By Brandon HENSLEY
If Rabbi Janet Bieber were the host of an infomercial pitching her new place of worship, it might start out something like this:
“Are you Jewish and don’t know Hebrew but want to learn? Do you want to expand your connectivity with God? Or are you simply thinking about converting to Judaism?
“If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Jewish Community and Learning Center of the Foothills is just for you!”
Holding its first ever service on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Sun Valley, the Learning Center is Bieber’s vision of bringing people of the Jewish faith around the foothills closer together.
“I thought there was a need for this unique kind of service,” Bieber said, “that would serve people that were sort of in-between and had a great desire to know the tradition, to find fulfillment through tradition but maybe didn’t have the access as some of us had while growing up.”
Things still have to be ironed out. Bieber, who previously was with Burbank Temple Emanu El, wants to have two services a month (the next one will be on June 23), and she wants to give classes on how to read Hebrew, but the date and time for that is still to be determined.
During services, all prayers will be transliterated for those that don’t speak Hebrew. Bieber’s friend Victoria Sampson said Bieber’s strong suit is making something feel inclusive, so it’s not intimidating for people.
“Starting something new is always a challenge,” she said. “I feel like the way Janet develops relationships with people is her strong point, so the more she relates to people the more they can get drawn in.”
“People are in a conversion class with her at the moment, so it’s good practice for them to come to a relaxed service so they can experience how a service is run,” Sampson added. “It’s a little intimidating when you first go to a Temple [service].”
Bieber said although the musical schedule has to be ironed out, she plans on having singing – she is a cantor herself – and guitar playing, courtesy of Sampson.
“I play folk music-type stuff,” Sampson said. “Nothing fancy, just being supportive of Janet. She’s got such a great voice, she doesn’t even need accompaniment. But people like to have music to sing to, especially if they don’t feel confident in their voices. It helps to have background music.”
Bieber has gotten help spreading the word – her word, not God’s – but make no mistake, this is her project.
“Thank God I’m getting a lot of help making the flyers, getting Internet help,” Bieber said. “But I’m the rabbi. I’m doing all the programming.”
Sampson has made flyers and got the message out on Facebook.
“This is a new venture of hers, and I want to be supportive of that,” she said.
For Bieber, doing this is a leap of faith of sorts. She could bring in loads of people willing to be a part of her plan, or it could fail.
“I’m real excited about the start of this,” Sampson said. “It’s a little like standing on the edge of a cliff and jumping off, but you have a parachute.”
“I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out,” said Bieber. “It’s kind of like life, really. We don’t know the outcome but you do your darndest to make it all work out and hopefully it does.”
The Jewish Community and Learning Center of the Foothills is on the campus of Valley Beth Israel at 13060 Roscoe Blvd. in Sun Valley. To RSVP for Saturday or the service of June 23, email Bieber at firstname.lastname@example.org.