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For the last several years, I have been a fan of Chelsea Feuchs, who, first as a communications professional with the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and more recently as a first-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Jerusalem, has contributed frequently to the blog on ReformJudaism.org, most often for Ten Minutes of Torah.
I eagerly read all of her posts, in part because at times I have lamented that I did not study at HUC-JIR to become a Jewish professional. Although I’ve never met Chelsea in person, her writings bring her experiences, challenges, setbacks, and successes to life so vividly, I feel as though I know her on some level.
In her most recent post, Chelsea wrote about her feelings when, about a year ago, she was recovering from surgery in New York while her first-year classmates were in getting settled in Israel and bonding before the formal start of school. An invitation to return to URJ Crane Lake Camp for Shabbat, she said, “reminded me that no matter what, I am part of a large Jewish community and my presence there matters.”
I read Chelsea’s essay just a few days before I took a long-planned trip to our former synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tikvah (CBT) in Walnut Creek, CA, for an important event in that community. Although my wife and I relocated to southern California three years ago, where we joined Temple Israel in Long Beach, we left many friends at CBT and retain ties to the community in numerous ways. In fact, I do not like referring to CBT as our “former synagogue.” I still feel connected and home there and hope to feel so always.
Indeed, from the moment I drove into the CBT parking lot until I nearly closed the place down at the end of the oneg Shabbat (reception that follows services), I was overwhelmed and comforted by how much I still felt so much a part of this particular Jewish community and by how my presence that evening truly mattered. It was, in fact, just as Chelsea had described her return to camp.
The emotions I experienced that evening left me longing, more than ever, for ways that people, myself included, can remain connected and be encouraged to visit synagogues that are significant in our lives and in our hearts – even if we no longer belong or live close-by. Yes, I know many ways already exist, but the return to CBT stirred a yearning in my soul.
On the drive back to Long Beach, it occurred to me that an annual “homecoming” Shabbat might be a nice way for congregations to welcome and reconnect with families that have moved away or, for whatever reason, joined another synagogue. I’ve pitched the idea to our rabbi and plan to submit a short proposal for such an event to the CBT membership committee. Once we work out the details, I’m also planning to pitch the idea for such an event to Temple Israel’s leadership and to make the proposal template available to other congregations that may be interested.
So, Chelsea, thank you for reminding me that we never really leave behind – and often can, in fact, return to – the places and people who will always matter to us, and to whom our presence truly matters.