As we embark on creating a building that supports the spiritual vision of our synagogue, I want to focus on that sacred purpose and share excitement about how our Solomon Project will support our sacred tasks.
I believe that a synagogue has four essential purposes:
- Mitzvah – creating Jewish connections and growth
- Tefilla – enhancing our spirituality
- Tikkun Olam – repairing the world and bringing forth justice
- Kehillah Kedosha - sustaining sacred community
A place of mitzvah is full of stories and learning. It pulsates with your stories and the stories of our tradition. It teems with discussion about text and applying those texts to life. Congregation Beth Jacob has become an exciting community of shared stories, learners, and teachers. To have space that enhances story and learning will be a blessing.
CBJ has also become a place that nurtures spiritual connection – a sense of transcendence, of mystery, of God. Spirituality is discovered in moments when we are confronted with the existential experiences of being a human being. Each moment of life lived within a synagogue context deepens its meaning. Spirituality connotes connectedness – which we create in so many different ways including prayer, ritual, and different spiritual experiences. A building which fosters these connections will similarly be a blessing.
Another purpose of a synagogue is to foster tikkun olam – repair and justice in the world. Our synagogue has been a place of activism and engagement, embracing the concept that each human is a reflection of divinity and that our environment is a gift we must treat with stewardship. Our tikkun olam makes Torah real, and having a building that supports this obligation adds a dimension of meaningfulness to our lives.
We focus our efforts at CBJ on creating a sacred community – kehillah kedosha. Larry Hoffman writes, “Sacred community is an organization of relationships and acts which emulate God. Synagogue is that set of relationships and acts, not a building.” It’s true that the building alone won’t allow us to create sacred relationships. Those relationships are what will fill the building with meaning.
How exciting to build this building and this community.
Toward the beginning of sixth grade religious school, I take my class into the Sanctuary, and I have them look around. They notice the religious symbols, of course: the ner tamid, the menorah adorning the western wall, and the aron kadosh, the ark that contains our sacred Torah scrolls. “Wow, this place is big!” one will remark, looking at the ceiling. “I thought it was bigger,” someone says, adding that it looks bigger when the seats are filled. And every year, one of my sixth graders will say, “It’s really nice!” or something along those lines.
When they notice the beauty of the Sanctuary, I have my sixth graders open the siddur to Mah Tovu, the first prayer we say as we enter the synagogue, and we sing it together. Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mish’kenotecha Yisrael—How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your sanctuaries, O Israel. The first prayer we say at every morning service recognizes the beauty of the place we have entered.
I ask the kids what is more important, the space, or what happens inside it. They always answer that of course what is most important is the spirit we create in that space, the people who come together as community to offer their prayers. But having a beautiful place to be together really helps create that spirit. That marriage of place and spirit is the purpose of synagogue, and it has its roots in the earliest days of the Jewish People.
The Israelites built a Mishkan, a sanctuary, as they wandered in the desert. It was an incredible building of precious metals, beautiful colors, and rare materials. But its purpose was not to be the most beautiful building for all to see, an edifice of incomparable stature. No, the Mishkan was built to be the place where God could dwell; it was God’s house among the people.
We don’t have the Mishkan or the Temple anymore; instead, we have synagogues in which to gather and to function as God’s house. God’s house is a place of community: We house those without a home, we celebrate together, we support each other in hard times, we educate our children here. Just as the Israelites built a beautiful house of God, so should we. It is with great excitement that I look forward to the next phase of our building God’s house.
When I agreed to be President of Beth Jacob’s Board of Directors two years ago, I decided that I needed to become involved in the Solomon Project. I was fully supportive of what we were planning to do because it was obvious to me that we have not invested into our facilities for 30 years. It only takes a few minutes to walk around the building and grounds to understand that we clearly need to do this. As I said on Kol Nidre, “It’s more than the bathrooms, the lack of air conditioning, sitting on rented chairs outside of the Chapel during the Different Service, or that our guests get confused when they can’t find the front door. We are busting out at the seams, and we have many areas that simply are not as functional and aesthetic as they could be.”
My view about this project has evolved over time. It has gone from being a big fundraising and construction project to recognizing that we are performing a mitzvah for our community and for its future. I’ve come to realize this project is about our generation of Beth Jacob families doing something very special. When we look back on this we will realize that we laid the groundwork for the next generation of Beth Jacob families.
During the High Holy Days this year, I was walking around the Chapel trying to imagine what it will look like when we are finished with the renovation. I came up to the large dedication scroll on the north wall that has the names of the donors who gave to rebuilding after the fire. The scroll is nearly as wide as the Chapel. I’ve seen that dedication scroll well over a hundred times. As I was looking at the names on the scroll it occurred to me that I was looking at a very special group of families that said, “Yes!! We can rebuild,” and ultimately did rebuild. I’m sure that after they completed the construction, they looked back at their accomplishment and realized that is was so much more than the act of rebuilding. It was a mitzvah dedicated to future Beth Jacob generations. They were correct in thinking that way, because our generation is the beneficiary of their courage and determination.
Now is our opportunity. It is our time to take on this important mitzvah for our future. We have the opportunity to be the stewards of our community. I look forward to the day when we look back and say we left our building and our community in better shape than when we joined it. The Solomon Project will be an example for the next generation. We will expect them to be the next stewards of our wonderful community and spiritual Jewish home. They will look at us in the same way we honor and thank those families that rebuilt 30 years ago. Let’s make this project not only a smashing success, but more importantly, an incredible mitzvah that we can all be proud of.
If you are interested in meeting with a team member, please contact Eric Stone by email or at 650-366-8481.