By Kathleen Safer
A couple of years ago congregation B’nai Emunah started the tradition to have the Kol Nidre appeal to the congregants given by community members rather than the President.
When I try to think of just a few words B’nai Emunah means love, community, spirit and spiritual home. My journey to Bnai Emunah began after I converted, was married and had started a family. We were members of B’nai Emunah for a few years and then decided to join another shul, thinking it might be a better match for our family. We were later disappointed in the choice we had made and opted to be unaffiliated. Judaism was experienced in the home and with friends, but was sorely lacking in terms of “community.” Then life decided to throw some challenges my way and I became sole parent and breadwinner, virtually overnight, for my five children.
I was really left in a state of shock – but not for long. Young children (thank goodness!) do not often sit idly by, or quietly for that matter (!), while the parent maps out a plan of action. So it was a race to see how quickly I could put things in place that would help support them, and me, as we tried to deal with the sudden transition in our lives.
Remembering the two synagogues we had belonged to, I reached out to each of the rabbis asking for some guidance. While each returned my call, one followed up with a second call that same week to see how I was doing – and (not too much of a shock here… ) it was our rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Ted Alexander. He encouraged me to come to services on a Friday night for something called “pot luck Shabbat.” Before I knew it my children were enrolled in religious school here, and we were off and running with a new found community where we were welcomed with open arms.
But it wasn’t just Rabbi Ted.
The year after we joined it was time to begin preparations for my oldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. In stepped Cantor Linda! Hard as it was to initially get Esther (z”l) on board with her studies, the relationship she developed with Linda was life changing, for she had found the framework within which to develop her Jewish identity. Equally so must have been the relationship Esther had with her husband Mel. I treasure the images I have in my mind of her sitting in the back row next to Mel, following along in the prayer book while thoroughly enjoying his steady supply of lifesavers!
And it wasn’t just Cantor Linda and Mel.
When summer came, so did the question of which camp I’d be sending my kids to. My children had never experienced summer camp. It was something we had hoped for in the past but the cost was high. For me as a single parent the cost was prohibitive. At least so I thought. But then along came Frank Kurtz and members of the Board, who strongly encouraged me to apply for camp scholarships. It took time, but when I did it proved (again) to be a life changing experience. The friendships my sons and daughters made during multiple years of summer camp have in many instances been lifelong and those experiences helped to create a strong foundation and Jewish identity for each of them.
Nor was it just The Kurtz’s and the Board.
When the unimaginable happened within my family, Rabbi Mark, Hayley and this community held my hand and kept me strong through that as well.
When Bat or Bar Mitzvah planning time came, there was always a group of members to help me plan everything. When I had difficulties navigating the path of a single parent, there were always members to lend an ear, sound advice, and invariably some much needed humor! And when all I could do was sit quietly in my seat while a rush of emotions came over me, there has always been the hand of a congregant to hold on to, reminding me that I wasn’t alone.
When one experiences this type of closeness over and over again, it tends to rub off. You want to give back; share in the experiences; and feel like you’ve had an impact on someone else’s life.
As many of you know, I work in a synagogue – one much larger than B’nai Emunah. I feel blessed to have been there as long as I have, and staff there knows that B’nai Emunah is my spiritual home. I have spoken of it many times, and most recently was quite proud to show off the blue wrist band that Rabbi Mark offered us last year at this time. But perhaps the greatest moment for me came when a co-worker, involved in helping to make that synagogue community as welcoming as possible, told me that her “model” was my shul! There were no words I could offer; the smile on my face said it all. And deep within, her words reinforced 100 times over why this community is so important to me.
So it is not just a few people or committees, or the spiritual leaders that make B’nai Emunah what it is. It is “all” of us. Whether sharing a star filled sky under the sukkah every year, bonding with one another on a deeper level during our weekend retreat, discovering the wonderful mix of red wine and chocolate while playing backgammon in the evening, under a tarp during a rainy Shabbaton, or dancing the night away after pot luck Shabbat. We have all been the recipients of these experiences. We’ve all been touched by them, and by each other.
Love, community, spirit, and spiritual home.
Ahava, kavanah, ruach.
This is what B’nai Emunah means to me.