When I got married, my husband, Chaim, and I were only peripherally involved with Beth Israel. I had previously been a member as a single person, but that had lapsed. Our social circle was elsewhere, and it was not clear that our personal practices fit with CBI. I was unsure about becoming official members, and remember nervously attending evening services of Simchat Torah during Rabbi Cohen’s first High Holidays with CBI. I went in asking myself, would the prayers be strong? Would women be included? Would women’s presence be honored as we gathered to honor the Torah?
As soon as I walked into the sanctuary, the Torah was handed down to me from the Bimah, and I led the women in hakafot. Later that night, when I saw my husband among the singing and swirling, I leaned over and whispered loudly to him, “We’re joining!”
Years later, many of our friends have also joined Beth Israel, and the congregation represents a diverse and eclectic entourage of soul seekers.
I was once asked to receive an aliyah in honor of a young man’s Bar Mitzvah. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me, and I was very appreciative of the family who bestowed it upon me. Due to extenuating circumstances, however, I was very late to shul that Shabbat, and missed the Torah reading entirely. I felt terrible, embarrassed that I hadn’t even been present at the time I was called.
Standing out in the courtyard at that low moment, I looked around the congregation and came to appreciate a community could hold me within it, even at such times.
After the service, I apologized to the father of the family, who informed me that my absence allowed a close friend of the Bar Mitzvah boy to have that special aliya, and that it had been very meaningful for him. Were I there, he would have missed out on something he ended up really appreciating. It was a very generous expression from the family, and it symbolizes the attitude of many people in our congregation.The atmosphere of openness and acceptance at CBI are strong characteristics of the community, which help me feel welcome and give me a strong feeling of belonging. The diversity of membership keeps the community vibrant.
For me, CBI is a place of finding without looking. I am really happy with what I continue to find at CBI. Being able to have the spiritual space to express myself religiously sustains me.