How quickly it all goes! Memories are the fruits of times past, so precious to recall!
That is how it feels on the verge of celebrating the 75th year of Congregation B’nai Israel’s home on Nebraska Street, in Vallejo, California.
Shortly after arriving as rabbi of CBI, I mentioned to Harry Policar that identifying B’nai Israel as Temple on the sign in the parking lot was a problem, in that the only Temple i.e. Mikdash/Holy Ground we were known to have is/was the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, destroyed by Rome in 70 CE. The distinction is important, in that with the exception of that designated holy ground, holiness/Kedusha associates with celebration of times and relationships. Unlike the out-of-commission Temple in Jerusalem, what makes the synagogue holy is not the building, but the people within, and their engagement with the holy words of the Torah and learning and praying and doing mitzvot/responsible acts, celebrating life in sustaining community.
Post Pandemic (if we are really there yet), we increasingly value how precious community is, contexts to share the truths that we are not as alone, (or don’t need to be) as we often think or feel we are. Through Torah, and designated times we are called together, and other opportunities we generate, we enjoy each other’s company, while now including folks at home, through Zoom. We share strategies and contexts for nurturing one another and complementing each other, in fulfilling needs that remind us how good it feels to be needed (which was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s [founder of Reconstructionist Judaism] mantra: that we have a need to be needed).
The first thing that impressed us when we first entered this synagogue was the love and care it was receiving. It felt like home and the warmth of the people made it Hamish. The mural of Jerusalem in the courtyard on the wall facing east has been an inspiration and a joy.
Our celebration coincides with the celebration of 75 years of Israel’s rebirth. However Israel wrestles with its values internally, with the call to justice, out of love of country, as the driving force of Israelis of all backgrounds and perspectives, all this is a miracle that 2000 years of ancestors could only dream and hold onto in times of stress and torment. Any of us alive today, which is all of us, have to (if you choose to) wonder why us? Why are we the generation(s) alive today as Israel lives in reality, albeit, from the start, facing external and internal threat, not unlike so many of the countries in the world, as we wrestle with more issues than we can keep track of. Regarding Israel, I hold in my memory the call of Longshoreman Philosopher Eric Hoffer (who could tell the health of a country by its plumbing): So goes it with Israel! So goes it with the world! (Yes, he was impressed with Israel’s plumbing).
Facing so many unknowns, as we always do, it is comforting and strengthening sharing the Journey with others in community and finding ways to work with each other in bringing blessings to life while building new memories for those who come after us.
In celebrating 75 years of our synagogue home and the many blessings shared, and those yet to come, it is significant that in the Torah, as God instructed them to build the Holy Mishkan/Tabernacle to become the Holy Temple, it was all so that God would Shachanti Betocham, “Dwell among them”, the people, not within “it”.
Mazal Tov to all who have contributed over the years to building this sacred community, inclusive of so many backgrounds and experiences, a reflection of the best of Vallejo and Solano County, in its diversity and commitment to inclusiveness. May the Common Ground, both the program, of which CBI is a proud founding member, and the common ground upon which we stand, enable us all to bring out our best in moving forward with Tikkun Olam, addressing the imbalances in our world and working together to repair and heal them.