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What Bet Shalom Means to Me 

11/12/2019 11:50:13 AM


Sarah Freiden

Congregation Bet Shalom welcomed my husband and me around 35  years ago. Neither of us was thinking of joining a shul at that time. In fact, I was only looking for an outlet for my urge to write. Someone had told me that CBS had a very good newsletter to which  I might want to give an article or two. Drs. Harry Lawrence and Norm Rubin were the editors at that time. I met with them and was soon a regular contributor to the newsletter, the Hakol Bamidbar, which I found out meant "The Voice in the Desert." I liked Harry and Norm and many other people in this synagogue whom I started to meet.

Consequently, Roy and I soon became members of this vibrant group of "wandering" Jews who were meeting in each others' homes, in library rooms, and in the old adobe buildings that used to house the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. 

Eventually, we decided that we should try to become a more cohesive group. To this end, we met one very hot summer's day in the old adobe brick Federation building. That is, we tried to meet there. Instead, we found ourselves accidentally locked out. So, we held our meeting outdoors under the sun and in the heat. The question that we were deciding was: Should we hire a newly ordained rabbi whom some of us knew and liked, or should we buy the old house on the Northside of River Road across from what is now the Tucson Hebrew Academy. Because our decision was being made in the heat and the sun, the purchasing of the building and the acreage upon which it sat, won the vote. 

Through the years, our religious services were conducted by our Lay Leadership, which, in those days consisted of Norm Rubin, Harry Lawrence, Lynn Saul, Elizabeth Greenberg, Barner Tiefennbrunn and several others. For High Holiday services, we would "import, " as I like to say,  a rabbi from another city to help our lay leadership lead us. This tradition continued through 2012 when we were fortunate enough to have Hazzan Avi Alpert join us as our spiritual leader. During his first year with us, we also invited Rabbi David Ebstein, who had to lead our High Holiday services consecutively for several years, to help lead them again. We felt that this was a nice way to say goodbye to Rabbi David and to say hello to Cantor Avi. Although we were very happy with Hazzan Avi as our spiritual leader, the opportunity to fund a rabbinic education for him arose in 2014, when we received a generous monetary gift. Cantor Avi, after some persuasion, agreed to subject himself not only to attend these courses but to traveling back and forth to Los Angeles to do so. His family was supportive of his doing this and, I believe, that Rabbi Avi is now very happy that he has completed the courses and been ordained, as well.

At a recent staff meeting, Rabbi Avi stated that he cannot wait until we have a sanctuary that is sole as our sanctuary and does not also have to serve as a multi-purpose activity room. Those of us who work and/or volunteer at CBS know that we are running out of space. In fact, we have already run out of space. Shabbat services are now routinely attended by 80 or more people - during the summer! We really need a larger sanctuary, right now, that is dedicated to being only that - and not a multi-purpose room, too. We need a larger kitchen, as well, and a second one in which to prepare non-dairy dishes.

 It must be obvious to everyone that CBS has grown since Rabbi Avi came on board. We are still growing. In the not too distant future, we may even need to add a second spiritual leader (and, unfortunately, we can't clone Rabbi Avi). These are good problems to have and should not frighten us. They mean that CBS is growing in the right direction and that, even though we are increasing in size, we are maintaining that friendliness that has attracted so many of us to attend our synagogue in the first place. The only advertising that we have done during the last couple of years in order to increase our membership, is NONE! Word of mouth has brought most of our newer congregants to us and a few have joined after surfing the internet to check us out. We have a truly wonderful spiritual leader and great staff. The children of CBS are well looked after. The adults are offered all kinds of classes and services. And, most of all, we have each other - our extended family on whom we can count for solace when needed, or with whom we can share our joy during happy events. 

When CBS first bought its property, there was a tiny, termite ridden building that was topped by a belfry. I used to say that we should paint that building red and call ourselves the Little Red Shul-House.  For me, this epitomized our camaraderie. We consisted of all age groups, from infants through very senior citizens. Together, we felt that we could accomplish great things. And we did. We created a dues structure that, at first, just paid for the rabbis who came to lead our High Holiday Services. Then we created a building fund so that we could purchase our current campus. Then another building fund was created so that we could buy the mobile unit that currently houses our Beit Midrash and offices, but was initially used as our Religious School classrooms. A maintenance fund was established to keep our buildings in working order and enable us to purchase replacement air conditioners and such when needed. 

Now, as most of you know, we do not ask for dues. We do not ask for contributions for maintenance. We trust that our entire membership and our friends who attend our events will provide us with tzedakah to help with all of our expenses, and will offer this to Bet Shalom out of loving-kindness. It really does feel good to give - not only financially, but of yourselves. We only profit, in anything, by participation. Just thinking about exercising won't give us the energy that we would derive by actually exercising. So, too, with spirituality. When we participate we derive many benefits.  By participating at Bet Shalom - whether by attending services, by helping to build a chicken coop, by planting a seed, by preparing or cleaning up after a meal, by picking up a scrap of paper in the yard, or by attending a fundraiser and donating funds for membership and maintenance, our peace of mind will increase. We feel good. 

 The more we give of yourselves the more satisfying our Positive Jewish Experiences will be! Together we are accomplishing great things and will continue to do so well into the future.

Shanah Tovah

Sat, January 16 2021 3 Shevat 5781