TAHOE/TRUCKEE — As the new rabbi in North Lake Tahoe, I have been reveling in climbing a steep learning curve. So much to learn about living in the mountains: snow tires, what to carry in my car in summer and winter, how to walk on ice (waddle like a duck), carry lip balm and water everywhere.
But the steepest learning has been to be a Jew where there are so few of us. I grew up in Queens, New York City, where everyone seemed to be a Jew unless proven otherwise. I lived in San Francisco and Marin, where I could go for days primarily attending Jewish classes, meetings, discussions, or be in other environments and still be surrounded by members of my tribe.
What this meant was that, on one hand, I’ve always had a strong sense of being Jewish and great pride in it, and on the other hand, it was never a big deal. It was just part of who I am, like being an American and female.
But here, in the small, but dispersed community of North Tahoe, we Jews are few and far between. For instance, I taught about Judaism in a comparative religion class of three six grade classes, and not one child was Jewish, and almost none acknowledged — or knew — whether they had Jewish friends.
Some of the students at North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation have commented they generally don’t tell people they are Jewish. They don’t want to explain. They don’t want to “represent” Jews all over the world. And they don’t generally feel the same pride I grew up with. We are working on this, offering them ways to see the value of their religion/tribe/people/cultural group.
At the same time, I notice when they are together, sometimes their shoulders come down a little bit, or their laughter sounds a little lighter or they recognize some of their cultural vocabulary is shared. It’s hard to be one of the few of your group, anywhere. It’s hard to be the only African American, or the only white, or the only Latino, or the only red-haired person. And when you have different cultural or religious practices than most people around you, it is really challenging.
I personally love Christmas lights and am so grateful when my Christian neighbors put them up. But then, I invite them to our Chanukah party so they can eat my latkes and talk about religious freedom. I invite them to my Passover seder to learn about liberation and eat the great food and sing silly and serious songs. We share. We learn together. We grow.
I know there are a lot of Jews in North Tahoe who haven’t found their Jewish community yet, and I hope they come visit us. We are a welcoming group, and we offer you and your children an opportunity to feel the pride and joy they may then share with their non-Jewish friends.
Come to a service some Friday (every Friday at 7 p.m.) or come to our Religious School Open House on May 22, between 4-6:15 p.m.. Let’s find ways together to be Jewish in the mountains.
North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation is located at 7000 Latone Ave., Tahoe Vista. For information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-414-4985.