Finding Our Place at Temple Emanu-El

Adapted from Lauren Bernstein’s speech at the Gather Shabbat Evening Service March 24, 2023

My husband Jon and I moved into the area in January of 2020 while I was pregnant with our son. Jon went to Hebrew school at Temple Emanu-El and was Bar Mitzvah’d here, so moving back uptown was a bit of a homecoming. We were excited to settle into the neighborhood and join the temple. The pandemic had some other plans, and we spent our first few months tracking down hand sanitizer and settling into newborn parent life. We finally joined Temple Emanu-El later that year in Fall 2020.

As soon as we joined, we immediately wished we had done so sooner. We could not believe how quickly Temple Emanu-El welcomed us into the community. At a time when just about all social interactions were done over Zoom, we found that the temple had a lot to offer in the way of social connectivity, particularly for two sleep-deprived, new parents.  Before long, we were attending virtual Young Member programs pretty consistently, where we met several people. Doing so exposed us to the Emanu-El’s Gather groups.

“One thing that is really great about belonging to a congregation of this size and with so much diversity is the ability to find common ground and interest in almost anything.” 

Jon and I soon joined both a Young Professionals Gather and a TV Watching Gather.  Through the Gather programs, we made some very close friends, some of whom are in this room right now.  And joining Gather opened our eyes to new opportunities at the temple — specifically the toddler program that met twice a week in 2021-2022.

Seeing how our son thrived at the temple, particularly with kids who are now some of his closest friends, it only made sense to become involved in Gather Family.

Gather Family has been a fantastic way to get to know member families with similarly aged kids. Thus far, we have done a number of local activities with the children, including visiting the Central Park Zoo, going to the SlooMoo Institute, and checking out the Alice in Wonderland Dreams exhibit. And while it is Gather Family, we’ve also ditched the kids and have gone out with just the parents, which has been a great way for us to connect and foster new friendships.

One thing that is really great about belonging to a congregation of this size and with so much diversity is the ability to find common ground and interest in almost anything.  And as someone with a “COVID baby,” having a community within the temple of people going through similar experiences has been both a pleasure and a stress reliever.  In addition to just having a group to attend events and exhibits with the kids, it’s also a community where we can talk about the challenges and stresses of parenting generally, and specifically to raising children born during this unique period.

And it’s been wonderful for our son as well. He loves attending temple events, and in the fall, he will be attending Temple Emanu-El Nursery School, together with two other children in our Gather Family group. We are incredibly grateful to the congregation and the clergy at Emanuel for giving us the tools to foster and grow these relationships.