Temple Beth El

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

The Bima at Temple Beth El

While we were in Salinas last week, Grandpa Nelson and I got the chance to take Cousin Liza to our old synagogue, Temple Beth El. It turns out that it was the anniversary, or Yarzeit, of your Great Grandma Mona’s death, twenty eight years ago.

The Yarzeit panel with the lights on for Great Grandma Mona

We were members there for nearly twenty years, and Grandpa Nelson was President for many of those. I helped run the Kosher Luncheon and the Rummage Sale. We attended funerals, weddings, and were involved in loud arguments and tearful reunions. There are lots of feelings tied up in that building.

Hal Hegwer, Leonard Gonzer, and Grandpa Nelson, some former Presidents

Our friend Rick invited us to Friday night services. Rick taught me Hebrew years ago and still teaches the Bar Mitzah and Bat Mitzvah kids. He also helps run fund raisers and maintain the building.

We got there early so I could show Liza around. We saw the playground and classrooms, then the sanctuary. The new Ark that surrounds the Torahs is big and beautiful. Liza met Joloo, a boy about her age who was there with his Grandma Jeannie. They played foosball and dashed around until services started.

There were only about a dozen folks at services, because the community is shrinking as older folks pass away and young ones move away. The kids sat in the front row, and Cantor Margaret Bruner, seeing her unexpected young audience, included the kids in undressing and handling the Torah.

Cantor Margaret Bruner

Rick helped out by reading a story about Beresheet, the beginning of the Torah, which is called Genesis in English. The story was illustrated using words for water and earth in Hebrew letters.

Rick reading Beresheet

Cousin Liza, who knows English, Spanish and Russian, asked “What kind of language is that?”. Rick answered perfectly, saying, “It’s a language you don’t know yet,” and then translated the Hebrew into Russian. Her eyes got very big and she listened more carefully after that. I think she was impressed.

Both Liza and Joloo were very good during the rest of the service, standing, sitting, following along as best they could. They even helped put the Torah away.

After services, there was wine and bread and cookies, and then the kids played while the grownups talked. The whole evening had an odd time-travel quality, because it felt a lot like when we would take your Momma Katie and Uncle David to services.

Grandpa Nelson enjoying good cookies and company with Liza and Joloo.

I went home and had so much to be thankful for. Exhausted but happy, which seemed to be the theme of this trip south.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Old Friends

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I only have 5 more days here in Salinas! I can’t believe I will be home soon. But before I really leave my home of the past 36 years, I had a few more people to say goodbye to.

The Hughes family has been in my life since 1983, when my family started attending Temple Beth El Synagogue here in town. I was not born Jewish, but the religion appealed to me. Once I got to know the people, I wanted to learn the language. Hebrew, with its delicate, strange writing and its integral part in biblical history, intrigued me.

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Peonies in the garden

At the time, the synagogue didn’t have a full time Rabbi. When I asked who would be able to teach me, I was referred to Rick Hughes. He wasn’t Jewish either, but was well read and extremely good at languages. He had majored in French at University and studied Gaelic, Japanese, Klingon, and a few others on his own. He had studied Hebrew under the old Rabbi, Abraham Haselkorn.

After a little negotiation, Rick agreed to teach some friends and I. Eventually, the group whittled down to just me, and we stuck with it for a few years. I got through translating a big chunk of Genesis from Hebrew into English and had a great time.

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My oldest friend in Salinas

My family joined the Temple, I converted to Judaism, my kids went through Sunday and Hebrew school, and my husband Nelson was even President of the Temple for more than a few years. It was a big part of our lives. We celebrated holidays with Rick and his family, who were good sports about Passover Seders that lasted for hours and sukkot being built in the back yard. His mother and brothers became friends, too.

In more recent years, Rick has been my French teacher, as well. After I studied with Shawn Quiane at Hartnell College, I wanted more, so Rick helped out. Teachers become friends and friends become teachers. It’s nice the way life works.

Rick was active in the synagogue for years, and then he pulled away. I’m sure I knew why at the time, but the reason has slipped my mind. And now, he has returned. In our visit today he told me he is tutoring a young man for his bar mitzvah and helping with all sorts of Temple chores, like the Kosher Luncheon (the biggest fundraiser) and Sunday School. He seems so happy to be involved and needed again!

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Brother Kevin in the yard

Judaism doesn’t believe in living alone. A person needs to be part of a community to be a whole person. I can see the wisdom in this in the life of my dear friend.

See you all soon.

Love,

Grandma Judy