June 7, 2023
Congregation Beth Israel is a modest, little Shul in a small, rural-ish town. We are a community that could easily be forgotten in the larger Jewish world–considered insignificant, and not worth worrying about. However . . . CBI is incredibly fortunate to be part of a three year fellowship through Makom and the Center for Small Town Jewish Life. Makom’s mission is to support professional and lay leaders in small Jewish communities and equip them to address the unique challenges that face small town synagogues. Key takeaway here: People in the larger Jewish world want small synagogues to survive. More than that, they want Jewish communities in small, rural areas to thrive. They believe what happens in small Jewish communities matters. We matter.
I shared much of the content of this message at the CBI Annual Meeting this past Sunday. Since not all of our members were there, and because I want our wider community to be aware of this incredible opportunity before us, I am highlighting it here as well.
Tomorrow I will be heading to the East Coast to attend the Maine Conference for Jewish Life. The opportunity to travel to Waterville, Maine and participate in this annual conference is one of the benefits of being a Makom Fellow. CBI is completing the first year of this program. The next two years also include lay leadership training. We are so fortunate to now have our Board Secretary, Kristy Collins and Shul School teacher Meadow Davis as part of the Makom Fellowship. An exciting bonus is that all three of us will be attending the conference in Maine together!
As a Makom fellow, I receive direct support, professional development, and mentorship. This consists of weekly virtual meetings with a cohort of leaders from small synagogues, led by our Rabbinic mentor and special guest experts on various topics. I also have my own personal mentor and we meet monthly. Additionally, Makom fellows meet in person 1 or 2 times per year at the center from small town Jewish life in Maine. In the fall, Kristy and Meadow will also begin meeting regularly in virtual meetings with other lay leaders from small synagogues.
I’m sure you can imagine the cost for participating in a Fellowship of this caliber is quite expensive. Remarkably, we are directly benefiting from this fellowship at essentially no cost! This is not insignificant. We are a small synagogue with very lean resources. If it were not for the generosity and positive forward thinking of the larger Jewish community, this fellowship would be out of our reach.
I find it very moving and incredibly significant that there are Jews from larger synagogues and urban centers, with infinitely more resources than we could garner, who care deeply about what is happening in Chico. I mean this literally. My personal Makom mentor, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs (Rabbi of the Beth Israel Congregation of Waterville, Maine and the Executive Director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life) recently delivered a Friday night sermon at Central Synagogue in New York city–a large thriving synagogue with deep pockets, and robust resources.
It turns out that Central Synagogue is a financial supporter of the Makom Fellowship program. Rabbi Rachel was there to address this congregation in Manhattan, to thank them for their financial support, and to inspire them to continue giving to this important work. She made a compelling case for why small town Jewish life matters; why small hamish shuls need outside support; why the challenges and struggles of small synagogues, hours from major urban Jewish centers, should matter to Jews from resource heavy, well connected synagogues in the country's largest cities.
On the one hand Rabbi Rachel was speaking generally, and the ideas were broad and non-specific. Until I realized she was talking about us! She was talking about Chico! Though she did not mention CBI directly, Rabbi Rachel is my personal mentor. I know CBI was on her mind as she spoke to the members of Central Synagogue. Wow, I thought. She is addressing the very people in New York who are making it possible for Kristy Collins, Meadow Davis, and I to go to Waterville, Maine and attend the annual Conference on Small Town Jewish Life this upcoming Shabbat. Suddenly I felt what it means to be connected to a larger communal network. We need each other.
When introducing Rabbi Rachel Isaacs to deliver her sermon, Rabbi Cantor Angela Buchdahl said, “If we want Judaism to thrive in America, we are best served when we have a healthy ecosystem of thriving congregations of all sizes in every corner of our country.” Yes, exactly!
We are grateful for this generous gift we have been given. It is upon us to pay it forward by making sure Congregation Beth Israel continues to be a center for vibrant Jewish life in our little corner of the country.