THE BIRTH OF A CONGREGATION
- Bulletin, October 1987 -
Rosh Hashanah evening, 1987. The Cariari Hotel, San Jose, Costa Rica. One hundred and
fifty-four were in attendance to participate in the services led by the experienced and dedicated Rabbi Randall Falk, an extraordinary leader with a forty year background in the rabbinate. It all looked so professional. No outsider could have guessed the furious pace of organization, led by the events committee, who threw themselves into the project with frenetic energy, sacrificing business, home life, and normal sleeping time in a concerted effort to make this celebration possible.
During the climatic moment - the blowing of the Shofar - a passionate attempt by
Bemardo Lelchuk to wring the sounds from an uncooperative ram’s horn, I looked around at the faces and watched the tears come.
On that night we were bom as a congregation! But how did it begin? Who was
responsible? When? Difficult to answer. Perhaps it began, as so many things begin, with the children. Saul Herckis and Alberto Bonilla traveled to school by bus, and became fast friends. At four and five years old, neither of them knew the other was Jewish, until during Passover of 1985, when Saul saw a box of Matzo in the Bonilla home. And there these two young boys discovered their common heritage, a discovery that led to the creation of the Jewish education classes, and the seed of a group’s commitment to become a congregation was sown.
I became involved with the group during the bris of my grandson Yair Nathan, Jason. I
held the baby as the mohel quickly performed the traditional act that fulfills the first covenant Jews have with God.
How well I remember our first Chanukah party two months later. We were one hundred
strong. When the festivities were about to begin, the lights went out. For the next hour we
continued our celebration by the light of the menorah. We drew strength from our togetherness. We sang songs and danced. The lights came back on, but it no longer mattered - a light was already burning, a warmth and a glow that I will always remember.
We celebrated Purim and Pesach. We were forming family friendships and more. We had
become a group, motivated by a purpose, and dedicated to its success. Our next major step was inviting Rabbi Falk in July of this year. At the end of that memorable weekend the community invited him back to spend the months of September and October with us. We had our work cut out for us.
No cabinet meeting in the Knesset could be more torrid than our meetings, night after
Tuesday night. Would we accept patrilineal descent, as many Liberal Jewish congregations have done all over the world? Would we be an inclusive group or an exclusive group? What would be the role of women in our congregation?
These questions weighed heavily on my mind as we again convened at the Cariari for Yom
Kippur services. Between Yizkor and Neilah sendees, the Rabbi spoke to the group. He had been questioned as to his judgment on the timing of the conversion of one of our members, and the quickness in allowing a triple bat mitzvah to take place. He was questioned, as well, on his choice of participants in the Yom Kippur service. The Rabbi, in an impassioned plea, denounced our judgmental nature. He pointed out that a man should have only two judges : himself and God. He continued by saying, perhaps prophetically, that although he had never experienced a group more needy and more determined to form a congregation, he feared our potential for self destruction.
And as the valiant efforts of young Andy Kaufman forced the feeble closing notes to emit
from the ever-recalcitrant ram’s horn, so many of us had to ask ourselves: “And now, whither we goest?”