By RJ Silberman
For the past 12 years, my sense of Jewish community has been defined by Kol Ami. I was part of the very first Hebrew school class here at Kol Ami and continued in Hebrew scool right on through my bar mitzvah five years ago. For the past two years I have been a teachers aide her at Kol Ami and have helped other young people discover their sense of being Jewish.
I look back on my continuing Jewish education in my confirmation classes, Mitzvah Day activities, marches for Darfur and they all center around this building. I think back on the conversion ceremony of my wonderful grandparents and how my Dad, Todd, and I came to say Kaddish for them in the years of their death and every year thereafter. It all happened right here. Kol Ami. A place where I was accepted, supported, and welcomed without ever being judged. Oh sure, Rabbi Denise had… “forcefully encourage” me sometimes, but always with a loving spirit.
So, with that kind of history, I guess it was natural that as I began my college search last, I looked for a place that had a Jewish community that I could join and be part of during my college years. At each stop, usually with my very patient father in town, I would look for the local Jewish community much the way I looked for the campus dining hall, freshman dorms and geological science centers. I would ask if there was a Hillel organization and where they met. I would ask if the school had a Rabbi on staff either full or part time. I would ask if the college was affiliated with any local congregations. I wrote down all of the various statistics and tucked them away in my college file. After narrowing down my choice to three schools, I pulled out what I had affectionately come to think of as my “Jewish notes” and figured that the existence of a Jewish community might be a deciding factor if all else were equal about the schools.
One of the three schools I was most interested in was Colorado College in Colorado Springs. I love the school when my Dad and I went to visit and loved the very unique academic program at the school, its setting at the foot of Pikes Peak, the geology facilities and even the food at the cafeteria. After getting the good news that I had been accepted for admission (oh, special thanks for that recommendation Rabbi Denise !) I decided to attend an event that the college sponsored here in Los Angeles for newly admitted students. I walked in, with my Jewish statistics in hand, deciding who I should interrogate about the local Jewish community in Colorado Springs and whether the heavy presence of the Christian Right in Colorado Springs stifled any semblance of Jewish life.
Well, I went straight to the top. Colorado College President Richard Celeste, who was the former Ambassador to India, Former Governor of Ohio and Former Director of the Peace Corps. Not a bad resume. So I asked President Celeste about the Jewish community at Colorado College. I jotted a few notes as he told me about the facilities of the College Hillel, the part-time Rabbi he had added to the staff, the local congregation affiliated with the college and assured me there were no problems with the Christian zealots. President Celeste told me that traditionally the college had not had a large number of Jewish students… maybe 10%. Although recruiting efforts had been stepped up, he could not guarantee that there would be a marked increase this year in the Jewish Student population. Then, he thought a moment and said something that really struck me. He said that the Jewish community at Colorado College was going to be whatever I and students like me chose to make it. The college would support whatever activities and whatever depth of activities we wanted to be involved with.
And at that moment, I realized that none of my Jewish notes about all the colleges really meant anything. Because, a Jewish community is not a place. It is a state of mind and a willingness to be part of the tradition of service, brotherhood and sisterhood that has been practiced by Jewish people for thousands of years. While our beautiful sanctuary here at Kol Ami is wonderful to have, our Jewish community is identified not by the building but by the love, support, and encouragement that I have known from Rabbi Denise and the congregation over the last twelve years. And as I bring that sense of community to Colorado College this August, you will all be a part of what I and my fellow Jewish students create. Just as you all applauded me on my Bar Mitzvah, thanked me for helping to school your children, or cried with me in times of loss, your spirit will come with me. Our community here at Kol Ami will not be bound by its walls, but reach out across the country and perhaps even further with our wonderful sense of Tikkun Olam.
Thank-you for the past twelve years and thank you for coming along with me on my journey.