December 2021/January 2022FEATURE

Congregation Beth Am @ 40

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By Barbara Birenbaum

For forty years, Congregation Beth Am’s Conservative community has called North County home and continues to grow stronger, inspiring connection and continuity. Recognizing and honoring the past and setting the stage for growth and progress, the congregation is planning to celebrate this auspicious milestone with a grand celebration weekend, January 21-23, 2022, entitled Hinei Ma Tov, because it is just so good to be together after all these years.

In 1982, a group of dedicated Jewish families wanted to establish a Conservative presence in Coastal North County San Diego. The undertaking proved to be prophetic. Rabbi Wayne Dosick, together with a small group of families, formed Congregation Beth Am. Settling in the facility affectionately called the “Tire Store,” membership grew quickly with people coming from as far south as La Jolla and as far north as Oceanside. The very first year, Beth Am opened their Hebrew school, the Jewish Learning Center. During the early years, the synagogue was run by volunteers who genuinely felt like family. This family feeling continues and is felt strongly by regulars of all ages.

House of the People

During the first years, the congregation focused on growth, learning, and helping people get involved. True to its name, Beth Am had truly become the “House of the People.” After Rabbi Dosick left and before a new rabbi was hired, Judy Sperling and her husband Jack, who were among the founding members, led services each Friday and Saturday, keeping those early members connected and living up to their name.

In July of 1991, Beth Am hired Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman, lovingly known as Rabbi Zucky. Membership quickly grew from 160 to over 400 families. Rabbi Zucky instituted the 7 days/week minyan, programming for all ages, a preschool, and youth department.

A New Home in Carmel Valley

By 1994, the Board of Directors realized that the “Tire Store” could no longer contain the burgeoning congregation and schools. A Capital Campaign began, and the land was purchased for the permanent location in Carmel Valley. A temporary building was erected, and the congregation joyfully walked and danced our Torahs over from Solana Beach.

Judy recalls some of those lean years when times were tough and it was only by the generosity of those dedicated early members who answered the call to SOL (Save our Land). Trailers served as sanctuary and meeting rooms for longer than anyone thought possible and the collective excitement was positively palpable when the Lizerbram Family Sanctuary and Hassman Family Social Hall doors opened on a stunning night in June of 1999.

At that time, it was only a short walk to move the Torahs, including the cherished Holocaust Torah donated by Hugh Friedman, z”l, and Lynn Schenk, to their permanent home behind the beautiful stained glass ark. Opening those immense ark doors to retrieve the Torahs from which B’nai Mitzvah students read is a powerful experience for Judy, who has taught at every level in the vast learning community and feels extremely proud of the ‘front row’ view from which she serves to this day.

The same year they opened the doors to their permanent buildings, the congregation hired Rabbi David Kornberg as Assistant Rabbi, who instituted the Center for Lifelong Jewish Learning, among many other contributions. In 2004, upon Rabbi Zuckerman’s retirement, Rabbi Kornberg was enthusiastically welcomed as Senior Rabbi. With over 500 families to serve, the Board of Directors decided to hire an Assistant Rabbi and after a two-year search, welcomed Rabbi Matthew Earne in 2006. Congregation Beth Am is blessed to have two vibrant and creative Rabbis who complement each other so well.

Community participation in learning and leading also holds a special place for newer members like Diana Lerner, who joined in 2015 after enjoying a warm welcome as a Torah reader. Her active participation has extended to include service as Gabbai, and religious practice committee. She especially enjoys tending the “L’Chaim table for those over the age of 21 on Saturday mornings, enjoying a sip of joy after an enriching worship service.” Learning regularly with Rabbi Kornberg, she appreciates the remarkable way he engages with each participant personally. Among her favorites is Beth Am’s Campfire Shabbat, held monthly and led by Kornberg and Ephron Rosenzweig on guitar.

Elisheva Edelson has been a member and teacher for about half the life of Congregation Beth Am. While she was not involved in its founding, she feels the love and dedication of many members, people serving on the board, directors and teachers of the schools and the beloved Rabbis. “My closest family are among many other families that are members at Congregation Beth Am and as members, we form a link in the long golden chain that will keep Congregation Beth Am moving ahead, facing the challenges that the future may bring and enjoying all that Congregation Beth Am offers to its members in all aspects: religion, culture and education.”

In 2017 after a successful year’s Capital Campaign “Building The Dream: Our Time… Our Turn… Our Future”, with pride and strength of committee chairs: Ingram Chodorow, z”l, Wayne Harris, and Jeff Liber, opened the doors to the new Education buildings and offices. The entire Beth Am community enjoys enthusiastic satisfaction in reaching this milestone.

Shortly after the new buildings were completed, Gilad Hoffman came ‘home’ to CBA as Executive Director. HIs grandparents and parents contributed to the original capital campaign, he and his family attended services regularly and he became Bar Mitzvah in the Beth Am community. Now his child attends the Early Childhood Center and he couldn’t be happier contributing “to this vibrant community, “where the future is bright.”

For more information and to register for the celebration events, call 858.481.8454, or contact us: by e-mailing welcome@betham.com.

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