Kehillat Israel Rabbi Emeritus
Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.
Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
Without question one of the greatest satisfactions of my entire professional life as a rabbi was to be part of the designing and building of our synagogue in Pacific Palisades over 21 years ago. I remember when we started the process many years before, reaching out to members of the congregation and community for ideas, creative input and of course financial support to be able to afford the building itself. It was an awesome task and I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of making decisions that would literally be cast in stone, knowing that every choice made for every surface and design would be something we would have to live with for decades to come.
I will also never forget that overwhelming sense of personal fulfillment and communal pride that first Shabbat evening when our entire congregation marched down the street carrying our sacred Torah scrolls into our new spiritual home, celebrating with music and prayer, laughter and love that profound sense of coming home as a community. We all realized at that moment that even though the building itself was breathtaking, beautiful in its design, warm and welcoming as a sanctuary that instantly invited young and old to share a special sense of the holy together, it wasn’t the building that made the congregation, it was the people. A congregation isn’t brick and mortar, walls and windows, no matter how striking they may appear and how gloriously they may be built. A congregation is a community of young and old striving to find a sense of purpose and meaning in life together.
What made the new synagogue of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades so wonderful in the end, wasn’t simply that the physical structure had the right curves and lines and floors and carpets, or that we literally won an award for its design – it was that it worked as a true “Bet Knesset” a “House of Gathering” for all peoples, Jewish and non-Jewish of every age.
In this week’s Torah portion we read a commandment from God that is so appropriate to the construction of any new sacred space that I had it engraved on the dedication stone that lies on the outer wall of our synagogue facing the street on Muskingum for all to read. God commanded Moses to “Make me a sanctuary that I might dwell among them,” (Exodus 25:8) and ever since we have recognized that for the Jewish people every sanctuary is a sacred space in which we can gather to seek the face of God.
The power of this statement lies in the subtlety of its message and as much in what it doesn’t say as in what it does. For God doesn’t tell Moses as we might expect, “Make me a sanctuary that I might dwell within it”, but rather “among them.” It isn’t in the physical structure alone that we find God, even when it is a sacred space, a temple, a synagogue, a church, or a mosque. The Torah teaches us that we find God among people, within the sacredness of our relationships, when we gather to bring God into existence through acts of tzedakah/righteousness, or g’milut hasadim/loving kindness. When we pray together, sing together, act together in ways that evoke the sacred in our lives.
Yes, being part of the building of our new synagogue was one of the most fulfilling and exciting experiences of my life as a rabbi. But ultimately even more fulfilling, more exciting, and more rewarding has been the opportunity to be involved with the everyday lives of our community. It is truly there in the everyday moments of our lives that we most often discover the true face of God, manifested in the everyday miracles of the lives we are privileged to share together.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., is Rabbi Emeritus of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, California. He is a nationally recognized expert in the field of moral education and is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Micah Award for founding the largest full-service homeless shelter in Los Angeles. He is also a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award from the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Steven has contributed to a wide variety of publications as an author and composer. He has written numerous books, including Raising Children in a Contemporary World (1992); Raising Ethical Children (Prima Publishing, 1994).