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Sarah's Gala Story

11/14/2019 02:49:53 PM


Sarah Frieden


Friends, Tucsonans, and Congregants, I come here not to praise myself (too much), but to praise Congregation Bet Shalom. Of course, what I am really praising is all of the people, past and present, who have supported our synagogue throughout all of our nearly 40 years of existence. 40 years is no insignificant number, as Rabbi Avi would say.

Now, some history about me and mine: My family and I joined Congregation Bet Shalom after I had started writing for its newsletter, the Hakol BaMidbar (The Voice in the Desert). I had contacted Drs. Norm Rubin and Harry Lawrence who were the editors at that time. They invited me to join their volunteer staff and I did get great satisfaction in helping with the newsletter. This was around 1984. My husband Roy and I had no intention of joining a synagogue at the time because we had not felt comfortable at other synagogues that we had tried. But I had an urge to write and somehow got it into my head that a synagogue newsletter would offer me that outlet. We soon did join CBS because we liked Norm and Harry and the other people whom we subsequently met.

CBS was a growing and vibrant synagogue at that time. Most of the Jewish friendships that we formed began during this time and through this first group of members.  

Besides enjoying the camaraderie here, our spiritual needs were also being met by our all-volunteer leadership that was composed of very knowledgeable and sincere people. Our High Holiday services were led by Rabbis whom we would hire to lead us. Now and then we would have student rabbis join us for weekend educational events. Memorably, Rabbi Barry Leff was with us during his entire last year as a Rabbinic student studying in Los Angeles. We offered to hire him at the end of his student days, but he wanted a different path for himself, and, eventually, he and his family made Aliyah to Israel. There was some other rabbinic continuity in that first, Rabbi Weinberg, and then later, Rabbi Ebstein would lead our High Holiday services for several years in a row. We also invited Rabbi David Ebstein to pay us a second visit for a scholarly week during some of the years that he came to lead High Holiday services. 

The growth of CBS prompted my change from a volunteer bookkeeper and newsletter contributor to a paid employee of the synagogue. With the growth of the synagogue, the purchase of the current CBS property, and the opening of the preschool that was once located in the mobile unit now housing our offices and Beit Midrash, the volume of office and financial work increased to the point that I finally asked for a space at the synagogue in which to work. I was subsequently offered what is now the children's playroom in the main building of our campus. Until a few years ago when my "lean-to," as I affecionately called it, got its own air conditioning and heating unit, that office was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but it had a great view of the mountains. My other employment "perk" was that I could park under a tree in the middle of the parking lot during the hot summer days.

 As CBS grew, I created all the methods used in our office to meet our different needs. For many years I also wrote and edited the monthly newsletter. At one point, I had the idea to interview individual members and then publish their stories in the newsletter so that other members could get to know them. Over several months, I was only able to do a very few.  This was a good thing because almost all of the members that I had written about, either moved out of town or left our congregation for one reason or another. I abandoned the project soon thereafter. When I had time, I would also volunteer in the kitchen, which was something I greatly enjoyed. I am once again able to do this, now that I have retired.

During some of the summers after our daughter, Miriam was born in 1987, my U of A professor husband accepted summer employment at the Naval Base off of Point Loma in San Diego. With time on my hands, I found the San Diego Enamel Guild in Balboa Park and I also found an enamellist there who was willing to continue my education, which had begun in 1972,  in this art form. Miriam and I would drive to the artist's home studio, while Roy went off to do his summer work. In 1992, because of my knowledge of this art form, I was able to collaborate with Kathy McGuire Rubin in order to design and make the Eternal Light that now hangs over the Ark in our sanctuary. I also made and donated the enameled plaques that are part of the doors leading into the sanctuary. 

Sometime after the original house on our current property was converted to the floor plan that is now in place in the main building of our campus, John Jensen, who was the president at that time, and I joined forces in starting the synagogue gift shop. We were able to acquire Judaica items from a store in Tucson that, unfortunately, was closing. I expanded the items we offered by inviting local Jewish artists to add their pieces on consignment to our gift shop. Many of our members and Jewish non-members still sell handmade cards, jewelry, mezuzah cases, enameled pieces, and more, through our synagogue gift shop which is being relocated to the office of the Beit Midrash building. I believe that I was the first synagogue gift shop manager to do this in Tucson.

My newest contribution to CBS was the idea of starting an art studio in the building south of the Beit Midrash. Rabbi Avi was excited to support this endeavor and we have established the Studio J'Art in which we can teach enameling, card making, painting, weaving, and other art forms.  Our new member, Wendy Ruda, told me today that she would be willing to teach basket weaving in our studio.

I have learned so much at CBS. However, I am a slow learner. I started learning Biblical Hebrew here in 1984. I finally celebrated my Bat Mitzvah in 2016! I have learned patience and endurance. I have learned how to cook for large numbers of people. I have learned that others may feel just as strongly about their ideas and suggestions as I do about mine. And I have learned that sometimes the ideas and suggestions of others are better than mine!

Our membership continues to grow. New ideas, such as the one presented by Anne Lowe who suggested chicken raising and farming, are constantly being assessed and, when feasible, put into practice. The gaga pit has become a reality, and, it is my hope that we will also have a Bocce Ball court installed in the not too distant future. We hope that with the input of our members, CBS  will continue to grow in these positive directions. 

Input from all of us will make us a stronger religious entity. When we reach out to one another and support one another, we all become stronger. When we reach out to others, such as in our support of the Kurdish families in Tucson and our support of other institutions, such as the Interfaith Community Services organization, we also become stronger. When we interact with people of other cultures, strangers become friends. 

I leave the running of the office of CBS in extremely competent and loving hands. Lisa Schachter-Brooks not only can do everything that I was doing for CBS at the end of my career, but she can do it easier. Her skills with technology are those on a par with others of her age, unlike mine that seem stuck closer to the beginning of the computer age.  Her knowledge of Judaism is deep, whereas mine has been mostly garnered from my experiences at CBS. Her treatment of our congregants is based on graciousness. I hope that all of you will get to know her well and that your affection for her, like mine, will continue to grow.

There are way too many unsung heroes who have helped CBS for me to thank them all. For a list of all those people I am unable to name due to time consideration, I refer you to the CBS Directory, both past and present. Those that I am thanking by name now, are our wonderful hosts, Mara and Keith Aspinall, who have so kindly allowed us to hold this event in their beautiful home.  I thank Leanne Rogers and her committee for putting together this fun event. Kathy McGuire Rubin and her cooking committee are to be commended for tonight's wonderful treats. I thank Bill Goldberg for supporting me, teaching me, and helping me with the bookkeeping of CBS. My thanks go to Rabbi Avi for all of his support during his time at CBS and for allowing me the freedom to express my views, even when they were contrary to his. Another couple, who have never wanted to be thanked publically, but who I shall thank now, despite their modesty,  are Gary and Carol Richelson. Throughout most of my years here, whenever I had a computer or technical problem, Gary was there to figure it out. When ants invaded the buildings, Gary was there to sort them out. When things stopped working that did not call for very special tools, Gary was there to repair them. Carol Richelson's role in my life was to help me in times of need, especially when my mother was declining and needed health help that did not call for a trip to a hospital or doctor, but was something that I was unable to do for her. So, I thank you both from my heart.

Of course, I want to thank my family for their support and understanding whenever I came home late from CBS, which seemed to happen at least once or twice a month.  I need to thank my daughter, Miriam, who designed the invitations. Leanne Rogers told me tonight that the decorations for the gala were based on the design for the invitations. Tamar Kugler deserves our thanks for the huge chocolate cake (it has beer in it).  And, I want to thank all of you who also supported me throughout my CBS tenure and for attending this lovely event that is being held in my honor. 

I wish all of you blessings, always.

Mon, April 19 2021 7 Iyyar 5781