A man once came to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe to thank him for having dispatched a Chabad emissary or Shaliach to bring the joy of Judaism and the spirit of caring to a “little Jew in a wayward community.”  The Rebbe responded: “There is no such thing as a ‘little Jew’ or a ‘wayward community.’ In the scope of G‑d’s master-plan, the fate of a single soul holds the same cosmic and monumental significance as that of the entire world.” This outlook–so essential to Judaism, in general, and particularly for Chabad– is indeed the guiding principle behind the ongoing outreach, educational and social service programs of Chabad of Venice and North Port.

Chabad of Venice and North Port means many things to many people. To some it’s a school and a youth center; to others, it’s an adult education institute, a synagogue, and a community center; to others still, it’s a chesed for children with special needs, a Sunshine Club for seniors, and a social service center for the needy and the troubled. Indeed, there is little within the realm of outreach and education that is outside of the sphere of focus of this multidimensional organization.

We invite you to explore our website that features all of our upcoming programs and activities, information about our thriving Jewish community, a myriad of learning opportunities, and a wide variety of Jewish resources. We welcome you to explore and enjoy and hope to see you in person at one of our coming events.

Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Rivka Schmerling

Rabbi Sholom Schmerling was born in Zurich, Switzerland, to a caring and generous Chabad family.  Rabbi attended a Jewish day school in Zurich and continued to Yeshiva, where he studied in Paris, Israel, and New York.  As a young boy, Rabbi welcomed the opportunity to meet the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory,  and that interaction “continues to inspire the work that I do today.”  As a Yeshiva student, Rabbi was drawn to Jewish Outreach and used any available free time to work with various outreach organizations around the world.  Rabbi Schmerling finished his study at Yeshiva and received his Rabbinic Ordination from the Chabad of Israel’s Chief Rabbi.  With G‑d’s blessing, Rabbi’s dream was to establish a Chabad Center, serve a community and continue with the Rebbe’s work.

   Chaya Rivka Brook was born and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to a large and loving, observant Jewish family.  Chaya Rivka remembers that there were always lots of visitors and guests, “that may be in town to visit with the Rebbe, or who wanted a glimpse into the observant Jewish lifestyle.”  Her life in Crown Heights was enriched by the fact that she lived in the Rebbe’s presence until the year of her Bat Mitzvah.  Inspired by the Rebbe’s presence and teachings, Chaya Rivka made the decision, while still a student at Beth Rivkah High School to commit her time and gifts to Jewish education and outreach.  After graduation, Chaya Rivka attended Seminary and studied in Israel.  She then returned to Beth Rivka to earn her teaching degree.  In her first position, she was thrilled to engage her 5th-grade elementary school classroom’s young minds.  Additionally, Chaya Rivka shared her gifts with various Hebrew Schools in New York and Connecticut, having served in every role from head counselor to Youth Director.

 After their marriage in 2003, the young couple settled in Brooklyn.  Two years later, they decided it was time to leave the familiar comforts of Crown Heights and find a community where they could begin to build a Chabad Jewish Center.  It was suggested to them to look around the Venice and North Port area; however, many thought this was not such a good idea.  Many people cautioned the young couple that there were simply not enough Jewish individuals in the area to support their vision.  Others pointed out that the area lacked support for Jewish life, such as Jewish day schools, kosher food, and restaurants.  With closest friends and family hours away, caring friends were concerned that the young couple would be bored.  Rabbi and Chaya Rivka appreciated the well-intended advice, but they were looking for a challenge.  They both held a vision of what could be and not what was easily attainable through a glance.  Rabbi mentioned that “we didn’t move here for a convenient Jewish location, for that we could have just stayed in Brooklyn.”

In 2005, with their first baby Nechama in their arms, Rabbi and Chaya Rivka found a home in North Port and began Chabad out of their living room with a handful of people.  Chaya Rivka remembers that initially, there were only two families that had school-age children.  “We started Hebrew School with those four children on my lanai.”  The dining room table welcomed a small women’s circle and quickly evolved into a growing women’s book club.  For one of the first Chanukah programs, the Schmerlings had planned for 50 guests (which was quite a few for that time) and were both inspired and slightly overwhelmed to have over 200 show up for the festivities.  It was time for Chabad of Venice & North Port to have its own address in just two years.  The Schmerlings were thankful to find an affordable location in a strip plaza on Tamiami Trail in Venice. 

Meanwhile, there were a few logistical challenges that needed addressing.  Since the Schmerling's walk to shul in observance of Shabbat and Festivals, they needed to find a home within walking distance of the relocated Chabad.  They found the perfect house, but they were looking to rent a home, and this one was for sale.  The growing Schmerling family, now with two young daughters and a baby on the way, decided to “camp out” on the floor at Chabad on Shabbos so they could be there for service.  Chaya Rivka playfully recollects “sleeping in the kitchen with the cholent, combined with morning sickness as I was pregnant with Levi at the time.  During a serious bout of nausea, I alerted Rabbi that it was me or the cholent, but something had to go.” Any discomfort was short-lived, and through Divine Providence, the home that they loved was changed from  “for sale” to “for rent.”

 After the move to Venice in 2007, the Chabad of Venice experienced significant growth and rapidly expanded the classes and offerings.  The number of children grew, and Hebrew School of the Arts, as well as Gan Israel Summer Camp were introduced to the community.  The Cteen program for high school age students quickly followed.  Rabbi recognized a growing interest in adult education programs and incorporated the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) curriculum into the event calendar.  The JLI classes on Jewish history, law, ethics, philosophy and rabbinical literature continue to be extremely well attended by Jewish, as well as non-Jewish learners.  The Chabad, along with the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, began to invite world renowned Jewish authors and scholars to speak on a variety of topics.  In 2013, the Chabad invited Holocaust survivor and step-sister to Anne Frank, Eva Schloss to speak at the Venice Community Center.  This program was sold out and attended by more than 1100 people.  It was in that same year that Chabad dedicated the Torah that had taken a total of two years to write.  Rabbi shared with thankful admiration, “the sight of our procession moving down Tamiami Trail carrying the beloved Torah while making our way to Chabad.”  It was obvious that the Chabad community in Venice & North Port had grown significantly.

 In 2012, with generous financial support from the Tabicinic family, the search began for a permanent location for the Chabad.  Rabbi identified a perfect 4.5-acre parcel on Jacaranda Blvd., which was tied up in a complicated foreclosure in a failed bank.  Realizing that the property was ideal although entangled in complex bureaucracy, with G‑ds blessing and support from Congressman Vern Buchanan, the complicated acquisition settled and became Chabad of Venice’s permanent location.  

Following two more years of growth and innumerable prayers, Chabad of Venice & North Port kicked off a capital campaign in 2015.  The capital campaign laid out a two-phase plan to develop the property, with the first phase constructing a 3600 sq. ft. Jewish Educational Center.  Thanks to many people’s incredible generosity, the Dr. Judith Kestenberg Jewish Education Center was dedicated in September 2017.  

Phase II of the project will be the ultimate vision of providing a massive, 12,000 sq. ft facility for the Chabad Center for Jewish life to fill the Jewish community’s needs. The plans include a social hall, a sizable synagogue, a kosher cafe, a commercial kitchen, a mikvah, a rich library, a senior activity center, and a Jewish history museum.


As Rabbi and Chaya Rivka Schmerling reflect on the last 15 years with Chabad, they are thankful that they followed their hearts and saw opportunity here that others might not have recognized.  In the early years, the Schmerlings sought out the people, where now the love and warm welcome of Chabad is quickly spreading and re-energizing the Jewish community.  Chabad opens its doors to people of all walks of life including non-Jews, and never asks one to pay to pray within its walls.  As the Rebbe taught, within Chabad, the Rabbi and Rebbitzin  worked together to build a community - each offering their unique gifts to provide support and education in every aspect of Jewish living.  As so many over the last 15 years have come to realize, “Chabad is not a temple or a synagogue; Chabad is a home.”