Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions


Burt Siegel Remembers


Actually my best memories go back to before I became the Congregation's president. One of my earliest recollections was our interviewing student rabbis around our dining room table and not being totally sure what questions you ask a rabbi. Our agreement with the college stipulated that we were obligated to hire four student rabbis in return for the use of the sanctuary in the [College’s] building.


Of course, there were only six families that belonged then ("Four rabbis, no waiting"). We agreed to have an open house on a Sunday in late June. We sent out letters to everyone who was on the College's mailing list, and I was one of the signatories. While we specifically said in our letter that we were reaching out to those who were currently not affiliated with a congregation, at least one Old York Road rabbi was livid and called to tell me that we were "poaching" his membership since some members of his congregation had received the invitation letter.


That first year, I was the VP for membership as well as the treasurer. We had committed ourselves to pay the four student rabbis and I was getting nervous about how the six families were going to find the funds to do that. The open house was the day after my 40th birthday and I must admit I had a little bit of a hangover. To my pleasant shock, the room was packed by the time I got there. I was to make a membership pitch and the first words out of my mouth were, "WOW! I don't believe this!" When I talked to Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, then Dean of Students and someone that had been very helpful to us in starting the congregation, about how worried I had been and that I was now hopeful, she told me that even Reconstructionists can accept miracles.


Whether it was a miracle or not, we promptly went from six families to sixty. Our first four wonderful rabbis rotated conducting Shabbat services and in the beginning we were the totally  "hands on" congregation we envisioned. We wrote our own loose-leaf prayer books, schlepped the torah scrolls to our rented space for the High Holidays, and naively opposed ever becoming "too big," which in our minds meant no more than 100 families. In fact, I recall board meetings where people would seriously say critically that we were becoming too much like a "real synagogue."


We are now, indeed, just that, but are still the heimish, warm place that we dreamt of. I still recall that when our son Josh was getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah, we were considering having the ceremony in a setting other than the Bet Midrash at the College, which seated a fraction over 100 people (110 exactly, but we squeezed in 111). Josh, however, refused to go anywhere else. He said that this was the synagogue that he was raised in and that this was where he wanted to become a Bar Mitzvah. His was, in fact, the last one to be held there.