Home November 2011 The Golden Age

The Golden Age

On Erev Rosh Hashanah this year, Rabbi Nancy Myers took the bimah for her yearly sermon.  As she stood there in Temple Beth David of Westminster, she asked, “When you hear the number 50, what comes to mind?”
Most of the people in the congregation thought of 50th birthdays past or to come, maybe even anniversaries.  But for some, they remembered standing under the beams of their now beautiful sanctuary, with no walls, doing a Selichot program before Rosh Hashanah.
Now, 50 years later, Temple Beth David is celebrating its golden anniversary by reflecting on its unique place as a home for Jews in Orange County, long before the Jewish community and the region became what they are today.
“Fifty years is a long time in Orange County,” Myers said.  Now the congregation has transformed into a multi-generational home, with founding members along with their children and grandchildren, while maintaining a welcoming home for newcomers.
The history of the congregation goes back to 1961, when Jewish community members in west Orange County were looking for a synagogue to call their own.  Some even found an ad for it in the Pennysaver.  As people started gathering, the fledgling community started meeting in living rooms across Orange County.
They the congregation started renting out a church in Los Alamitos.  Dr. Herb Abrams remembers when the books for the religious school were being transported in the trunk of one of the members’ cars.  This was before deciding to come together to purchase a piece of land in Westminster near the coming 22 freeway where the synagogue stands to this day.
Many of the congregants were willing to sacrifice for this cause.  Myers said that many of the members of the synagogue in the early days put up their houses as collateral in order to get the loan they needed for the land.  The entire board unanimously did this.
Dr. Lori Abrams, Herb’s wife, remembers that night very well.  At the time she was a young mother on the board for the soon-to-be temple.  “I remember coming home and waking up my husband and telling him what we did.  And he said, ‘You did WHAT?!?!?’”
Eventually, Temple Beth David’s home in Westminster was built, and all the members participated in its growth, from finding clergy to setting up the religious school with a dedicated group of volunteers.
The community grew to a place where tradition mixed with an exploration of faith through art, and education for everyone remains a huge priority.  There had been difficulties through the years, but the Abramses believed that it was the community, where Herb emphasized there was a “cohesive bond and connection,” that kept everyone together.
When Myers joined the congregation in 2004, she got a sense of the community and camaraderie that the members had with one another, and how important for the congregation to have someone who would be there for the youngest and the oldest members.
“I feel like this is my family,” she said.  And in that family atmosphere, congregants have been able to explore their Judaism in ways that they never thought possible, whether it’s simply taking classes for adult B’nai Mitzvahs to using their talents to explore the meanings of prayers and Torah portions.
“We’re a congregation that’s rooted in tradition, but open to creative ideas,” Myers said.
Creativity has always been a push at the synagogue, with many of the members lending their vocal and instrumental talents to the bimah.  Along with their gifted vocal soloist Nancy Linder, the temple boasts a choir with 35 members and a junior choir that sings at every service.
“That’s been a constant over 50 years,” Myers said.  “The music has defined us and that’s something that I, as a rabbi, appreciate, [even though] I am not musically talented.”
Lori Abrams agreed. “They sing from their hearts and pour love to everyone that’s there,” she said.
The diverse congregation is filled with creative people who explore their faith using their unique talents.  Myers fondly remembers for Selichot this year having Abraham and Sarah going to a therapist after the binding of Isaac.  One of the congregants, a real-life therapist, decided to explore the topic with them.
In order to celebrate its 50th, the temple is inviting back members of past and present for a sort of homecoming.  Throughout the next year, there will be five reunion Shabbats that bring back people who have celebrated milestones and life cycle events with the synagogue, whether it’s Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings or other festive occasions.
“We are celebrating our connection, our longevity,” Myers said.
In addition to all of their Shabbatot, the congregation kicked off the celebration with a barbecue, and has planned multiple events for the 50th year, including a gala to celebrate their milestone and a concert with Cantor Nancy Linder and the Temple Beth David choirs.
A lot has changed in the years since the congregation was founded, but it’s the people who make it what it is for the Abramses.  “It’s a family of friends, and some have come and gone, and some have passed on, but we’re pretty tight knit.”
For Myers and the members of the congregation, the events they are doing over the course of this year are to make the congregation even more of a family environment.
“We adopted a phrase for the past year. ‘Your family, your friends, your Temple Beth David,’” Myers said.  “It sort of describes who we are.  We’re connected to each other through friendship, and we have become a family.”

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