Volunteerism and the contributions of members of the community have been hallmarks of Jewish communities throughout history. Maimonides observed that isolating oneself demonstrates a lack of interest in the group, in its problems and aspirations (haporesh min hatsibur). To be a member of a community means assuming responsibilities and commitments with respect to the other members.
At B'nei Israel, volunteers have always been the backbone of community organization. The cogregations depends on the dedicated work of those members who give of their time, their knowledge and their goodwill. In order to facilitate collaboration with the rabbis and meet the demands of the community, various committees have been established to discharge key functions.
Following is a description of the committees.
Ritual or Avodah Committee
This committee works closely with the rabbis. Its primary function is to assist in organizing all ritual events and festivals of the Jewish calendar.
Shabbat and festival services are trilingual (Hebrew, Spanish, and English). The sermon is given in Spanish, with a written English translation available. The last Shabbat of each month, the sermon is given in English, this time with a Spanish translation available. On the first Friday of each month, there is a Kabalat Shabat service for children held simultaneously with the adult service. Our liturgy is based on the siddur “Gates of Prayer” of the Reform movement, with some modifications that contribute to a traditional ritual experience.
All observances have a social dimension as well. There is always food on the table, and congregants and visitors enjoy the opportunity to converse at this time.
Gemilut Chasadim or Acts of Lovingkindness Committee
Gemilut Chasadim is one of the highest values in the Jewish ethical system, which directs us to tikkun olam, the repair of the world. It encompasses a variety of considerations and obligations, not only with respect to Jews, but to members of society in general.
In order to put these concepts into practice, B’nei Israel established a committee to focus on these actions. The committee is organized both for supporting members of the congregation as well as for doing charitable work in the wider community. The committee’s work also offers an opportunity to teach our youngsters about tzedaka and tikkun olam. To this end, the committee works closely with the school in scheduling such activities at specific moments during the year when it is customary to give charity.
The Sisterhood is one of the strongest and longest-existing arms of the congregations. It has its own by-laws and finances itself by means of fund-raising activities such as bingo, bazaars, dinners and parties. The funds go toward synagogue operations, purchase of materials for the school, and scholarships to allow students to participate in events outside Costa Rica, among other things. The commitment and enthusiasm of the women make this group one of the motors of the congregation. Meetings are held once a month, and focus on the planning of activities as well as on study of subjects of interest for women.
B’nei Israel’s Sisterhood is a member of the International Council of Jewish Women www.icjw.org.
Since ancient times, one of the first acts of a Jewish community has been to institute a Chevra Kadisha and acquire a cemetery so that its dead might be buried with the appropriate respect and ritual practice. Even the smallest of communities goes to great lengths to establish these services. And so it was with Congregation B’nei Israel, which after just five years of existence, purchased a piece of land so that its members would be able to honor their loved ones at the moment of death.
In order to assist the members, members of the Avoda Committee compiled the “Guide to Reform Jewish Death and Mourning Practices,” a concise, modern manual based on traditional values and Jewish practice designed to help families understand the customs surrounding death, funerals and mourning.
To complete the necessary structure, Rabbis Rami Pavolotzky and Daniela Szuster gave a course in December 2004 focused on training members of the community for service on the Chevra Kadisha. Currently, there is a group of men as well as one of women who carry out this responsibility when needed.
Both the Cemetery Committee and the Chevra Kadisha are always available to assist in those difficult moments of loss.