Growing Up at BJ

By Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal | Issue Date: March 2011

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal with family. Photo Credit: Irv RosenthalCan you imagine a time when children’s services at BJ had only about seven children in attendance? When the teen trip was to Felicia’s parents’ house in Connecticut? When BJ went weeks without a bat mitzvah? When I tell people that I grew up at BJ, the natural assumption is that BJ then was just as it is now. While the soul and spirit of my childhood BJ remain, so many things have changed and improved as the community has grown.

When I was a child at BJ, we had Junior Congregation each week. This was not Junior Congregation as it now exists, where children lead prayers and the room is full. Junior Congregation was those seven children, of various ages, praying together in one of the back rooms. We would discuss the prayers, play games, talk about the weekly Torah portion, and, since we were a small group, we learned to read Torah. I remember being about 8 or 9 and standing in the Parlor at SPSA with the Torah open to parashat Lekh Lekha and reading for my parents and my fellow Junior Congregation students. This is still one of my proudest moments.

A few years later, BJ brought Felicia on as the Director of Children’s Programming, and she began working with the BJ Council of Teens (a much earlier iteration of BJ’s current teen program). One of our first activities was to have a retreat, which Felicia allowed us to plan. We journeyed to Felicia’s parents house and had an intense weekend. Nothing went undiscussed, unanalyzed, or unplanned. As a result, shaharit lasted into the afternoon. At the end of Shabbat, Roly and Marcelo came over, and we all made pizzas together, with the rabbis showing off their pizza-dough-throwing skills. It allowed me and my fellow teens to see our rabbis as people, not just figures up on a bimah whom we only saw on Shabbat.

The experience of growing up at BJ profoundly shaped the kind of person and the kind of Jew that I am today. Growing up at BJ taught me to be passionate about prayer and Jewish text, to commit in significant ways to trying to change the world, to engage in the community, and, most importantly for me, to seek out rabbinic mentors to guide me. I draw on the experiences that were meaningful for me as I shape the educational experiences of the children and families at IKAR in Los Angeles. BJ is never far from my mind and my heart.

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal is the Director of Children and Family Programming at IKAR, the spiritual community started by MTM Fellow Rabbi Sharon Brous. She worked in the Youth and Family Department at BJ and has celebrated most of her major life cycle events with the BJ community. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Adam Arenson and their son Simon.