Background: Temple Beth Sholom (TBS) is Orange County’s first Jewish congregation and its oldest Reform synagogue. For more than eight decades, it has fostered strong Jewish identity and practice with innovative forms of Jewish expression, blending deep commitment to Tikkun Olam simultaneously. Building on its strong foundation, the congregation is poised to launch its community into a new era of expansion, innovation, and creativity. In 2023, TBS is marking its 80th anniversary with year-long experiences of study, reflection, and celebration. TBS has been served with dignity and honor by wonderful rabbis, cantorial soloists, cantors and educators.
Founded in 1943, Temple Beth Sholom of Orange County is dedicated to making the congregation a focal point of Jewish family and communal life for its members, through excellence in professional and lay leadership, education, programming, and spirituality. The senior rabbi is Rabbi: Sharon L. Sobel. Hilary Rosen is the Director of Operations, and Tamara Levin is the Director of Early Childhood Education. Rabbi Emeritus Shelton J. Donnell and Cantorial Soloist Emeritus Mark Thompson continue their involvement with the congregation. The President is Mike Winston. There are 269 families. For more information, . call (714) 628-4600 or visit www.tbsoc.com.
What are the most popular of your synagogue’s programs or services?
Popular TBS programs include: Annual Artist/Scholar/Musician-in-Residence Program; adult education of all kinds, and Intergenerational Experiential Programs, including Annual Campus Camp-Out, 7-Day Sukkah Palooza, Chanukiyah Lighting in the Old Orange Circle, Shir Joy Intergenerational Musical Shabbat, “Monica’s Mitzvah Meals,” Chavurot. According to Rabbi Sobel, “Our synagogue programs are truly exceptional in the way they serve as a catalyst for building a vibrant and close-knit community, fostering deep and meaningful life-long relationships, and celebrating Jewish living and learning in authentic and profound ways.”
What programs or services do you think capture the synagogue’s underlying philosophy?
Shabbat morning Torah study has a core group of about 50 regulars and is mostly lay-led. Rabbi Sobel teaches approximately once a month. The congregants are serious students who take great pride in their study, sharing of knowledge, dialogue, and discussion.
“Monica’s Mitzvah Meals,” along with the congregation’s deep commitment to Social Action in general, exemplifies how TBS values caring for others and strives to make a positive impact on the broader community. Congregants work together to address societal issues while deepening bonds between participants.
TBS’s many intergenerational programs are lay-led, supported by Rabbi Sobel, Hilary Rosen (Operations Director), and the staff. According to Rabbi Sobel, “We are a ‘hands-on’ community that values the active partnership between clergy, professional staff, lay leaders, and congregants. We work together to reimagine and reshape how we rethink assumptions, experiment with innovations, multiply entry points, and increase opportunities for participation and inclusion. We want this to be your Jewish home.”
What are some the unique aspects of the congregation?
Thanks to the efforts of lay leaders and volunteers, the hard work of the former Interim Rabbi and the new Senior Rabbi, TBS is now experiencing significant growth and renewal. In the past year, TBS has grown by over 10 percent, the religious school enrollment is increasing, and TBS welcomes new and returning members consistently every single month.
The Early Childhood Center (ECC) is considered the best in OC, with a standing waiting list, having to add classrooms and teachers every year. Its Jewish student population has grown to 50 percent and is a “feeder” for TBS.
The stunningly beautiful physical main campus has been fully remodeled, and the smaller chapel has won awards for its unique and innovative architectural design. The garden and grounds are biblical in nature: all trees, plants, flowers are mentioned in the Bible or are found in Israel, including the many fruit-bearing trees. The site is often requested by other groups as a venue for events due to the location and its beauty.
Thanks to the lovely Southern California weather, Erev Shabbat services take place outdoors from the end of May – end of Simchat Torah, often with a communal Shabbat dinner beforehand. The entire front of the lobby (known as the “Living Room”) is glass, overlooking the lush grounds. These glass panels open fully, bringing the outdoors in, enabling events to be both “inside and outside” simultaneously. Many other events take place outdoors as well, on the beautiful lawn and grounds: the Summer Social Bash, Chanukah Festival, Purim Carnival, Yom Ha’atzma’ut Festival, and so much more. The school building also wraps around a large lawn, enabling children to experience an outdoor learning environment as well as learning in their classrooms.
What would you say to encourage someone to join your congregation?
The most important aspect of Temple Beth Sholom is the people: this is a community where the concept of “k’hilah k’dosha” is a living reality. The dedicated, energetic and committed volunteers are the backbone of TBS. “They bring to life our vision, values, and all we do,” according to Rabbi Sobel. Chavurot are an integral aspect of TBS life, providing “friends who are like family” for each other, social opportunities both within and outside of TBS events. Newcomers are welcomed to services and events with open arms and made to feel special, often not the case in synagogue life. If someone (or even the clergy!) is sick, members will call and offer food, rides, and assistance with anything people need. The most special part of TBS are the people who make this place “home” for all who walk in the doors.
Ilene Schneider has been chronicling Jewish life in Orange County for five publications since 1978. She has served as a communications consultant for a number of Jewish organizations. She is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.