One of the apparent challenges for a small community such as ours is finding ways to offer what the larger synagogues do in terms of providing a broad and deep level of service for its members.
Some limitations cannot be avoided absent a larger number of members, i.e. classes filled with enough children to provide an extensive range of possibilities for fellowship and friendships for the youngsters. On the other hand, the intimate context in which our children meet with the love and care that emanates in the classroom has its own strengths and advantages.
Larger synagogues often are led by its professionals as members choose from the many programs in which to be involved. The advantage of smaller ones, which I think is significant, is that their strengths abound not only in more personal experiences, but, more substantively, they need members to lead not just in governance and decision making but also in the creation, development and running of programs, activities and even religious services.
In addition to B’nai Israel being known as a welcoming community, it is also special in how members bring their particular talents and interests in providing wonderful member-led programs, whether the many fun social activities and fundraisers, or the unique Shabbat Seders during the year and Shabarbaques in the summer, among other special and memorable events. For years our wonderful CBI Bulletin has been lay led and generated (Thank you, Heather!)
In the spiritual arena, our leadership is moving forward in growing areas of religious programming with particular attention to enhancing and increasing Shabbat and holiday services. Not only have we begun to offer weekday holiday services, i.e. for Sukkot and Shavuot, with strong enough attendance to provide a minyan (at least 10 Jewish adults present); now the Religious Committee has determined to expand our Shabbat offerings to assure that on every Sabbath we have both Friday evening services, and starting this month Saturday morning services, even though I am present only 2 mornings a month. I was very proud of our leadership for determining to extend these offerings.
Providing Shabbat services in this way each week honors Judaism’s principle of community ownership of its spiritual life extending back to the revelation of Torah on Mt. Sinai, not just to an elite few or a professional caste, but rather to all the people in a public display of God’s Presence.
When I served Kol Shofar in Marin, where I am Rabbi Emeritus, as I began my tenure, I told friends that if I did my job well, I would work myself out of that job in about 15 years, in teaching congregants everything I knew about community leadership, especially in the running of services. We accomplished that in 14 years. Indeed, in that synagogue the rabbi takes an occasional turn with many other members in line to lead the service.
That is my hope and dream for B’nai Israel to encourage and enable a cadre of leaders to take turns in running all facets of the service, just as so many activities and dimensions are already run so well by our dedicated and hard-working members.
Heading into weekly Shabbat morning services as a complement to our weekly Friday evenings, I am inspired by the existing leadership that has already set the tone, with the likes of Fred Zola, our president, giving drashot (Torah teachings) when I am not present, and other folks, leading the service.
Now is the time for more members to feel comfortable in stepping forward to be part of the minyan, both attending and leading services we think of as learning experiences.
Yasher Koach to everyone committed to the continued growth of CBI as a full service community. In difficult times, the antidote is having each other to support and from whom to derive strength. I look forward to helping in any way I can to further this wonderful growth in our synagogue as we grow from strength to strength.