In the face of a miracle

On Sunday June 5, 2011 Congregation Beth David and the community of San Luis Obispo, CA gathered to celebrate a miracle. Urban legend has it that Jews don’t believe in miracles— we depend on them. When we find ourselves in the midst of one, how do we react? With a deep sense of appreciation and wonder, we celebrate.

Coincidence, we are taught, is God’s way of remaining anonymous. Was it coincidence then, that on April 18, the first day of Passover, the local newspaper headlines announced that the Congregation’s three and a half year old, LEEDS certified green building, the first Temple of its kind in the world was heading for the auction block May 17 unless several million dollars could be found within a 4 week period to release the Temple from its crushing mortgage? It was easy to see an analogy to the Passover story of a small group of people, enslaved— here to a mounting debt, constricted by responsibility, was thirsting for freedom. The building was the pride and joy of the local community who had gone through enormous challenges to find this amazingly beautiful parcel of land on which to build an ecologically sound building. The dream of the congregation was to have a home not only to house the congregational life of the Reform Jewish community— a place for prayer, for study and gathering— but one that was to become a sanctuary for the wider to community to gather and enjoy programs of an educational, spiritual and artistic nature, and learn to appreciate the diversity of many groups that make up the small California town, recently voted the ‘happiest place in the U.S.’

After a financial struggle in economically depressed times, that lasted over a year, the leaders of the Congregation decided on the creation of an Limited Liability Company for Temple members, families and friends who would be willing to participate in a twenty-year investment to replace the current mortgage. The story, breaking on the morning of Passover, was announced in the local media, and was picked by national and international news reports.

Was it coincidence then that in four short weeks, not only would the LLC be formed but that the general community would have responded from the heart as donations came in from caring friends and neighbors in San Luis Obispo and beyond? Was it coincidence that during the seven weeks between Passover and the festival of Shavuot, when Jews recall the counting of the omer— the offering of grain that was brought to the ancient Temple— Congregation Beth David’s membership responded to the call and brought their financial offerings. But that was not all— unexpectedly, donations, large and small started to pour into the Temple from individuals, from Church groups, from members of the Muslim community, donations from friends who could afford to help, as well as many who could not— retirees, as well as some caring individuals who were unemployed, and others working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

And was it coincidence that as we prepare to celebrate Shavout, in which we celebrate the receiving of the Ten Commandments and a new societal way of responding to one another, that financial solution to this huge problem was resolved? The US is not called the New World for nothing. Here we are experiencing the goodwill and care of neighbors and friends, people from the diverse groups that live here in San Luis Obispo. Where everything in our history may have taught us that the outside world cared nothing for the plight of the Jews, we in San Luis Obispo know differently, and the knowing changes us forever.

Having learned that the Temple was saved and will remain in grateful congregational hands, many San Luis Obispo residents of different faith communities have expressed the feeling of pride they experience as they drive by the Temple now, feeling a personal connection and pride, knowing that they too helped in a small way to make sure the Temple would survive. The years of taking an active role in building a strong interfaith connection and fully participating in the life of the general community blossomed into the miracle we are experiencing.

On Sunday afternoon, a service of Thanksgiving and an open house for the wider community was celebrated. As across the nation, we witness communities pulling together after the many natural disasters that are occuring, in our small corner of the world, we too have been blessed to witness the joy of community support, financial and emotional in the wake of a possible financial devastation. Perhaps Chanuka came early this year – for indeed a great miracle happened here.