Local musician and radio show host Jason Feddy tapped his Jewish roots to nurture a new professional outlet for himself two years ago, landing a new gig as a cantorial soloist at a Newport Beach synagogue.
Now, he’s teaming up with another religious leader, Rabbi Marcia Tilchin, of Tustin, to try to foster connections among Jewish residents of Laguna Beach. The pair are convinced that many local Jews, even some with formal synagogue ties, would welcome an informal way to cultivate a closer knit community.
“I’ll ask people to tell me what they want,” said Tilchin, who with Feddy plans a 6:30 p.m. “meet and greet” Monday, July 18, at Mozambique restaurant, 1740 S. Coast Highway. Music, appetizers and dessert are on the house.
She’s already planning her first Friday night service at the restaurant for Aug. 19, which she envisions as traditional yet egalitarian. And Tilchin, who was ordained a year ago, says she also expects to address social justice issues with rabbinic wisdom reframed for contemporary times.
Tilchin already tested the waters with a recent Shabbat service in the private Laguna Beach home of Annee Della Donna and Eric Alcouloumre, who are members of University Synagogue in Irvine. The host and Feddy played music and Tilchin conducted a service. “It was relaxed and intimate,” said Della Donna, who drew on the Schoolpower directory to invite 60 guests over for challah and potluck. She thinks they appreciated sharing a Jewish experience close to home. “It makes our Jewish life more local,” Della Donna said, likening the experience to a synagogue chavurah, Hebrew for fellowship.
Tilchin recently established the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County and led its first monthly Shabbat morning service in Newport Beach at St. Mark Presbyterian last month.
Previously, she served as cantor at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin for 13 years, departing in 2015. Tilchin teaches Jewish studies at Tarbut v’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. She graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, both affiliated with the Conservative Jewish movement.
Momentum is against what Tilchin and Feddy envision. The proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all, says a national 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.
Even so, Orange County supports synagogues of nearly every Jewish denomination, including in Laguna Beach the Chabad Jewish Center, affiliated with orthodox Lubavitch movement.
Feddy thinks Tilchin’s approach both in message and venue will appeal to Jewish residents in Laguna who identify culturally with their religion but spurn formal synagogue ties and membership dues. “It’s an old idea in a new way,” he said.