Rabbi reflects on nearly three decades with Bet Haverim – Davis Enterprise

Posted By on September 21, 2022

This has been a summer involving several transitions at Congregation Bet Haverim (which means House of Friends), located at 1715 Anderson Road in Davis.

* At the end of June, Rabbi Greg Wolfe, who has been with Congregation Bet Haverim since 1995, transitioned into a new role as rabbi emeritus.

* In July, Rabbi Bess Wohlner and Rabbi Jeremy Simons (who are married, and coming to Davis as a team) started at Congregation Bet Haverim. They came to Davis from Tennessee, where they served on the staff of Temple Israel in Memphis. Temple Israel is generally regarded as the largest synagogue in the South, serving some 1,500 families.

Wohlner is a native of Kansas City and attended the University of Missouri in that city. Simons was born in Providence, R.I., but his family moved to Nashville when Simons was a fifth-grader, and then to Columbus, Ohio, when he was an eighth-grader. He went on to attend Ohio State University. Wohlner and Simons both also studied at Hebrew Union College.

* In recognition of Wolfes nearly three decades of service at Congregation Bet Haverim, a new set of stained glass windows has been commissioned and installed, and will be dedicated on Sunday, September 18. (Details can be foun Bd on the Congregation Bet Haverim website and Facebook page.)

Wolfe reflected on his many years with Congregation Bet Haverim during a mid-summer interview with The Enterprise. When I came to Davis in July 1995, I was 34-years-old, he said. He had attended Hebrew Union College, and then lived in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York. He then served for three years as an assistant rabbi with a congregation in Milwaukee, which is where he met his wife Julie.

Two babies (daughter Julie and son Noah) entered the family equation, and when Wolfe was picked to serve at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis, it was a match made in heaven, he recalled. Julie and I have been here for 27 years. Our children grew up here. Julie also became a prominent cello teacher (several of her Davis students have advanced into professional musical careers, including cellist Eunghee Cho, who organizes the annual Mellon Music Festival in Davis, and as on the faculty at the University of Houston in Texas).

Having grown up in San Francisco, Wolfe was aware when he moved to Yolo County that Davis was a university town with a large (and growing) UC campus, and hed visited Davis occasionally while he was based in the Bay Area.

Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis had formed in 1961, and by 1995 was operating out of an attractive but smallish building on the corner of Oak Avenue and Covell Boulevard, and served about 100 families.

Flash-foward to the present. Congregation Bet Haverim operates out of a much more spacious set of buildings on Anderson Road, serves about 275 families, and hosts a much more diverse set of activities and community programs. We have a larger staff now, including a youth advisor, Wolfe said.

Wolfe was one of the local religious leaders who helped organize this communitys annual Celebration of Abraham multifaith religious service, which brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims (all three of those faith traditions venerate Abraham as a patriarchal figure, which is why they are sometimes referred to as Abrahamic traditions.) Wolfe noted that We developed relations with the Muslim community and the Christian community in Davis during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York. It was an amazing experience.

He also recalls how members of Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis helped organize rallies and raise money for repair and restoration of three Sacramento synagogues that were firebombed by white supremacists in 1999. It was a very powerful moment, and it opened up more lines of communication between religious leaders, Wolfe said. Sometimes a traumatic experience can lead into something positive afterwards.

He also helped lead Congregation Bet Haverim through the recent pandemic, which has transformed life in so many ways, including the way houses of worship operate. We had to pivot and become media producers, use video cameras and an online platform like Zoom. The pandemic has been hard in many ways, but I think weve pivoted pretty well and helped people stay connected.

All in all, I feel like Im leaving the congregation in good shape. There is still a lot of work to do, of course, and plenty of challenges. But there are no major crises at the present time.

And what will he do in retirement? I dont have a lot of definite plans But I want to explore my artistic side painting, woodwork and photography. And I want to do some writing. I have a big stack of books that Id like to read. A grandchild (the first for Wolfe and his wife Julie) is due in December.

You know, theres a story about a young man who spots an elderly gentleman planting a young carob tree, Wolfe recalled. A carob tree takes around 70 years to mature. So the young man asked the elderly gentleman why hes planting the carob tree. And the elderly gentleman replies I came into the world that my parents and grandparents had planted for me, and now Im planting for the people who come after me.


Rabbi reflects on nearly three decades with Bet Haverim - Davis Enterprise

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