Growing up in San Francisco, I have memories of neighbors that were like extended family on our block that adjoined the Presidio off Seventh Avenue and Lake Street in the Richmond District of the City. In fact, when I was 4 years old, Herb Caen the commentator on life in the city observed that there were more children on that square block than anywhere else.
How conditions have changed since I grew up. Increasing mobility meant the end of stability in the neighborhood. Today, many people do not know their neighbors and they move in and out so quickly, making it a challenge to create lasting relationships.
In my years with Kol Shofar in Marin I saw how the synagogue created a sense of neighborhood to which you had to drive, and that has been the case in Napa and here in Vallejo. B’nai Israel is more than a synagogue and center for community. It has the feel of neighborhood; once you drive to CBI, you connect with people you care about and families with whom you share life’s joys and challenges.
As much as we can treasure this setting in which to explore and share life’s important values as generated through the Torah tradition, and the special times and memories we experience together, it is easy to keep to ourselves and allow CBI to be an isolated oasis.
That is not the purpose or function of a synagogue in terms of its ideals and possibilities. Particularly in a secular world that does not focus enough on community, a community-based infrastructure like the one we have is best expressed in partnership with other programs and groups that also emphasize old-fashion neighborhood values with caring and commitment to the wellness of its members. That is compounded by the realization that life in our cities and townships is vulnerable and fragile, so much so that it is tempting to retreat into our own oases with hopes that surrounding problems, troubles and challenges will work themselves out.
That is neither likely nor possible, given a society in which each person is left to his/her own strengths and resources to somehow survive overwhelmingly stressful times and conditions.
On a recent Sunday, 15 CBI members joined me at First Presbyterian Church at a special afternoon entitled Claiming Our Common Ground. This event brought together over 200 people from more than 20 faith and spiritual communities and non-profits, united by shared principles of caring and respect for differences in a show of strength and possibility of what we could consider doing to address imbalances in Solano County and beyond. The purpose of the gathering was to learn that with all our differences, there is so much we share and even more that we could explore in re-building neighborhood values. There was no pre-conceived agenda of tasks to undertake. It was all about learning that no one group is or needs to be alone and isolated. We could derive new strengths in learning to appreciate how much we share in honoring and respecting our differences. CBI has already had a taste of this camaraderie in our annual shared Thanksgiving with Benicia’s St Paul’s Episcopal Church, also well-represented at this gathering.
I am excited that well over a minyan of our people shared in the energy of this extraordinary afternoon. I was privileged to set a tone for the day and emphasized that we were in position to fully appreciate the meaning of Shalom, more than “hello, goodbye and peace”; it means all the unique and different parts coming together to create a transcendent wholeness much stronger than any of the parts.
I am hopeful that more of you CBI members will let me or President Fred, or Sue in the office know of your interest and possible enthusiasm to become part of this connection between our synagogue and the broader community, along with issues or concerns you have that we could be considering as ways of strengthening the “neighborhood”. Also, it involves “membership” with dues that enable us to have leadership from the IAF, Industrial Areas Foundations, who not only bring us together, but provide services, as we and each of the participating groups define them, to help with particular needs we have, i.e. growing membership and strengthening programming. The best way to raise these dues when our finances are so strapped (true of each of the groups involved) is for individuals/families that believe in creating this neighborhood, to contribute what they can to allow us logistically to participate. Please talk to me, Fred or Sue, if you want to know more or are interested in jumping into the project.
I look forward to our continuing growth both in our oasis that is CBI and in the broader community that will benefit from this sharing of interest, values and resources.
How nice it will be to re-energize and re-vitalize the “neighborhood”!