Finding Where You Belong: Shabbat San Diego extends into a week of activities with Jewish Xperience week

by Jacqueline Bull September 26, 2018


alon-david-photography-studio_-253Shabbat San Diego is a unique project in that its external goals are present in the internal structure of the organization. In other words, it lives by the messages it preaches. One of the goals of Shabbat San Diego is to build bridges between separate Jewish organizations for the Jews that attend the communitywide Shabbat and that sentiment is present at the highest levels. The three people that Program Coordinator for Shabbat San Diego Simone Abelsohn suggested be interviewed this year are all part of some of the biggest and most influential Jewish organizations in town: the JCC, JCF and the Jewish Federation. So Shabbat San Diego talks about building bridges within the community, and walks that by having the advisory and steering committee come from different corners of the community.

Shabbat San Diego is heading into its Wood Anniversary, the 5th year, and for some cultures this marks the anniversary where a couple is no longer considered a newlywed. Time to enjoy some fine wood crafted furniture and settle into a routine? I didn’t think so either. Shabbat San Diego is taking on its most ambitious year yet by extending the festivities into an entire week called Jewish Xperience week that will begin on the preceding Sunday and last until the Sunday after the Global Shabbat experience (Oct. 21-28). The Xperience week features a whopping 59 events outside of the main affairs of the challah bakes and the Unity Havdalah concert.

“Jewish Xperience week is like Restaurant Week – get a taste of the Jewish community and that’s what this has all been about,” said Darren Schwartz, Chief Program Officer for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. “Shabbat San Diego has been successful in getting a majority of our community out, so let’s make sure to pack the week going into Shabbat San Diego with a ton of opportunities that are going to challenge people’s assumptions about the different ways they can engage in the Jewish community.”

Darren is part of the advisory board for Shabbat San Diego and this dovetails with his professional capacity. “I’m spending most of my day everyday working with other organizations and talking about central issues that we all care about – things like connecting young families to Jewish life and making sure vulnerable seniors are cared for,” he said.

The events of Jewish Xperience week are geared towards the two groups of people that are already active in the community and those who haven’t found their niche yet. For the first group, the events show opportunities for involvement outside of their purview and invite them to explore further. For the second group, the events offer a diverse variety of activities for them to pick and choose experiences that feel good to them.

“It’s an experiential and non-traditional way to connect to Jewish life,” Sharleen Wollach (Vice President, Operations of Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, and a member of the advisory board and steering committee of Shabbat San Diego) said.

“Where I think of the holidays as being centered around ritual and tradition, I think the Jewish Xperience Week is experiential and experimental. You can’t really change too much about the Rosh Hashanah service or the Yom Kippur service, but you can change the way an event looks, you can do Shabbat at the beach with yoga,” Sharleen said.

“One of our missions is to make sure that our next generation … whose parents have been traditionally connected, might consider being non-traditionally connected in other ways [and] reach out to some of these opportunities to give that a shot,” Sharleen said.

Those who don’t find a meaningful connection in ritual may feel excluded from the Jewish experience at large.

Having the week in October, after the High Holidays, builds on that momentum of having the thought of being Jewish and expressing that at the forefront of the mind. And it offers either a confirmation or counterpoint to those rituals, depending on whether the individual attends more traditional or more out of the box events.

“And this allows them to explore one week out of the year when there is going to be 50 events, that they can really have choice on what they can do. They can see a film, they can be part of a discussion series, they can do community service, they can go to somebody’s home for dinner, the opportunities are just endless in this particular week and we are hoping that it will spark interest for the rest of the year,” Darren said.

The events are held all throughout San Diego and have all ages events and ones catered to specific age groups.

An event that both Darren and Betzy Lynch, CEO of the JCC, highlighted is the “Little Mensches.” This program (part of Shalom Baby) held at the JCC teaches children ages four-eight about giving back to seniors and allows children nine and over to take on “helper” responsibilities. There will be arts and crafts and bingo that they can do with the seniors.

The events range from light-hearted music, meditation and yoga events to discussion series on organ donation or Jewish ethics and the refugee crisis.

“This is the biggest menu that you will ever get,” Sharleen said.

Sharleen, Darren and Betzy all expressed a sincere invitation for all to come and check out some events and see what the San Diego Jewish community has to offer.

“I hope they walk away with a couple of things – which is understanding the expression of being Jewish can happen in so many different ways and that this week where all the Jewish organizations and even individuals who are contributing to the experience are taking off the hat of our individual purview to create something really special for the community at large. That I hope that they see the power and the idea of us functioning in a community mindset rather than in an individual organizational mindset,” Betzy said.

“I think it is time to show that Jewish life is more than just Judaism. Judaism is our religion, being Jewish is our life. And we want people to feel Jewish.” Sharleen said. “For people who otherwise have not had an opportunity to connect with Jewish life in any form or fashion, take this opportunity to connect in way that feels good for them. It’s not about a religion, it’s about a value system and a way of life.”

Darren expressed, “I think part of why Judaism has been successful is that we continue to re-envision what it means to connect with each other and to connect with a higher power. And the concern about doing things Jewishly is not a will they or won’t they, it’s how will they?”

“From my perspective, the idea of this ancient construct being so relevant in the time when we need the separation between the things that we create in our regular work week and having the time and space to be able to sort of reboot our life experience while a very, very ancient tradition and ritual is so applicable in our contemporary culture and even probably more than it ever was before. The value of highlighting that is a function of the Jewish experience is incredible and is a gift to our community and we are so lucky to be a part of it,” Betzy said. Go to page 73 for a listing of select events.


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