Congregation Beth El
- Contact: 8660 Gilman Drive, La Jolla 858-452-1734 www.cbe.org
- Membership: Over 600 families
- Rabbi: Ron Shulman
- Age: 63
- Born: Chicago
- Formation: Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; American Jewish University, Los Angeles; Jewish Theological Seminary, NY
- Years Ordained: 36
San Diego Reader: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
Rabbi Ron Shulman: What animates me the most is the breakdown in structures of the meaning for life, be they the individualism which breaks down community, the selfishness which breaks down public norms in civic society, or the lack of historical perspective in religious literacy that can speak to personal, spiritual and moral meaning. Those are the things that animate me when I’m thinking about where I want to lead the community: finding meaning, creating community, strengthening the bonds of Jewish identity and purpose in the world today – these are the main things I’m concerned about. There are a couple ways to address these issues. The first way, from my point of view as leader of the synagogue, is Jewish education and literacy. We run a very intense, serious learning program so that people can engage in the Jewish conversation and see its historical perspective and application to today. Secondarily, there are opportunities to create engagement and elements of community in celebrating the diversity within the community, so people can see themselves as part of something larger.
SDR: What is the mission of your congregation?
RS: The mission of our congregation is to be a home for every soul that seeks to find meaning through Jewish values and ideals. The mission, which is a reflection of the membership, is made manifest in a couple of ways. To actualize that mission, the congregation does not charge formal membership dues or fees, so that everyone is welcome in whatever voluntary way that is comfortable to them. The congregation is inclusive in all the ways it welcomes those who find this congregation to be a communal or spiritual home. We honor Jewish tradition but we’re open to innovation and sensitivity to different paths people take into communal Jewish life.
SDR: What book has had the most impact on your ministry?
RS: There’s a wonderful novel published in 1939 by Milton Steinberg called As a Driven Leaf, an historical fictional account of the first generation of rabbis in first-century Jerusalem under Roman rule, and some of their challenges integrating into general society and culture. I find it a very compelling book. It is the story of search and questioning, and how one finds a religiously relevant place in a contemporary society. It is written with real affection for the classic texts of the Jewish tradition.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RS: My first response is that none of us know. I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. Secondarily, I believe that the soul returns unto God – the soul being that spiritual inanimate part of us that animates our personality and being. The body returns to the earth and becomes a part of nature again. I share the traditional Jewish view that there is this physical world in which we are living and that three is a spiritual world to come. My belief is that the goodness that a soul earns in the afterlife is to be eternally in God’s presence; and if there is a human being who is not worthy of that eternal gift, then that human being just goes into oblivion.