On a quiet cul-de-sac in Carlsbad, there is a small Jewish synagogue with a Christmas tree inside. And on Sunday night, this synagogue was hosting several candlelit Christmas Eve services.
Four months ago, the Jewish Collaborative of San Diego invited its neighbor, Christ Presbyterian Church, to hold all of its worship services inside its synagogue while the church undergoes renovation.
That invitation included the offer to decorate the synagogue for the Christmas season with a yule tree. Out of respect for their hosts, the Presbyterians did bring in a tree, but they decorated it entirely in blue bows and white bulbs, the traditional colors of this month’s eight-day Jewish holiday, Hanukkah.
“We kept insisting they put up a Christmas tree and it went back and forth because they didn’t want to offend anyone,” said Rabbi Gabi Arad, spiritual leader for the Jewish Collaborative. “I kept saying that a tree isn’t going to offend anyone and if it does, I will educate them. Then when we walked in and saw this humble tree all decorated for Hanukkah; we thought It was such a nice compromise.”
The tree, and the Christmas services, are just the latest example of a three-year, bridge-building relationship between local residents of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
The program started on Jan. 7, 2015, just hours after Muslim terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others.
A few hours later, Issam Lagrichi, a Muslim community leader in Oceanside, and Josh Burrows, the Collaborative’s former rabbi, met for coffee to figure out how to bridge the growing gulf of fear and misunderstanding between their people as well as the American public.
They recruited Christ Presbyterian’s pastor, Greg Bostrom, as well as then-assistant pastor Jeremiah Knabe. A week later, more than 110 Jews, Muslims and Christians met on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Christ Presbyterian Church to take part in icebreaker games, a brown-bag lunch and a discussion of faith.
In the years since, the interfaith organization has continued to host four to six events a year, including film screenings, author lectures, discussions, community-service projects and an educational series on Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
This past October on Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holy day that requires a day of fasting, Christians and Muslims came to the synagogue at sundown to join Arad’s congregation in the breaking of bread to end the fast.
Not all the gatherings are church-sponsored. Arad said that a group of men from all three faiths have formed a club that gets together periodically for social barbecues.
“I think this relationship has broken down a lot of walls,” Arad said. “We wanted to educate people on the different religions, but at the core of it is just a friendship. We always say that once a relationship is strong, everything else can come in.”
Bostrom, who joined Christ Presbyterian as head pastor in December 2014, said that the interfaith events have taught him and the church’s 300 members a lot about faith, family and human nature.
“We’ve learned about how our faiths overlap and how they’re different, but more than anything we’ve learned as people that we have the same desires and aspirations,” Bostrom said. “We want our children to do well and we hope and work for the best for the communities we live in. A lot of good has come out of this.”
One of the most lasting results has been the partnership between Christ Presbyterian and the Collaborative.
The Collaborative — which serves about 120 families — was started 3-1/2 years as a “post-denominational” organization that welcomed Jews from all sects of the faith.
“We wanted to have a more open door where people from all backgrounds would feel comfortable,” Arad said. “The premise is, it’s by the people for the people. It’s very member-driven, so it’s a very organic community.”
Back in 2015, the Collaborative was leasing space in an industrial park when the building was unexpectedly sold and they had to move with little notice. Bostrom immediately offered them Christ Presbyterian’s worship space.
It was a partnership that worked exceptionally well because Jews and Christians worship on different days of the week, and the members got along exceedingly well.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership,” Bostrom said. “Our congregrations both go out of their way to accommodate one another.”
As the Collective grew, it began looking for more permanent space in 2016. The board of Christ Presbyterian had plenty of property on its cul-de-sac, so they invited the Collective to lease a plot right next door at 7805 Centella St.
The Collective signed a five-year lease and constructed a temporary building and patio that opened in September. Arad said that to her knowledge this is the first-ever property-sharing project between a Christian church and a Jewish synagogue in the region.
Christ Presbyterian was founded 38 years ago and moved to its present location at 7807 Centella St. in 1985. Over the years, the church’s fellowship hall grew outdated and a few years back plans were discussed to remodel the building.
By coincidence, the same month the Jewish Collaborative was set to open its synagogue, the renovation at Christ Presbyterian was scheduled to begin. So the Collaborative happily returned the favor and opened its doors to Christ Presbyterian services until church renovations are complete in February or March.
“You could call it karma,” Arad said. “I think the universe works in special ways. This was our opportunity to return the favor. Our people are really excited to invite them into our building after they so kindly invited us in to theirs two years ago.”
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