The Congregation that could
January 21, 2006
In 1981, the Jewish community in the Yuba-Sutter area was virtually nonexistent - there were no formal services held, let alone a synagogue for worship.
A group of Jewish mothers with preschool children sought to remedy the problem.
“We wanted to provide education and a sense of community of being with other Jewish families,” said Liz York of Yuba City, who was one of those mothers.
Their efforts would lead to the Congregation Beth Shalom, which now has up to two dozen families. Without a synagogue in the early days, the group met wherever it could.
York recalled the first meeting was in the library of what is now the Sutter North Medical Foundation in Marysville.
About four years ago, local businessman Russ Clark purchased a small building on First Street in downtown Marysville for the members of the congregation.
“We needed a building for a long time,” said Clark's wife, Donna, who is president of the congregation.
Since then, the congregation has met at the synagogue on the third Friday of the month. Joel Simonds, a student from the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, serves as rabbi.
“He is outstanding,” said Bernice Schumer, a member of the congregation. “He's a lovely person and well-versed in the Jewish faith. “The shabbat service is at 7 p.m. Friday, preceded by a Sabbath dinner. The following Saturday morning is Torah study.
The congregation does not have traditional services during the other weeks.
“Our congregation is so small, we can't afford a leader the other weeks,” Clark said.
Meeting only once a month is a problem, but “we don't have the money to pay for more than once a month,” said Barbara Fruitman of Yuba City, another congregation member.
During the weeks the congregation does not meet, Fruitman said she and her husband Robert occasionally attend services in Sacramento.
York said she only attends the local services. “We have other options for meeting,” she said.
Among those options are a ladies social group and a spiritual group that meets twice a month - both groups have the same members.
The synagogue also has Hebrew classes during the week for adults and children.
The congregation recently established a youth group with about six or seven teenagers.
“We're very excited about that,” Clark said.
In an area dominated by Christianity, those practicing the Jewish faith are in the minority. It has never been a problem for the congregation.
“I grew up in places where there wasn't a large population of Jews,” Clark said. “We have to learn to live with everything else, and we're happy to see others who share our background.”
Schumer said she wasn't bothered by the small size of the Jewish community in the Yuba-Sutter area. “The world is full of Jewish people. There's just not that many here.”
Sharing her faith with non-Jews has never presented a problem for Schumer, either.
“We discuss it a lot with others,” she said. “If they have any questions, we're glad to answer. There's really not much of a difference between going to a church and going to a synagogue.”
“Most people here are Christian, so they have a lot misconceptions about Jews,” Clark said. “But we do get along. I've never faced any anti-Semitism (here).”
Jewish communities are traditionally in the minority, York said. In Sacramento, there are several large congregations, but they are dwarfed by the number of Christian churches.
Despite the congregation's small size, it has weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs - the Jewish celebrations of adulthood. The last bar mitzvah was held in November.
“It's a nice little group to be in,” Schumer said.
“Many Jewish people have been surprised we have the synagogue,” Clark said. “It's nice to have a home.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Josh Kendrix can be reached at 749-4707. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.