Your Shabbat Guest
Shavuah Tov! I write these “notes” shortly after my return from another great weekend in Bakersfield. This weekend was what I call a “plain wrap” Shabbat – no holidays, no special events – “just Shabbat.” When I introduced this concept to those in attendance at Congregation Bnai Jacob, the response was almost unanimous – “There is no such thing as a ‘plain wrap’ Shabbat. Every Shabbat is special!” How right they are!
The “regulars” at Bnai Jacob (CBJ) are a dedicated group. They are in attendance at every CBJ function– from Shabbat services, to building a Sukkah, to a “crash course” in Hebrew. Every event is important to them – and it shows! What we are trying to figure out together is a core issue for every small community – how to expand the baseof participation? How do we expand the corps of “regulars?” How do we ensure a Minyan for each and every service?
At our Friday evening (Erev Shabbat) services, the energy is great, and the singing is soulful. At our first Shabbat together, before Rosh Hashanah, I introduced a niggun (song without words) that the group really liked. We began our Shabbat services with that niggun – and everyone remembered it (what a pleasant surprise)!
During each of our services together, we learn as a group. On Friday night, our learning centered around the “beginnings” put forth in the first three Parshiyot (Torah portions) in the Book of Genesis. In the first Parasha, the world is created. In the second, the world is destroyed and begun again. It is in the third Parasha that the Jewish people begins.
As a Kehillah, we discussed “Why Abram? What made him so special? What do we know from the
text of the Torah that qualifies him to be the father of a great nation? What does the Midrash tell us?”
As a Conservative Kehillah, we are coming to understand that the text of the Torah is often complemented by the words of Midrash in order that we may all understand characters more completely. This understanding is greatly enriching our appreciation of sacred texts. It is also affording us the opportunity to personally participate in the Midrashic process – by offering our own interpretations/commentaries.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the CBJ community is comprised of many “new Jews.” Some of these individuals are literally new to Judaism and Jewish life (either as Jews by Choice, or on the way to becoming Jews by Choice). Some have been away from Jewish life for many years, and are just now returning. This fascinating demographic has directed the nature of our Shabbat morning learning.
We have dedicated time in the service to explore the contents of the Birchot ha-Shachar (the early morning blessings), and the Pesukei d’Zimra (a collection of [mostly] Psalms) – that call for us to explore, celebrate, and reflect upon our relationship with God.
At the conclusion of each of our services, those in attendance know that two things are a “constant” – ANNOUNCEMENTS and ONEG SHABBAT. This week’s announcements alerted the community to a special set of Shabbat services coming up in two weeks. CBJ’s Shabbat services will be conducted by members of the congregation. New members of the congregation will be honored - as will those who are new to "The Tribe." This is a great sign for CBJ - as it signals a growth in membership as well as an expansion of the Jewish population in greater Bakersfield.
What can be said about a great Oneg Shabbat? Our community loves to stay after Shul, to eat and schmooze together. It is as if each in attendance longs to lengthen the Shabbat experience within the walls of our Kehillah.
In all a great Shabbat for our CBJ Kehillah!