It has been my honor and privilege to serve as rabbi in residence at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services at 3200 Motor Avenue in Culver City for the past 14 years. For me, Vista is like a hidden treasure in the Jewish community. The work done within its gates is holy. The children we serve on our campus or in our various programs may have special needs, may suffer from severe abuse or neglect, or are with us because of parental drug use or incarceration, and of course homelessness and poverty. Most find us in a time of despair. In my first few days on campus, I observed a residential staff-member sit with an angry youth for over an hour, talking him slowly down, with such exquisite care that it took my breath away. Experiencing a young person's hard shell soften and sometimes even open, is miraculous... it is like watching a sapling break through the earth in one of those time lapse videos... or seeing the sun break through the clouds. I think that is why the people who work at Vista don't leave, even though the work is really hard. In the difficulty, there is meaning and there is beauty. It is why I stay.
In case you are unfamiliar with Vista, it opened its gates as the Jewish Orphans Home of Southern California in 1908, and later, changed its name to Vista Del Mar. Now, in its second century of service, Vista's gates and programs are open to children in crisis from all backgrounds and of all faiths. At this time, we have around fifty youth who live on our campus. Through all our multiple services and programming, from our non-public schools, to counselling, to wrap-around services, to foster care and adoption, we serve close to 5000 children and families in crisis every year.
The children and youth at Vista call me Rabbi Jackie. I direct Jewish Life Programs, which includes our Nes Gadol Jewish education program for youth with autism and other special needs along with providing Jewish Life celebrations for their families and for the community. I also work closely with our residential youth, sometimes running groups, but mostly acting as a non-denominational chaplain. I lead High Holiday Services and lead Jewish holiday festivities on our campus as part of the Jewish culture of the agency and as a reminder and celebration of our roots and mission. At Vista's high holiday services, every child in our Nes Gadol program for Jewish youth with autism and other special needs, comes up to the bimah to lead a song, a prayer or reading. Our residential youth form a paid High Holiday Choir, where they sing a few Jewish songs like Henei Matov, but also meaningful contemporary songs. A few residents speak about their lives and what Vista has meant to them. It is incredibly special to have these two groups of vulnerable youth lift each other up and truly celebrate each other's accomplishment.
My mom, Dolly Redner, is a Holocaust survivor. She is 92. This year, like every year since I've been at Vista, my mom has spoken to our Nes Gadol and Residential children in a service of Remembering and Healing. This year it was virtual and still 100 + people joined including 15 residents and 15 Nes Gadol students with autism. All sang songs, had special assigned readings, spoke personally and had the opportunity to ask questions. The program was scheduled to be one-hour and fifteen minutes. At 2 hours, there was no dry eye and love and human compassion flowed across the virtual space.
What has remained as a constant throughout the years at Vista is its indelible commitment to serving our community's most vulnerable members - children – the orphan - young people without a safe place to just be. Grounded in the Jewish value of recognizing the sanctity of each and every human life – Vista guards and elevates the holiness in each child, so that perhaps they will one day, come to see it in themselves.
I am Jackie Redner. I am married to my beloved husband, Scott Shapiro and mom to my beloved son, Elishai Yaakov Shapiro. I am a conservative rabbi, ordained at Zeigler at the AJU in 2003. I grew up in Simi Valley California, with my wonderful sister, Tina. My parents, Dolly and Aron Redner were from the same town in Breslau Germany, now Poland, and by chance met years after the war in England. My mom spent 4 years in a concentration camp and lost her parents at age 11. My father left Germany at age 13 on a kindertransport to England. He just died in 2018 at age 94. He wanted to be alive for Elishai's Bar Mitzvah which took place at Temple Beth Am that same year in February, and he was. My mom, who loves life more than anyone I know, is still alive at age 92. Both of my parents could have been Vista kids. I am so grateful that Vista exists today for children in crisis. I am so privileged to be able to work with such amazing young people and staff.
Temple Beth Am is our synagogue-home for which we are so grateful. Elishai attended Pressman Academy for Middle School, had his Bar Mitzvah in the Library minyan and I was lovingly held by TBA's clergy and morning minyan as I mourned my father's passing. I am so grateful to be a part of Temple Beth Am. I am so grateful to TBA's fine rabbis and cantor/rabbi and wonderful staff. Thank you.
CHESED SPOTLIGHT: VISTA DEL MAR
During the COVID-19 crisis, Vista Del Mar continues to provide essential services to children and families in need. This includes ensuring that Vista families have access to essential items - including groceries. Children, who under normal circumstances would receive breakfast and lunch at Vista School and often a bag of groceries for the weekend, are now at home without these services. A donation of $100 feeds one family for two weeks. Vista is collecting monies and $100 gift cards to help families. Any would be so appreciated. CLICK HERE to make a meaningful donation.