As celebrations go, Napa’s Congregation Beth Shalom’s anniversary might not seem like much, and 70 years, on the face of it, appears unremarkable. To the people who make up our congregation, it is anything but. Jews are accustomed to exclusion and forced departures, beginning in biblical times, with Moses first freeing his people from slavery then leading them from Egypt, to more recently, here in Napa, when 8,000 members of the Klu Klux Klan descended on the town of St. Helena, burning crosses in a field nearby, spewing anti-Semitism in speech after speech.
Overwhelmed, vastly outnumbered, and feeling threatened, many predecessors in our community felt compelled to leave. Jewish people have been part of this community for more than 200 years.
The Napa Jewish Group was founded more than 70 years ago with 12 families; in 1953, we began Congregation Beth Shalom, which today is 200-plus families strong, a testament to survival, endurance, and a deep, uncompromising commitment to a place we deeply love.
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So when we see the virulent, hateful, anti-Semitic signs posted on Browns Valley Road, the sad truth is, we are not surprised. But instead of dwelling on that, we chose instead to focus on something vastly more positive and affirming, which is why we will dedicate the start of this coming weekend commemorating the Rabbis and Presidents from our past who have been instrumental to our growth and development.
We will devote a day to the families that make up a big and vital part of our congregation. Equally important, there will be an evening devoted to fun, because in the face of all that has happened in history, in more recent years, and in the most recent weeks, we never have lost our capacity for joy.
President Congregation Beth Shalom