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Faces on Faith: A silver celebration

By Staff | Jan 13, 2016

I am privileged to serve as the rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, and that honor is heightened as our congregation prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Within the Bat Yam family, the congregation’s beginning is legendary.

Mel and Shirley Bleiberg, who had lived on Sanibel for several years, were lonely for other Jews and Jewish community. They put an ad in the local paper announcing a Sabbath service.

They expected a response of maybe 10 souls. Instead, well over a hundred showed up.

The borrowed prayer books were far too few to go around. That was January 11, 1991.

What was the draw? What did a synagogue community offer that was “missing” for Jews on our island paradise?

Traditionally, a synagogue goes by three names: Beit Tefilah, Beit Midrash, and Beit Kenesset.

As Beit Tefilah a House of Prayer a Jewish congregation is the place for organized worship on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Here is where we speak to God.

As Beit Midrash a House of Study a Jewish congregation is the place for continuous Jewish study and learning.

Here is where God speaks to us.

As Beit Kenesset a House of Assembly a Jewish congregation is the place where we socialize, develop relationships, and nurture community. Here is where we speak to one another.

Most importantly, the Hebrew tells us that a Jewish congregation is a home. Beit “house of” is not about the walls of a building. It describes, instead, a place of meaning and extended family, with a sacred welcome mat at the door.

Surely this is the shared purpose of all the houses of worship on our islands.

On January 28, when we at Bat Yam celebrate our silver anniversary with a Gala event, we will formally do what all of our congregations do every day.

The beaches of our islands are beautiful; the rising and going down of the sun is awesome; the opportunities for friendship and nature and learning and the arts are mind-boggling in their abundance. And guarding it all, under a shelter of sacred meaning, are the faith communities of our various choosing.

“Bat Yam 25 Years Strong” is our motto this anniversary year. May all our houses of worship our sacred homes go from strength to strength. From silver to gold and far beyond.