Home at Last 

"Wandering and wondering" Jews and non-Jews make connections at Jewish Gateways.

Working as a community organizer, Bridget Wynne felt fiercely committed to social justice. At one point, "I realized that it was not any one cause that I believed in most deeply ... but that I was motivated by an overall sense of needing to make the world better." This heal-the-world urge, a concept known in Judaism as tikkun olam, "felt like my vocation," says Wynne, whose mother was Jewish and whose dad was Catholic. Becoming a rabbi seemed like the natural next step. But "my decision surprised me, since ... I had never even seen a woman rabbi before, plus I had a stereotype of the things I thought I 'should' believe in order to be a rabbi."

Today she's the executive director of Jewish Gateways (409 Liberty St., El Cerrito), a nonprofit that brings together what Wynne calls "wandering and wondering Jews and non-Jews" who might feel marginalized in other venues — including LGTB, interfaith, and multiracial couples, families, and individuals. On Saturday, June 20, Good Morning, Good Night: Making Bedtime & Morning Time Special with Jewish Songs & Stories will feature Jewish-themed songs, stories, and routines for adults and kids age five and younger. All are welcome, Jewish or not — with no religious training or Hebrew knowledge required.

"Many Jews feel as though they 'should' know Hebrew, Jewish traditions, how to participate in synagogue services, and so on," Wynne asserts. Others worry because "they do not have the beliefs — in God, in Jewish tradition, etcetera — that they think they should have."

She creates all-inclusive events based on the premise that "Jewish tradition is full of rich teachings and culture that can help us explore spirituality, live more meaningful lives, enrich our families, find guidance on ethical issues, reflect on deep philosophical questions, improve our relationships, find community," Wynne says. "And people can participate and learn no matter what they do or do not know."

She remembers a man of Salvadoran heritage who found his way to Jewish Gateways: "His ancestors had been Conversos, meaning Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism. His discovery led him to study Judaism, and he found that he felt much more at home in Jewish tradition than he had as a Christian. He learned a lot about Judaism, including studying Hebrew, and began to practice on his own at home with his wife and children. He wanted to find a community, but was afraid he'd be rejected since he is Hispanic and was not officially Jewish." Her staff helped his family find a synagogue and Jewish day school they liked.

"Most people who come to us do not have this many barriers to overcome. This family did, and they overcame them, and now are beloved members of their Jewish community." 10:30 a.m., free for first-time participants, $5 per family for return participants. RSVP at 510-559-8140 or rabbibridget@jewishgateways.org. JewishGateways.org

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