You Don’t Have to be a Buddhist

by Leorah Gavidor June 26, 2018


dr-kurtin-photos-courtesy-jcoPractice yoga, practice medicine, practice Judaism: Dr. Paul Kurtin  does all three. He hosts yoga on Saturday morning once a month before Shabbat services at the Jewish Collaborative of San Diego (JCo) in Carlsbad.

“Yoga is yet another way to be together as a community, and that’s what people are looking for,” said Dr. Kurtin, who helped found JCo five years ago and is currently chairman of the board. A retired pediatrician, Paul welcomes all ages—and levels—to his yoga class.

“Seventy percent of Jews in San Diego County are not affiliated with a temple,” Dr. Kurtin pointed out, so he and others founded the Jewish Collaborative to provide a gathering place. Studying with the same trainers who advised Obama on community organizing in Chicago, the group set out to create “a different kind of Jewish community and experience. It has been a huge success.” JCo celebrated its fourth anniversary on June 2nd.

“We don’t categorize our practices. What is special is that people are happy to be here, they feel like they belong and they enjoy each other’s company.”

The JCo space and building (on the grounds of Carlsbad Presbyterian Church)is next to a communal garden. Dr. Kurtin said the setting encourages reflection. The collaborative holds Shabbat services three Friday nights and one Saturday morning per month. Rabbi Gabi Arad frequently commences services with breathing and mindfulness exercises.

“Meditation has long been a part of Judaism,” Paul Kurtin teaches his “Walk with G-d” group. “The prophets meditated.”

Dr. Kurtin, who worked for two decades at Rady Children’s Hospital, began his yoga practice in high school. He sees it as a natural companion to his religious study and practice, and as another component of spiritual life. And, of course, yoga and meditation both have well-proven health benefits.

“Our yoga practice is restorative, helping people who are stressed to relax and helping people a bit stiff to move a little easier. Why not help our bodies at the same time as we calm our minds and connect with our souls?”

Dr. Kurtin encourages individuals of all abilities to try a yoga session with him at JCo. As founder of Our Place, the Yoga and Wellness Center at ARC of San Diego, Dr. Kurtin has experience teaching yoga to people with all ranges of disabilities.

“If being on the floor is not possible, we offer ‘chair yoga.’ Bring your props, bring your mat, bring your best intentions and we can find something that works.” Dress comfy—casual is okay and the same outfit is fine for Saturday services. JCo is both casual and non-judgmental.

Entirely made up of volunteers (except for Gabi Arad, who works full-time as both rabbi and cantor), JCo serves 110 member families, about 350 people. The full service synagogue offers child, teen and adult education, such as unique intergenerational and experiential Hebrew Lab and L.O.M.E.D. programs. JCo also celebrates life cycle and year cycle events in addition to regular services. Bar and bat mitzvah preparation is tailored to the individual child and family. Parents and grandparents are welcome to learn Hebrew alongside their children, and siblings are welcome to hang out.  Each year, the Kurtins invite students and families to pick and bless the first fruit of the season at their ranch in Julian as part of the L.O.M.E.D. program.

Rabbi Gabi is very supportive of meditation in the service. A Tibetan singing bowl brings the congregation together for the beginning of each service.

“When the Dalai Lama was exiled, he asked the advice of Jewish people who had lived in diaspora,” Dr. Kurtin said. This became a historic dialogue between rabbis and the Dalai Lama that Kamenetz wrote about in “The Jew and the Lotus.”

“You don’t have to be a Buddhist,” he assured, “to do yoga or to meditate. These practices allow us as Jews to more fully embody and connect with Adonai,” said Dr. Kurtin, who also teaches walking meditation.

“It’s a way for me to give back and teach what I have learned over the past 50 years,” he reflected.

JCo yoga is at 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. one Saturday per month, before Shabbat services at 10:15. The rabbi and volunteers serve a light lunch afterwards. Go to for the schedule.


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