During High Holy Days in 2015, Rabbi Spitz and CBI launched “small groups” for the first time. Over 85 groups came together, with over 350 people discussing the theme “Becoming Your Best.” The response of participants was enthusiastic. At the concluding event, people repeatedly said, “These meetings have deepened my friendships. Normally, when we get together we discuss movies, restaurants or our children. In our small group meetings we explored important themes and it felt good. We want to continue.” And continue we did, with a new focus each year.
Small Group Learning 2020
In 2020 we focussed on Professor Ron Wolfson’s book, The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth. Wolfson teaches Jewish education at the University of Judaism and is a visionary teacher on “Relational Judaism.” The author’s conversational and personal wisdom in addressing seven essential questions posed in the Talmud resonated with Rabbi Spitz as a book to share with you. Wolfson is the mentor/friend who encouraged Rabbi Spitz to launch our initial Small Group Discussions.
Click here to view the digital copy of the 2020 small groups booklet we used to answer the the seven questions.
PS. We would like to thank Barbara Baim for her contribution in honor of her beloved husband and our actively generous congregant, Joe Baim, z”l, who enabled so many of our synagogue events and facilitated the gifts of books for Small Groups from the very inception.
Small Group Learning – 2017
Small Groups, year three. Five weeks of conversation that will explore Love. Rabbi Spitz has written a booklet that will offer content and context for you to meet with friends five times to further your understanding of how love informs your life.
Small Group Learning – 2016
“Leading a Life of Significance: Why Judaism Matters?”
Among the topics are: What does it mean to lead a life of significance? What is the value of community? How is Torah relevant to our lives? What is the place of Israel in Jewish belonging? What role does Judaism serve in character development? How does Jewish worship and ritual elevate our lives? How does a stronger Jewish identity lead to greater care for the larger world?
The following questions and answers will help you get started.
“Small groups” are friends who meet on a weekly basis for five conversations on pre-set topics. A group is as small as two people or as large as the group desires.
How does a group get formed?
A person volunteers to host. The role of the host is to choose a place to meet and to find a friend or a group of friends for five consecutive weeks of discussion. Each group chooses the weekly time during our collective campaign of learning, which this year is the period from Yom Kippur (October 12th) until
Thanksgiving (November 24th), with a communal wide concluding celebration on Sunday, November 20th.
How can I become a host?
Just notify the office that you want to be a host and ask a friend of group of friends to join you for five consecutive weekly conversations. The host will share with the synagogue office the names of their group members and we will provide materials for group participants, including a daily quote and suggested articles to read to enhance the group discussion. For many of the gatherings, we will also offer a youtube video as a prompt. It is gratifying to serve as a host, which entails four simple acts: H- Have a heart for people; O – Open your home; S– Serve a snack; T-Talk.
I want to participate, but not yet as the host. What do I do?
Ask friends if they are hosting. Also consider, contacting our office. We will match you with a group to enable you to expand your circle of friends by learning, listening, and speaking together.
The engine for the success of this engagement of learning and reflection is agreeing to host. Please sign up and get your friends to join you. The time frame is focused so as to build on the conversations. The time frame is limited, knowing that you are busy, but that if the goal is worthy you and your friends will prioritize the time.
At the end of the five conversations you will understand more fully the place of Judaism in your life and have added impetus to lead a “life of significance.”
Becoming Your Best
40 Days to Becoming Your Best: Salons to Grow Relationships and Meaning
On the High Holy Days of 5776 (2015) my synagogue community launched a 40-Day campaign of learning and conversation around my book, Increasing Wholeness (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015). The mega-churches, such as Saddleback, have used the format of small group learning as their engine of growth and community making. I was unsure if my busy constituents would buy-in to prioritizing such study time. They did and with great results, exceeding my expectations in both the number of people who agreed to host a salon of five one-hour conversations and the reports of the several hundred participants of their satisfaction in sharing meaningful conversations and learning with friends.
Please let me know if you would like to receive the materials that accompanied the book – a host guide, a reader’s guide, and 40 days of quotes. What I share with you is a model that you might use with other books or materials. I now see small group campaigns as an essential vehicle for building and growing our communities.
- Increasing Wholeness: Jewish Wisdom & Guided Meditations to Strengthen & Calm Body, Heart, Mind & Spirit. by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015.
- Participant Booklet :”Becoming Your Best”
- Host Guide
- 40 Quotes and Reflections for 40 Days
- Flyer and Article on “Becoming Your Best”
- Q&A for “Becoming Your Best”
High Holy Day Sermons:
- 5776 Erev Rosh Hashana – “The Book of Life: Cultivating Memory“
- 5776 Rosh Hashana Day 1 – “The Shofar: A Call to Becoming Our Best”
- 5776 Rosh Hashana Day 2 – “Havrutah: The Value of Learning with a Friend”
- 5776 Kol Nidre – “Al Chet: Tapping an Imperfect Heart”
- 5776 Yom Kippur – “Shema: Wholly Listening”
- Flyer on Small Group Launch
- “40 Days to Becoming Your Best: Jewish Pathways to Wholeness”
- Questions and Answers
“The cutting-edge of synagogue life is unfolding at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, California where Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz has launched the amazing “40 Days to Your Best Life” campaign to build relationships among the congregants. Taking a page out of the Saddleback Church small groups playbook, Rabbi Spitz recruited more than 80 hosts to invite friends and family for five meetings during the 40 days to explore his new book, Increasing Wholeness (Jewish Lights Publishing). With each small group averaging 4-6 participants, more than 300 people gathered in each other’s homes to study and reflect on their lives. This grand experiment in Relational Judaism demonstrates what is possible when a talented rabbi inspires and motivates his congregation to innovate new ways of being in relationship – with him, with each other, and with Judaism itself as a path to meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing.”
Dr. Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University
Author, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community(Jewish Lights Publishing)
“The wonder of Jewish wisdom meets the vitality of contemporary life, as Rabbi Elie Spitz leads an entire congregational community of learners exploring their life dreams through intimate salon groups. As his congregants gathered to sift through his soulful new book, Increasing Wholeness(Jewish Lights Publishing) they were able to find new depths to their own emotional reservoirs, new heights for their aspirations and hopes, and new friendships to share the journey. They were inspired by the renewed spirit they uncovered, and I was inspired to see what a brilliant rabbi and a talented community could do together when they dreamed big and bold.”
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, DHL
Roslyn and Abner Goldstine Dean’s Chair, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University
“If you would have told me I would pull out by ear buds while walking to thank G-d for my health and that of my family’s, for the beautiful neighborhood I live in, the trees, the replanted bushes to save water in our community, I would have said, never going to happen! This is where I found myself this morning, a Friday morning before Shabbat,walking and reciting the Shema in my head! I surprised myself, but it was a wonderful surprise. Thank you for your masterful teachings. I’ve enjoyed the learning, the exercises and getting to know the congregants in our group.”
Helaine Yeskel, CBI Congregant
“Our small group has been uplifting, educational and informative. Since reading the book and attending the small group I have started reciting Modeh Ani prayer every morning before I arise; I did not do that prior to reading your book. Debbi learned it’s ok to give a blessing to anyone, she previously thought only a clergy person could do that. She loves your blessing, “May you feel at ease. May you live with strength. May you live feeling deeply loved and grateful.” All of this enables both of us to feel more connected with G-d.”
Harris Goodman, CBI Congregant