On Sunday, January 19th, the Naples/Marco Island Chabad Community and its many friends honored Rabbi Fishel Zaklos on his 40th birthday. If it weren’t for the stunning decor and the exotic kosher menu, the 400 people at the Ritz-Carlton/Tiburon Golf Club might have thought they had mistakenly crashed a 60’s love-in. The atmosphere was one of genuine adoration and warmth as the evening highlighted the accomplishments of the Rabbi, inseparable from those of his wife and partner Rebbitzin Ettie, since their arrival in Naples 17 years ago.
After dinner, a video showing some of their successful ventures in a relatively short time was both inspiring and ‘awesome,’ in the true meaning of the word. As it was pointed out, Rabbi Fishel has the unique ability of addressing community concerns as well as personal situations by treating everyone as if he or she is the most important person in the world. His dynamic manner, humor, natural warmth and energetic participation in any task he takes on are just a few trademarks of his endearing personality.
Longtime friend Naples Mayor Bill Barnett proclaimed it Rabbi Fishel Zaklos Day (after a never-ending series of ‘whereases’) and presented him with the key to the city as well.
The video also featured testimonials by a wide variety of Chabad members of all ages, local dignitaries, politicians, and many professionals from the community who indicated how Rabbi Zaklos’ and his wife’s inclusive philosophy makes everyone feel welcome in the synagogue at 1789 Mandarin Road in Naples. The congregation, with its in-house partnership of more than 400 members is completely self-supporting, depending on local fundraising to sustain its various endeavors. During and after Hurricane Irma, the Zaklos family reached out to everyone in the surrounding area from Marco Island to North Naples, supplying over 1,000 hot meals, delivering fuel, recommending accommodation when necessary, and giving comfort, even while they lacked electricity in their own home.
“The world-famous Chabad Center of Naples and Marco Island,” as it is referred to by ‘the in-crowd,’ did not happen overnight. When the Rabbi and his wife arrived here in 2003, knowing no one at all, they began by holding sparsely attended religious services in their own home. When Marco Island didn’t respond, they tried Naples. Undaunted and beginning with a few people, their numbers slowly grew until they graduated to renting hotel space and then a storefront in the Pine Ridge area. As more people learned about and experienced Chabad, Rabbi Fishel realized they needed more space to accommodate not only religious services but their Hebrew School, summer day camp, and growing Preschool as well. They seized the opportunity to purchase the church on Mandarin Road and have converted it into a vibrant campus with a multi-award-winning Preschool of the Arts run by Rebbitzin Ettie, a modern synagogue, Hebrew School and social center. As witnessed by the temporary portable classrooms now on the property, they have exceeded even their own expectations in growth.
To what do they owe this success? After a few short years in Naples, Rabbi Fishel and Ettie established not only a home for themselves and their four children, but a spiritual foundation with an open house policy for all Jewish people in the area. Attracted to Chabad by their religious similarities rather than their differences, Jewish people flock to Chabad to learn, pray, study, socialize and celebrate their heritage in an extremely informal, non-judgmental and welcoming atmosphere. It is not uncommon following a Saturday service with an average of 100 people or more all year round, to witness Rabbi Fishel greeting every single attendee by name and wishing each a “Good Shabbat.” The all-encompassing feeling that pervaded Sunday’s event, was one of a huge loving family coming together joyously to celebrate.
Rabbi Zaklos grew up in Oak Park, a quiet suburb outside Detroit, Michigan.
“My home was always open,” said Zaklos. “My father conveyed a message to us saying, we are on this earth to help other people, spiritually as well as materially.”
Zaklos’ father, also a Chabad rabbi, taught him well. Now he and Ettie work together on all Chabad activities. They brainstorm together to develop original and innovative ideas on how to make an impact on the community and to assist those who are in need, in any area of life, first and foremost materially but emotionally and spiritually as well.
He and his wife find it very rewarding to know they are constantly working together. It’s a great feeling, he said, to have a companion with a similar passion, sharing the same goals, forming a solid team.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, their youth, husband and wife both possess an inner fire that is visible as they speak of their daily work.
The Zaklos family came from a place where they could walk to the corner and find every kosher delicacy available. Naples is very different: kosher food needs to be shipped to them and religious schools for their children are not close by. It took them time to adjust to that.
However, the personal inconveniences and sometimes discomforts, according to the Rabbi, must take a back seat, and never get in the way of our primary mission: to bring the light and warmth of Judaism to the Jewish community of Collier County.
“There is so much beauty and meaning in our heritage, which unfortunately got lost in the passing of time. Our mission is to bring back that old-fashioned warmth with a contemporary touch, in our unique, inclusive, non-imposing, manner.”
Since they have been here, Zaklos and his wife have organized programs tailored especially for this community. Their impact has been phenomenal, according to the Chabad Partners. They have not only reminded Jews of their rich heritage; they have introduced Jewish customs to the community at large. There have been joyous events that allowed the participants to gain insights into the significance of many Jewish holidays and celebrations. During Chanukah every year, for example, Chabad holds an open-air themed party that now attracts over one thousand people to locations such as Cambier Park in Naples, where the entire community can participate in lighting an enormous Chanukiah (candelabra) and enjoying traditional foods.
Whether he is standing on his head, literally—to the amusement of others—or juggling both objects and his non-stop appointments, all who were present to honor this remarkable young man agree that he and his family have made such a valuable impact on the entire community. His next 40 years could be truly even more spectacular!