Synagogue: Home Away From Home

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By Deborah Vietor

 

Etz Rimon means pomegranate tree in Hebrew. There are many mentions of the pomegranate tree in the Bible which reference the Promised Land, peace, harmony and fruitfulness. This embodies the philosophy and soul of Carlsbad’s Etz Rimon synagogue, along with their mission statement: “A Reform, forward-thinking congregation living Jewish values in a warm, engaging community … embrace Torah through prayer, lifelong learning and tikkun olam,” but there is much more to this North County synagogue.

“The religious school is like its own little community within our larger congregation,” Rabbi Karen Sherman says of the environment where students in Kindergarten through 7th grades can explore their Jewish identities in a warm, safe environment. Small classes encourage questions, with critical thinking about Jewish history, Torah, Hebrew, prayer, life cycle and values. Through the love of Judaism, teachers share their passion with students. Connections between teachers, students and parents create an environment where parents provide support and commitment to ensure a quality Jewish education for all.

The religious school calendar includes Sunday afternoons and occasional Fridays. Shabbat services are enjoyed after school, and on a monthly basis families bring dinner to share.

Etz Rimon creates an environment where children and teens feel at home. Lasting friendships are built at the temple with a junior group (7th and 8th grades) and senior youth group (9th -12th grades), with each essentially becoming their own community within the congregation. Here, they learn leadership skills, plan and participate in events and community service activities. Additionally, Etz Rimon’s high school students participate in North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), where they meet and build friendships with teens from all over southern California.

Opportunities for community service include working in the religious school as madrikhim (guides or teaching assistants) or working within the temple Etz Rimon partnership with Pilgrim Church along with other churches and synagogues in San Diego in the Interfaith Homeless Shelter Project.

“Our families help out at the shelter by setting up, cleaning up, providing meals, and offering other support to the homeless individuals and families who stay at the shelter,” Rabbi Sherman says. “Each year, our youth group teens make and serve dinner to the residents of the shelter. This is a wonderful opportunity to fulfill the Jewish value of tikkun olam, starting right here in our own community.”

Students prepare for bar/bat mitzvah by meeting with a tutor and a teacher for the synagogue. Students meet with the rabbi to explore their Torah portion, focus on learning prayers and chanting Torah. A mitzvah project which involves community service is performed by the Bar and Bat mitzvah students, enabling them to live Judaic values learned at home and school.

A Confirmation program is offered for continuing education following the Bar/Bat Mitzvah study program, where students explore ways to make Jewish choices and learn how to be a Jewish adult through the guidance of the Rabbi, then lead a Shavuot/Confirmation service in the spring. In addition to opportunities at the religious school for youth, Etz Rimon’s membership structure is unique. The temple has 130 members who enjoy celebrating Shabbat, High Holidays, holiday celebrations, temple events, sisterhood and Havurot programs. An adult life-long learning series is held throughout the year. The temple offers single and family memberships, young adult/family memberships and senior memberships.

“Our temple is small enough for most people to know each other but large enough to offer something for everyone,” President of the Board, Lori Hellman says. On Sunday, August 30, The temple will host their annual Open House from 1:30-4:30 p.m., complete with children’s activities, music and refreshments. Hellman says it’s a perfect time to come and visit the facility and speak with the Rabbi, education director, board members and current members about what makes the Temple Etz Rimon experience so great and why joining the community is so fulfilling.

“Rabbi Karen Sherman is the heart of the Temple Etz Rimon community and has been leading our congregation for the past six years,” Hellman says. “As a scholar of Torah she engages our congregation in prayer with a sense of warmth and caring. In addition to leading worship services, Rabbi Sherman officiates at life-cycle events, teaches adult education classes, directs the religious school, and provides pastoral counseling to our congregants and families.”

Hellman says that the congregation is a close-knit community with individuals of all ages representing a diversity of Jewish backgrounds, beliefs and practices. Member backgrounds run the gamut, from highly traditional to classical Reform. Interfaith couples are welcome and the temple honors diversity.

“We pride ourselves on being a warm and welcoming community,” Hellman says.

Holidays are an exciting time at Etz Rimon. Purim features a talent show along with the reading of the Megillah. The religious School children build the sukkah, filling it with hand-made decorations. “Pizza In the Hut” is a special treat where the congregation gathers for a treat during the holiday festivities, and is a great event for the members to unite. Channukah is special as the members and children bring their Chanukkiot to the celebration to place on the bimah. The candles are lit together, creating warmth and filling the sanctuary with light. Freshly made latkes complete the evening.

Temple Etz Rimon joins with other URJ congregations in inviting and welcoming all who are interested in living a Jewish life – individuals, couples, families, Jewish families, interfaith couples and families, LGBTQ individuals, and anyone seeking a Jewish journey.

“The URJ supports congregations as they work to meet the needs of their congregants. They help communities remain relevant and effective, thriving as centers of Jewish life today and for future generations,” Hellman says.

“[Outside of the High Holidays,] we invite the community to attend our Shabbat services and meet our Rabbi and members any time.

“Our congregation gets its strength and sense of community from inclusion, and as the URJ says; ‘audacious hospitality.’ We’re committed to providing meaningful opportunities for all members to pray, celebrate, study and learn together. We have a very strong sisterhood group that supports temple functions, celebrations, our families and each other with a sense of camaraderie that embraces Judaism.”

In May, Rabbi Sherman led the first temple trip to Israel. The memories created, Hellman says, were only surpassed by the rich history and magic you can only experience in Israel.

The popular life-long learning series begins again in October with a topic to be chosen by the Rabbi and ideas shared by the members. Participants’ knowledge and experience of Judaism is enhanced through the program, I in addition to building connections with other congregants.

If you are interested in a congregation embracing the values of Reform Judaism with many programs, events, religious school, Jewish holiday celebrations and trips and are looking for an all-inclusive environment, Etz Rimon may be the place for you.

“Our services are very inclusive and maintain that warm and friendly environment we’re known for,” Hellman says.

 

For more information, visit TempleEtzRimon.org or call (760) 929-9503.
Etz Rimon is located at 2020 Chestnut Ave., Carlsbad Calif.

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