I’m so proud of our Jewish community here in Orange County. It feels like such a privilege to be part of it, and I feel so blessed that we have the luxury of living in a place where there are so many wonderful opportunities to be Jewish, to be with Jewish friends who are so close-knit they are like family, to have so many avenues to participate in meaningful community service and social action and to have so many Jewish events and activities in which we can participate. Does everyone realize how lucky we are?
A couple of years ago Marlon, my husband, who is a professor at UCI, was offered a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. It was a very good professional opportunity for Marlon, and it caused us to seriously consider making the move. One of the main items on our “con” or “negatives” list was that we did not want to give up our Jewish lifestyle here in Orange County. The community had one very small synagogue. Although people were welcoming to us at Friday night services when we were visiting, it just felt very different and did not feel like it would be home. The community there didn’t have anywhere near the plethora of Jewish offerings that we are used to. Even though we sometimes wonder what our lives would be like had we made that move, we know that, at least from a Jewish standpoint, staying here was definitely the right decision. We are as immersed in our Jewish community as we could possibly be, and there is no way that community – or very many others – could replicate what we have.
Being a very busy family, there are often days and evenings that we have conflicting events. I’m starting to notice that we actually have conflicts among our Jewish events – often we don’t need to decide between a school or sports event versus a Jewish event, but actually need to make a choice between two different Jewish events. (If you know us, you know that we often resolve those conflicts by juggling things around to get to almost everything!) A case in point was Chanukah. On the first night, we wanted to join others in the community for a menorah lighting. There were at least THREE to choose from on Wednesday and THREE others to choose from on Sunday, all at the same time. Tough choices to make, but isn’t it wonderful that we have such opportunities? Another weekend Harrison had two conflicting Jewish youth group events. Can’t decide which of two JEWISH events to attend? Do you realize what I’m saying here? Other people don’t have it like that – I have friends in other areas that would be thrilled if there were a Jewish event for their children to attend once a month.
On the first night of Chanukah we went to the menorah lighting sponsored by Chabad at the District. It was crowded in a good way, lively, uplifting and fun. The music, participating in singing the blessings as they lit a giant menorah, the latkes, the jelly donuts, the camaraderie – all of it was just awesome. I was so proud to be a part of the Jewish community in Orange County and felt so happy inside that we could be there, at a mall we frequent all the time for restaurants, movies and shopping. On that night we had a totally Jewish experience with so many friends – friends we know, but also friends who we really don’t know at all, but they are part of our mishpacha, our family, our community. Those of us there were so proud to be Jewish, so proud to be part of the celebration and so privileged that we have the freedom to celebrate our holidays and our Jewishness in such a public way and with so many others.
I have also been thrilled these days with the abundance of opportunities we have as a family and that our kids have as part of various youth groups and our synagogue, to perform community service and mitzvot and to engage in social action. The other day, when I posted on Facebook that Jacob and Michela had gone (with Marlon chaperoning) to a “park clean up” day as part of their 7th grade social action curriculum, someone commented, “Wow, at least one of your kids does some sort of community service or something Jewish every single weekend.” I realized that’s true – between our temple, youth group, the Teens Love Caring Chabad program and other things, our kids really do some sort of activity to help others pretty often. What could be better than making a difference in your world and doing it with others, so that it becomes even more fun? Yes, they do something “Jewish” each and every week and weekend, and not just Hebrew school or Shabbat services. There is something social for them almost each and every weekend – in December Jacob and Michela had an overnight with temple youth group, Harrison had an overnight with TALIT Nation, Harrison went to Teen Poker Night at the JCC and Jacob and Michela had the social action field trip.
With the privilege of having this wonderful community of Jewish people, places and things with which to associate comes one responsibility – we, as a community, need to be an active part, a caring part, a responsible part. If people don’t attend the various activities and events, the organizations and temples won’t plan them. So we need to attend things. We need to be supportive of one another. We need to be proud of our heritage and our community. To me, it feels like the OC Jewish community as a whole is like a big family. As members of that family, we, too, need to do our part to be supportive, caring and proud and to be active contributors to our community.
Our community brings us together in a way that we would never be able to connect otherwise. I hope everyone else realizes how special this is and how blessed and privileged we are to live in freedom and to live here in Orange County, where so many Jewish opportunities abound.