing we are showing that we are not phased by hate," Schlanger said.
"We fight back by being actively kind and showing the kids love and kindness," Schlanger said.
Laughter and live traditional music filled the rooms of the new community center while families intermingled and shared stories as they broke bread and other kosher goodies. Even the Chabad's very own Rabbi Schmuli Schlanger sang some songs with fellow parishioners.
Schlanger said that the new Community Center has already been successful, just last week nine people approached him asking about when services would start.
"We have a lot of love for our fellows," Schlanger said. "Every Chabad is unique to every community and our love and acceptance will annihilate all the hate in this world," Schlanger said.
For Robert Bornstein, who has been with the Chabad of Bakersfield since it was in the Schlangers' home, this is a big moment.
"It's a lighthouse in an ocean for someone who might not understand who they are," Bornstein said.
Bornstein practices Judaism because it is a way for him to honor his family -- his father a survivor of Auschwitz and his family that died in the Holocaust. "It's a great responsibility and an inheritance of great importance.
"For a Jewish person to ride down Ming Avenue and not have rocks thrown at them is an accomplishment," Bornstein said.