I’ve been thinking recently about CBB’s Mission Statement: “a diverse, inclusive community of individuals and families building together a warm and vibrant house of living Judaism.” I like the mission statement but when I read it closely, I see many words – ‘community, building, house’ – which imply a physical space. How, in this time of Covid and social distancing can there be such a community? How, when CBB’s doors are locked, can we enter the house?
But of course, we can. That is the genius of Judaism. It isn’t about the physical place where one prays. There are no cathedrals for us. It is about how Judaism is a bond between each of us as individuals, our families and larger community, and our practice.
Our Judaism is portable. It is where we are.
I’ve also been thinking a bit about my family’s journey to CBB. My wife and I grew up in culturally Jewish homes in the Mid West and on the East Coast. We were married under a chuppah and we celebrated a Bris and Naming Ceremonies for our children. But it wasn’t until we left America for two decades abroad that we felt the sense of the ‘virtual’ community of the Jewish people.
We lived in Prague where the ghosts of pre-war Judaism were in the air. We joined Beit Praha which was made up of Czech-American/Canadian/… Jews who were returning after the country opened up from Communist rule.
We lived in the Netherlands where our daughter studied for her Bat Mitzvah at the Portuguese Synagogue in the Hague which was founded after the expulsion of the Jews from Iberia hundreds of years before.
We lived in Hong Kong where our son became Bar Mitzvah in a shul built by Jewish Iraqi merchants seeking their fortune in Asia.
We lived in Malaysia, a country which doesn’t recognize the Israeli passport. But even there, where the only remnant of official Jewish life was a gated cemetery, we found more than a couple Jews living just below the radar.
And then four years ago we came to CBB which is made of up of long term and new residents. It is also a place where the Jewish community is intensely physical. Greeting your neighbor in the sanctuary with a hug or a handshake after greeting the Sabbath bride. Shabbat dinner at big group tables. A room that is overflowing with learners at Torah study.
But then, we couldn’t. We couldn’t be with each other, or feel the intensity of fellow learners in a crowded class, or even break bread together.
Yet we figured it out. We all became Zoom experts. (Well, maybe not all of us!) We learned the look of each other’s living rooms/kitchens/backyards or wherever else we individually, but together, lit candles or sang. We baked challah in separate kitchens, but together. We learned with teachers and students from around the world who we met for the first time on line. We understood that connection with the Divine and with each other can happen anywhere.
So yes, the Covid shutdown has made it harder to physically connect but it has actually strengthened, for me, the spiritual connection between each of us that make up CBB and the worldwide mishpacha.
Jonathan Gartner spent the bulk of his career in wholesale finance. Educated at Hamilton College and Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, he and his family spent two decades living abroad in Europe and Asia before moving to Santa Barbara where he is actively involved in the field of impact investing.