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From Birth to Bar Mitzvah
By Ida Marks- Meltzer
Executive Director, 1978-1991
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The Visionary

"We must stem the tide of youngsters dropping out of Jewish education the day after their Bar and Bat Mitzvah," Rabbi Robert Jeremiah Bergman proclaimed again and again at Federation board meetings during the late 1970's. 

            As passionate as the prophet whose name he bore, Rabbi Bob campaigned relentlessly for an agency to promote Jewish learning opportunities for Orange County's teenagers.

            "How can our future Jewish community thrive if we don't provide educational program s for our high schoolers?" Rabbi Bob demanded.  He did not let up until the Federation took action.

 

The Staff

            In the summer of 1978 I was recruited to get the show on the road.  Having directed Jewish Community Center camps in Los Angeles as well as the religious schools for Beth Sholom, Santa Ana and Beth Shalom, Long Beach I was more than ready.

            The only other personnel provided for in our meager budget was a part-time secretary.  Someone mentioned that the new rebitzen in town had been a legal secretary and after a brief interview, I hired Wendy Miller on the spot.

            My "office" consisted of a desk and file cabinet sandwiched between two other staff desks in a dimly lit industrial building located next to the 405 freeway on Harbor Blvd.

 

Jewish Education Services Committee

            Chaired by Rabbi Bob, a more dedicated founding committee could not be found. Pioneers included Jerry Silverman, the Bureau's first president, and Rabbi Steve Einstein, future president. 

            Mark Brownstein, Dr. Marc Ecker and Dr. Hal Kravitz came aboard a few years later to help establish the Bureau as separate agency and to serve as presidents during the first 13 years.  Together with many other devoted leaders, they gave countless hours poring over budgets, deliberating at board meeting, searching for offices and camp sites, manning phonathons and making themselves available at the drop of a hat.

 

Getting Started

            "My first plan of action is to visit the Los Angeles B.J.E. and learn all I can about Chavurat Noar," I announced shortly after my appointment.  "Why reinvent the wheel if our neighbor to the north lets us piggyback on their innovative program?"

            My Los Angeles colleagues were generous with advice.  We were welcome to adapt the concept of thematic units of study combined with Shabbatonim for 9th graders, but were not permitted to adopt the name or join their program.

            "I need a name," I said to Rabbi Bob after working on a timetable of tasks to recruit 8th graders and organize an inaugural weekend.

            The rebbe stared into space.  I waited, knowing that a lively imagination was at play.  A beautiful smile spread across his face.

            "Adat Noar!" Rabbi Bob declared.  "A community of young people."

 

Creating Adat Noar

            Ater 25 years Adat Noar is so well established that few recall when the name was foreign and the concept of a funding partnership between congregation, parent and the Federation was hotly debated.  With just four months to prepare curricula, promote the introductory Shabbaton and hire staff; I charged from one end of Orange county to the other to meet with rabbis, educators, school committees, parents and the 8th graders of ten participating congregation schools.  Days were packed with writing publicity, designing fliers and organizing the introductory weekend program.  Nights were devoted to recruiting counselors, interviewing C.I.T's, meeting with specialists and conducting staff workshops.

            Our goal was 100 participants.  On Friday, April 27, 1979, 108 students boarded the buses heading for Camp Komaroff, the community's Jewish campsite in Lake Arrowhead.  By the end of the orientation weekend, all but five students would return for the 1979/1980 Adat Noar experience.

 

Is that all?

            Seeing students engaged in heated discussions at Sunday sessions and watching youngsters share Shabbat and new friendships during weekends was gratifying.  Hearing students' demand continuing Jewish educational opportunities was even more thrilling.  Our proposal for a learning and leadership training program for 10th to 12th graders received unanimous approval.  TALIT was on its way.

 

Like Topsy, we grow and grow

            For 13 years the pace never let up.  In addition to Adat Noar and TALIT, the Bureau sponsored an annual Salute to Jewish Education, conducted single adults retreats, published yearly Almanacs, coordinated teachers' seminars and organized December 25th phonathons to fund our ever expanding services.

            In 1990 the Jewish Community Foundation approved our grant proposal for seed money for T.I.E.S., the Teen Israel Experience, and for Panim el Panim in conjunction with the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.  One of the pleasures of retirement is seeing these programs start up and flourish.

 Moving

As if our plate wasn't full enough, we had to pack up and move to a campus on Buaro in Garden Grove; then to a school facility in Costa Mesa, and finally, to an office building on Bristol at Baker.

            The closure of Camp Komaroff was much more traumatic.  After exploratory treks up the mountains we used campsites in Brea and Idyllwilde before ending up at the Boy Scout camp in the San Bernardino Mountains.  This meant furnishing a kosher kitchen, hiring cooks and having everything from apples and eggs to challah and chickens shlepped up for every Adat Noar, TALIT, and singles weekend.  Oy, vey! 

Shining stars

            Programs are only as good as the people who lead them and we were blessed with gifted specialists.  The memorable weekends led by Ed Levin, Shula Kalir Merton, and Sari Marks Zee inspired youngsters to thirst for more.  Guests such as Alicia Appleman, Irene Opkyke and John Rothman deepened student's understanding of the Holocaust and strengthened their commitments to Israel.  Jerry and Eve Silverman braved mountain roads on a regular basis to bring up our beloved bubby-in-residence, Tante Yetta, of blessed memory.  Rabbis, educators and other unsung heroes gave up weekends to teach Torah and lead discussions.

 

From infancy to adolescence

            Nurturing the Bureau was always fulfilling, frequently frustrating, occasionally chaotic, but never dull.  Being over extended and understaffed was a small price to pay for the joy of reconnecting youngsters and single adults to Jewish learning, traditions and community.  As we celebrate 25 years, let us pay tribute to Rabbi Robert Jeremiah Bergman, z"l, the dreamer and activist who planted the seeds that continue to nourish our Jewish community. L'chaim!


                                                      

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