Opinion: Finding Meaning

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The Faith of Families

In the three plus years of writing Finding Meaning, it’s been my privilege to know Laguna’s religious leaders. It’s been an unexpected blessing. Is there any other group so caring, so humble, so committed to their work? Is there a more challenging career than calling us sinners to follow our better angels?

This year Holy Week, which begins in two days with Palm Sunday, aligns with the eight days of the Jewish Passover. Passover is the celebration of Israel’s ancient deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Next week we have Maundy Thursday in memory of the Last Supper, the Passover celebration by Jesus and the Apostles. The term “Maundy” derives from the Latin for commandment, as in the Last Supper call to love and serve our neighbors. The final Seder of Passover falls on Easter Sunday.

I mention this because of two Laguna religious leaders representing each faith tradition: Pastor Steve Sweet of Laguna Presbyterian and Rabbi Eli Goorevitch of Chabad Jewish Center, also known as Rabbi G.

First, congratulations to Pastor Sweet, past associate pastor of youth at Laguna Presbyterian, who is now senior pastor. I understand an installation service is planned for April. In replacing Pastor Tankersley, Pastor Sweet continues that church’s tradition of long-serving pastors.

Second, sincere condolences to Rabbi G. on the death of his older brother, a rabbi in Brooklyn. The obituary revealed a fascinating family journey that began in the harsh conditions of Soviet-era Ukraine. The parents were active in the “Great Escape,” a courageous but dangerous campaign to rescue Jews from the Soviet Union using forged Polish passports. Rabbi G’s brother was arrested by Soviet police on the last train to escape and imprisoned. The father pleaded with authorities to let him take the place of his young son and was imprisoned for a decade. How many dads do that for a child?

The father previously risked jail by keeping his children from the indoctrination of Communist schools. When authorities came to the home to investigate, our Rabbi G., a child too young for school, blocked the door to where his brother was hidden by playing on the floor. Though it required great sacrifice, the parents protected their children from Soviet atheist indoctrination and the family faith was preserved. Persecution in the Ukraine drove the family to Soviet Uzbekistan.

In 1966, the family left Uzbekistan and the USSR for Israel, settling near Tel Aviv, where some remain. Two brothers became rabbis in the U.S., the deceased brother in Brooklyn, remembered as “a kind man with a big heart,” and Rabbi G. of Laguna Beach. Each has sons who in turn are rabbis. It’s a remarkable family journey, one guided and protected by unusual faith.

Whatever your faith tradition, the Beautiful Wife and I wish you a wondrous Easter, and Passover, week. Faith is the glue that holds families together. And families are the glue that holds nations together. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]

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  1. Hi Skip…. great article about the history of the Rabbi. I would love to read more of your history of Laguna. I had no idea that was one of your callings. Please email me names of books I definitely would like to read. It’s kinda like the history of Three Arch love that book. Thank you hope all is well Blessings always to you and your family.
    God bless🙏

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