The place was packed with buzz and commotion; there was such a feeling of warmth and welcome upon my arrival to the Shabbat service and ground-breaking ceremony at Shir Ha-Ma’alot. Rabbi Richard Steinberg’s opening remarks said he felt like he must be in a time capsule, and it must be the Sunday of Erev Roshanah, because there were so many people there and this must not be your average Friday night Shabbat service, laughter ensued.
Beth Carroll and Dr. Rachel Harman, co-presidents of the congregation, both got up to thank and honor what seemed like an endless list of donors—including more than 75 percent of the congregation—lay leaders, committee members, architects, etc. They even mentioned it feels like the Academy Awards and said that if they forgot to thank anyone, please know they are forever grateful.
“Tonight was magical. The light of every soul shone so brightly, demonstrating that our Jewish future is filled with radiance and beauty, depth and conviction. Our new home will inspire souls to do good. Our sanctuary will be a respite for weary souls and an oasis for celebrating spirits. Our new campus will be a place of transformation for the individual, our community and the entire Orange County Jewish Community,” said Rabbi Steinberg.
What I found so moving about Rabbi Steinberg’s message that night, was that he made sure to point out that whether it was the single mother who pledged $10 a month for the next five years, or the first family who walked into his office and told him he has the first $1M gift—everyone matters, everyone played a part in making this dream a reality. What really makes this job so rewarding, is seeing a new family connect with another family and start to build community.
Cantor Arie Shikler, a mainstay of the congregation for more than forty years, set the perfect mood, “There is a special spirit at our temple, and this new campus will only enhance what is already so good. Music will beat in each person’s heart as people join us for services, for meetings, for school and for community.” It seemed only fitting that the next generation of young teens would sing a song with lyrics such as “you’ve got to renew the old and sanctify the new.” They are the new wave of what will keep this congregation moving in the right direction and prosper most from such an incredible expansion.
The esteemed families who made this possible were there to carry out the Torahs and help symbolically dig and break new ground outside. There was klezmer music, dancing, food and of course lots of schmoozing that followed. According to Rabbi Leah Lewis, Rabbi and Director of Education and Lifelong Learning, “Our school, of more than 400 students including our bursting high school program on Tuesday nights, will engage in projects that have been impossible heretofore because of a lack of space. The sky is the limit now.” What an incredible evening, Mazel Tov!
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Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.