Building Bridges – An Intergenerational Initiative
Meet Founding Member Jerry Daniel
by Merav Tsori
The Congregation Beth David that we know and love was not always so strong, nor was the presence of conservative Judaism in this area. Our congregation was started from the bottom up, and I had the honor to speak with one of the founders and the Congregation’s first president, Jerry Daniel.
Jerry was born in the Bronx to a Sephardic family, who although not very religious, had deep familial roots. Jerry attended hebrew school for a few years and his family attended High Holy Days services, but that was the extent of his Jewish youth. Jerry lived in Summit, New Jersey with his wife Esther and daughter Audrey before moving out to Sunnyvale, California in 1960, following a job opportunity. Upon their arrival, Jerry noticed that only the reform synagogue of Temple Emmanuel and the conservative synagogue of Congregation Sinai existed in the area. The Daniel family was part of a conservative synagogue back in Summit, so they decided to join Congregation Sinai. Yet around 1962, Jerry got to thinking about his daughter’s Jewish education, and this is what fueled his passion for creating a conservative synagogue in this area.
Jerry and his wife met three other couples, Nat and Edit Kallman, Herb and Ruth Dreifuss, and Monroe and Freddie Postman, the future co-founders of Beth David, and towards the end of 1962 they were already holding preliminary meetings to discuss the formation of the congregation. With a new congregation comes the need for a president, and Jerry shared with me the unconventional way he was chosen: one day, all four couples were sitting around and agreed that a president needed to be picked. After looking around at one another, all eyes were suddenly on him, and that was it! In early 1963 the congregation was founded, with a humble beginning of just 13 families. Jerry describes the early years as years of pioneering, of starting from scratch. There was little money to use to develop the synagogue, but they had convinced Rabbi Joseph Zeiten from San Francisco to come and hold some services. The congregation started small, but over time grew into the familiar home we recognize today.
When I asked Jerry about the differences he sees between today’s Beth David and its start, he described it as “night and day”, noting the growth from 13 families to now over 500. Through his words and his tone it is beyond evident that Jerry is proud of the community that Beth David provides, and he finds such immense joy in the enthusiasm for Jewish learning, in forming connections to one another and our roots, and in the center Beth David has become for Jewish youth to prosper and learn. Jerry told me that his favorite thing about Beth David is “the incredible mix of people of all backgrounds and all capabilities; from those that aren’t very religious at all to those who have a lot of knowledge and ability to be active in the congregation.”
Jerry also noted how happy it makes him to see so many people participate in services and other available activities year-round.
While talking to Jerry, I was able to learn how meaningful of a role Judaism has played throughout his life. His favorite Jewish holiday is Passover, which he loved to celebrate with his family using his Sephardic traditions, which he misses, although he likes to explore other aspects of Judaism. He shared with me that his familial roots motivate him to maintain a strong Jewish identity, along with the enthusiasm of the people he associates with, and the ability to share the synagogue and the environment it provides. To Jerry, it is clear that Beth David continues to grow in a positive and energetic way, and he mentioned how wonderful of a job Rabbi Alpert is doing to keep everyone’s interest levels high, and helping our community prosper. Lastly, I spoke to Mr. Daniel about our current situation, in order to gain some of his insight as to how we can deal with this challenging pandemic. Jerry sees Judaism as a rock solid setting that we can use to overcome the agony that this virus brings. Jerry shared with me his amazement of the Jewish people’s ability to survive and withstanding anything. The anti-semitism the world is facing now is frightening, yet he believes that the younger generation holds the key to fighting it off, using positivity to ensure the enthusiasm around religion remains alive and well. The coronavirus, in Jerry’s eyes, is part of the larger story of Jewish survival, in which we can lean on our faith to guide us in overcoming tragedy and fear.
My conversation with Jerry Daniel left a far greater impact on me than I ever could have expected. Community has been important to me my whole life, but listening to Jerry’s story of just how much value it carries, really inspired me. Jerry was a fundamental part of building a new community from the ground up, one that stands strong today. Hearing Jerry speak of the absolute joy he feels, and the positive lense he uses to observe the world, reminded me not to take what I have for granted, and to try and give back to my community as much as it gives to me. I decided to participate in this project because I know that there are always more stories to be told. Every person carries a life story waiting to be heard, and no matter what they have accomplished or undergone, there is something to be learned from their past. I am so thrilled that I was given the opportunity to speak with Jerry. Aside from learning about his Jewish past, I discovered that he likes to eat at the diner across the street from the school I go to! The same diner that my friends and I occasionally eat lunch at. Although a small detail, it made me happy to know we share this, and I hope to be able to go to lunch with him once this s all over. By speaking with Jerry, I learned that it is always worth taking the time to get to know somebody, because everyone has something to say, and we all have something to learn.
Building Bridges is an exciting new initiative at Congregation Beth David formed to connect teens and college students with longstanding Beth David members. For more information, please contact Helaine Green and Bonnie Slavitt, Building Bridges coordinators at BuildingBridges@beth-david.org