In so many synagogues around the country, people know how to kvetch complain) more than they know how to kvell (offer praise). At Or Ami, we have learned that if we invite people to share their Or Ami moments – experiences worth kvelling about – we discover quickly that we are touching people’s lives in deeply spiritual ways.
I received this email from an Or Ami family, and with their permission, share it here. I’m kvelling at their kvelling. (If you have an Or Ami moment to share, please add it in the comment space below.)
Dear Rabbi Kipnes,
I am not quite sure where to start. Daniel and I joined Congregation Or Ami with our kids Zach and Jacqueline just over 2 years ago. From the very start, we were welcomed with open arms. We joined the congregation because some of our very best friends were members. We were looking for a place primarily to begin Bar/Bat Mitzvah training for our children. What we got is so much more!!!
Shortly after we joined, my mother, as you know, became very ill. The outpouring of support and caring from our temple friends, to congregants we hadn’t even met, to you, our Rabbi, was astounding. This really was our first real confirmation we knew we were in the right place.
Daniel and I both grew up on Jewish homes, with very little Jewish education. Mine was virtually non-existent. We had all of the traditions and values of a good Jewish home, but I had spent almost no time in a synagogue. Daniel became a Bar Mitzvah, but aside from that, his Jewish education was very limited as well.
So, we knew when we were joining a temple, we needed to find one that fit in with our goals for our children, but yet not be so “Jewish” that we would be intimidated. We did the usual “shul shopping”, and eventually decided upon Congregation Or Ami. Our decision was really based on the fact that some of our very best friends had become members, and oh yea…we kinda liked the Rabbi!
Our first High Holiday services with Congregation Or Ami further proved that we had made the right choice. The services were warm, inviting, inclusive and made someone with as little Jewish background as myself feel comfortable, eager to hear more, to do more, to embrace this “family” that we suddenly were a part of.
Tashlich was another awe-inspiring event that really opened my eyes up to the uniqueness of our temple. The fact that a couple of hundred of us could break bread, share wine and enjoy such an intimate, spiritual affair together on the beach just further discounted any fears we may have had that were not going to fit into a typical temple. This temple, we quickly learned, was anything but typical!
The past year has been so difficult for so many of us. Or Ami has been so responsive and respectful to the needs of its congregants. I was chosen to be part of a special Hayenu committed assembled specifically to make calls and just check in with the congregants to see if they had any general or specific needs or concerns that perhaps we, as a congregation, or you, as the Rabbi, could help with. EVERY congregant was called! Wow! What temple does that? Just as every new congregant gets a Shabbat welcome basket from the congregation and every member family gets donuts and other Hanukkah goodies personally delivered to their home every year. Again…anything but typical.
Nor is it typical that my husband and I were asked to carry the Torah at this year’s High Holiday services. We were certainly not asked because we are big donors. The feeling of support and family from this congregation…from you…is more than we ever could have wished for, hoped for, or certainly expected!
We continue to grow each time we step outside of our comfort zone and attend another temple event or function. While the kids and I raved about Mitzvah Day last year, my husband had to experience it for himself this year to understand the impact and breadth of this amazing community service event. He was like a little kid, racing around to see if he could be the one to complete the most backpacks for displaced foster children.
Today I attended my first Torah study. What do I know about Torah??? So little! But, you know what? I was comfortable, intrigued, engaged, and now eager to return to another one soon! Why? Because of the intelligent, passionate, educated, interested people who make up our temple! People who take time out of their busy schedules to schmooze and kibbitz and can appreciate the value of spending time like this with old friends and new friends.
I started this letter months ago, have put it aside, added to it, and could keep doing so until it is well… my own Jewish Journal. But, that is not the point. The point, the initial point anyway, was to let you know how happy we are to be members of Congregation Or Ami. To let you know we had many temples to choose from, and were not even sure we made the right choice when we chose Or Ami. But, it did not take long to realize there could not have been a better choice, or a better fit for our family. So much of it has to do with the congregation, but so much of this has to do with you. I never thought I would seriously join a temple where the Rabbi ever even learned my name. I certainly never thought I would be able to consider myself friends with the Rabbi. Well, I am happy you know me as Faryl, and honored to be a congregant…and a friend!
Thank you for welcoming us so warmly into your “home”.