In Hebrew, dor hadash means “new generation.” It’s an aptly chosen name for San Diego’s only Reconstructionist synagogue, founded back in 1983 and still serving Jews from across the county today.
As a Reconstructionist synagogue, Congregation Dor Hadash has one foot firmly planted in the history and traditions of Judaism and the other in the ever-changing world of American Judaism today. Rabbi Yael Ridberg, who came to lead the congregation last August, describes the philosophy succinctly.
“Reconstructionist Judaism really values the past,” says the rabbi, who this month is completing her term as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA). “There’s no substitute for the history, culture, traditions and the sacred acts we are taught as Jews. At the same time, however, in every age, Jews have assumed to a greater or lesser degree the authority to make changes to their practice in accordance with the age in which they live and what’s happening around the world. [This way] we continue to be inheritors of that rabbinic tradition of looking at our external circumstances…and the interests that are brought to bear on how we live Judaism in meaningful, innovative and traditional ways.”
In many ways, Dor Hadash’s commitment to past, present and future generations is palpable. Just a few of many examples include a foyer photo display of congregants’ ancestors; an unfurling of the synagogue’s Holocaust-surviving Czech Torah that literally encircles the children during Simchat Torah; an emphasis on parent-child co-education and a madrichim program for the large number of teens in the Gesher School; and a sanctuary designed to resemble a torch-lit synagogue 2,000 years ago. In these ways, the community ensures that observing Judaism is meaningful and exciting for congregants of all ages, and is respectful of Judaism both ancient and modern.
At the Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew) School, explains education director Betsy Schneider, “we’re building bridges to our past, to our future, and between the parents and the kids too…each of our classes becomes a havurah, and they have Shabbat dinners together, or after Sunday school they’ll go to the park and have a picnic, and as the kids grow up, they stay in that havurah.” Following their b’nai mitzvah, teens stay on at the school, working with younger kids, volunteering in the community and attending special lectures on topics geared toward them.
Because Reconstructionism is the smallest of the four main Jewish denominations, Dor Hadash has worked through the years to foster involvement and visibility in both the local Jewish and non-Jewish communities. Recently, thanks to innovation on the part of its staff and congregants, those efforts have reached new heights.
Rabbi Ridberg’s arrival automatically brought national attention to the synagogue thanks to her affiliation with the RRA. Last December, she was invited to the White House for its annual Chanukah party (though, she quips, it was her “title that was invited, and I got to go as her guest”). In February, the Gesher School held a Blessing of the Animals, which was covered by both the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. This month, administrator and playwright Mark Newman will be making selections for the congregation’s second annual Across the Generations Play Festival.
“There had been a Jewish play festival in San Diego for many years, and it sort of faded away,” Newman says. “I felt the need to revitalize that.”
Although the festival is very much for the Jewish community (it focuses on topical Jewish themes and ideas), it’s just as much a form of outreach to the theater, secular and unaffiliated Jewish communities as well. Last year, they received many submissions of unproduced plays — some internationally — and expect the same this year. (The submission deadline is March 1, but SDJJ readers who learn about it from this article can submit through March 10.) A selection committee will select either one full-length play or two one-act plays of which they’ll stage two readings in July.
“The discussion [following last year’s festival] was just mind-boggling to me and so invigorating, because we had emeritus sociology and philosophy professors musing one the subject matter discussed in the play,” Newman says. “It was just a joy all the way around for everybody who participated.”
Also this month, in observance of Purim, Dor Hadash will hold its first congregation-wide hamantaschen bake in the courtyard outside its building, a dream of Dor Hadash President Steve Florman.
“We’re going to have a cooking tent set up in the courtyard, and as a large community, we’re going to make 3,000 hamantaschen,” Florman says. “They’re going to be here for sale, and we’re going to donate them to Holocaust survivors, to the Storefront shelter and other nonprofits like that.”
Adds Rabbi Ridberg, “It’s a communal approach to mishloach manot, the custom on Purim to give gifts, and so to be able to make them together and then to both share and sell to benefit the community and to give to those who would appreciate the gift of hamantaschen on Purim…I think it’s a really quintessential Dor Hadash moment.”
Congregation Dor Hadash
4858 Ronson Court, Suite A
San Diego, CA 92111