Recently, Jlife Magazine had the chance to sit down with several members of Congregation B’nai Tzedek (CBT) in Fountain Valley to hear about CBT’s 40-year history and their individual experiences being part of the congregation: Stephen Einstein, Founding Rabbi Emeritus (SE); Steven Lesser, First and Second-year President and 40-year member (SL); Joe Rotcher, 3-term President of new CBT (JR) and 40-year member of CBT; Pam Rosen Director of Religious School Education (PR); Rabbi David Young, Head Rabbi for past 3 years (DY).
Jlife: This is quite a milestone. When you think of CBT’s 40th Anniversary what comes to mind?
DY: The 40th anniversary of CBT coincides with my 4th year serving the congregation. Even though I have not been here for long, my family and I already feel like this is our home community. The people are warm and welcoming, the board of trustees works in partnership with the staff, and Rabbi Einstein as emeritus is a wonderful mentor, colleague and friend. It has been such a blessing to be here for the last few years, and I look forward to growing as a person as we grow as a community.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years?
SE: One of the biggest things is that we started with 31 families and we’re now a congregation of over 300 families. When we started this congregation we were, with two exceptions, all young (in our thirties and forties) and now we’re grandparents. When you see the congregation as a whole we certainly do have young families, but a large number of us are people who have aged along with the congregation.
JR: One of the major changes is that we used to meet at the site of a church (for the first seven years) over here on Bushard and here we are in our own facility now. I remember one of the real things as far as establishment is that they finally agreed to let us open an office at the facility of the church… it was a little closet.
SE: Yes and we put up a mezuzah on our door and when we left and walked our Torahs over to our new location the church requested that we please leave our mezuzah on the door. It is still there to this day. They know it is a sacred thing from our combined scripture and they want to remind people of the connection that we have.
What are some milestones for CBT that make you the most proud?
SE: We take great pride here that we really did this on our own. We raised the money ourselves. Here, everybody counts and you feel that as soon as you walk in. And that has been the culture from Day One to the present.
JR: Another significant milestone was when we got the building we gave Rabbi Stephen Einstein a lifetime contract. We had talked about it, but nobody was really familiar with this type of position or that it could be done. We went to lunch with Stephen at Kaplan’s and that’s where we offered it to him.
SE: The continuity of leadership and the idea that we have people on our board who grew up in the congregation, it’s very “next generation.”
SL: Yes, there are 33 members of the congregation that have been with us since the beginning. That really shows you the continuity from beginning to now.
How common is it to have a rabbi with a lifetime contract?
SE: It is less common today than it was. It really has to be a mutual thing because the relationship between the Rabbi and the congregation is like a marriage. It makes a difference in the stability of the community.
JR: Yes, as a congregation member I agree… it’s good for us.
PR: I am an excellent example of that because Rabbi Einstein officiated my marriage, he named our daughters and they were benot mitzvah’d here. They were also confirmed here and last year he officiated the wedding of my oldest daughter. She doesn’t even live in the area, but you know “Have Rabbi, Will Travel.” That was the first thing out of her mouth after she said “I’m engaged!” It was, “Will Rabbi Einstein marry us?” There are a number of us like this that can say we went all the way through with Rabbi Einstein.
JR: Yep he named my kids and bar mitzvah’d my grandson. It’s a very stable, positive kind of relationship. He hangs around still today of course and we’re glad he does.
SL: Talk about a significant change. Our Rabbi was with us for 36 years and when he left that was a big change for the congregation. That was major so we brought in an interim rabbi for one year, Rabbi Keiserman, before we hired a new rabbi. The purpose of that was to give the congregation a bit of a break before we brought in a brand-new rabbi.
But that is just the beginning folks! This congregation has quite a history (too much to fit in just one article). Plus, CBT has a month full of special events planned to commemorate this momentous occasion. Tune in next month for a continued look the history of CBT, its education program and a wrap-up of the entire 40th Anniversary events.
For a more information about Congregation B’nai Tzedek please cbtfv.org.