Jewish Life Coast to Coast, California Style

By Gabrielle Hiller
On February 13, 2012

To an outsider, it may seem as if a group of 20 YU students choosing to spend their winter break sitting and listening to speeches for ten days is sort of like class. In reality, however, the CJF mission, Jewish Life Coast to Coast, was an unforgettable learning experience that challenged its participants to open their eyes and minds to new ideas experiences beyond Jewish life in the Tri-state area.

Every year, the Coast to Coast trip visits a different region of North America. This year, the CJF set its sights on the West Coast, with plans to visit the Jewish communities of the Bay Area in California, as well as Seattle and Vancouver. 

What was the theme of the trip? Ask any participant for a one-word answer: innovation. Residing in the backyard of Silicon Valley, home to companies like Google and Mircosoft, Jewish communities on the West Coast are affected by the innovative nature of these entrepreneurial enterprises. Our goal was to see how this mindset affected their daily lives and communal structure. Led by Eliyahu Rosen and Keren Simon, and joined at times by Rabbi Ari Rockoff and Rabbi Kenneth Brander along with his wife, Ruchie, we were ready for our mission.

First stop: Google Headquarters. No other place could have given a better insight into the innovative nature of the West Coast. There, we were privileged to see the Google "campus" (everything a paradigmatic college campus would include, minus the dorms), and meet with "Jewglers," Jews who are employed by Google, to hear what it is like to be a Jew who works at Google.   

Over the next few days, we met with numerous Jewish communal leaders, including rabbis of the local synagogues, the Stanford Chabad and Hillel rabbis, and educators at the local Oakland Hebrew Day School. At the Day School, we taught a session to the seventh and eighth graders about Judaism's view on protests. We were privileged to visit the generous sponsors of our trip, the Jim Joseph Foundation, an organization whose goal is to support and fund meaningful experiences in Jewish education.

We went off the beaten path as well. We visited Urban Adamah, a Jewish farm in the middle of a city, and met with Aryae Coopersmith, co-founder of the House of Love and Prayer, who exposed us to his own spiritual connection to Judaism. A wonderful Shabbat was spent in Oakland in Rabbi Judah Dardik's shul, Beth Jacob. There, we had the special opportunity to interact with his unique, diverse, and hospitable community, learning how to connect with Jews from all backgrounds. 

Our next intended stop was Seattle, but a major snowstorm shut down the airport and impeded our plans. We delayed for a few more days in San Francisco, before re-routing to Los Angeles. Although this was not on the original itinerary, LA ended up being a wonderful addition to the trip. Perhaps because LA is much more similar to our own communities than San Francisco, our time there gave us a chance see how the lessons we had learned applied to communities similar to our own. 

The ultimate goal of the trip was to learn from Jewish communities on the West Coast with hopes of applying what we learned to our own communities upon our return home.  I can say for myself that I learned a tremendous amount on this trip. This trip exposed me to the great diversity of the Jewish communities and showed me how we are all, essentially, one nation, despite our geographic diversity. To thrive as a nation, we must build upon our commonalities, not our differences.

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