For more than 20 years, Rabbi Mendel Polichenco has served the people of Mexico. Recently selected as the new rabbi of Chabad of Carmel Valley, he will now serve people on the San Diego side of the border.
“I’ve traveled all over Latin America and Europe, so I understand the philosophy of Chabads. It’s the largest Jewish organization in the world,” Polichenco said. “We want to bring a lot of growth to the community.”
The synagogue has already seen growth.
About 15 people attended the first Friday Shabbat services Polichenco led several weeks ago. By the next week, the number had grown to 40, which more than doubled to 100 people the following week.
“We’re growing very nicely,” Polichenco said. “That’s our goal — to grow and get people involved.”
Born in Argentina, Polichenco knew he wanted to be a rabbi at a very young age.
He began attending a Jewish day school when he was 3 years old. His father, a rabbi, founded the school.
“There were many Jewish day schools in Buenos Aires and he didn’t like any of them, so he started his own,” Polichenco recalled.
When he was 13, Polichenco started attending yeshiva, a Jewish high school. His father also established the school.
“This is an age where you decide if you’re going to be a rabbi or not,” he said. “The training starts at 13.”
After high school, Polichenco earned his bachelor’s degree in rabbinical studies from the Rabbinical College of America in New Jersey in 1990. He was ordained three years later at Kfar Chabad in Israel.
Soon after he was ordained, Polichenco became the rabbi for the Jewish Community of Tijuana, making him the first official representative of the Chabad movement in Mexico.
A few months later, he married Nechama Dina. Today, he and his wife of 20 years have five children, ages 16, 14, 11, 7 and 3.
“We have a very vibrant community in Tijuana,” said Polichenco, who later went on to receive a master’s degree in organizational development at Ibero Americana University in México in 2001.
As rabbi, Polichenco founded the first and only Jewish Day School in the state of Baja in 1997, which remained open for seven years. He also opened a mikve, a Kosher restaurant, bakery and catering service, which is still operating today.
In Tijuana, Polichenco led daily services, special holiday programs and an adult education program. He also organized and directed an overnight summer camp and bar and bat mitzvah groups.
Polichenco expanded his activities in Baja by founding and directing Chabad Without Borders. This program established Chabad branches in Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.
In 2004, he also founded and directed Chabad in Chula Vista. Polichenco currently oversees the Chabad branches in Mexico and Chula Vista, in addition to Carmel Valley.
“I enjoy teaching and seeing people apply their knowledge in their day-to-day life,” Polichenco said. “Lessons are always practical. They can improve your life on a daily basis.”
As the new rabbi of Chabad of Carmel Valley, Polichenco wants to grow the community. He also hopes to eventually build a facility. Currently, the local Chabad rents a space at San Diego Jewish Academy for its services.
“The mission is to educate and to give passion for Judaism,” he said. “Our goal is to also have a physical location.”
Polichenco invited the community to Chabad of Carmel Valley for Shabbat services and upcoming High Holiday services.
Shabbat services are held at San Diego Jewish Academy’s Ulam room, located at 11860 Carmel Creek Road at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. Saturdays.
“I would like to be a resource for the community,” he added. “I’m available.”
For more information, visit www.chabadcv.com.