Congregation Etz Chayim was started in early 1995 by six families who wanted to create a small community within which to engage in Jewish prayer, learning, celebration and support. We started as an entirely volunteer effort. We now have more than 300 household members, our rabbi, and a dynamic congregational staff.
The founders chose our congregational name as a sign of our commitment to Judaism, to our community, and to the past. The Torah is an Etz Chayim, a "Tree of Life" providing strength to all who hold it tightly. The symbol of our city is El Palo Alto—"The Tall Tree". Finally, our name remembers Synagogue Wolf Etz Chayim, a German synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht.
Liturgically, our Shabbat, Festival and Holy Day services combine traditions from across the Jewish spectrum. We include more Hebrew than you'd expect in a Reform congregation, and less than in a Conservative one. Our services are shorter and less rigorously tied to traditional observance than you would find in most Conservative or Orthodox shuls. We include alternative readings sometimes akin to Reconstructionist liturgy. And we always engage in exuberant communal singing. We're sometimes referred to as "the singing congregation.”
Our members are as diverse as the Jewish community. We were raised in Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and secular households, or with no Jewish upbringing at all. We are Jews-by-choice having been raised in another faith. We are interfaith families. We are single, married, in relationships, divorced, and widowed. We have young children, grown children, no children. We are LGBT, we are straight, we are searching.
What unites us is our desire for community with other Jews and our active engagement in congregational life. We are participants in services rather than audience members, builders of community rather than wallflowers, Jewish learners rather than passive observers.
One of the core values of Etz Chayim has always been education across the age spectrum. We had a family education program even before we had a full-time rabbi. We promote lifelong learning and enourage congregants of all ages to embark on an educational journey, regardless of where they're starting from.