A decade has passed since we closed escrow on the former Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas. Soon after the close, on January 27, 2013, we marked our first Tu B’Shvat (Jewish New Year of the Trees) at this property. Gathering together, we shared hopes, dreams and visions for what this land could and would mean in the lives of community members.
Ten years later, this last Sunday, again we gathered, again on Tu B’Shvat. This time, the realities of of the last decade met those great dreams. We reflected on all the ways we have celebrated and mourned, planted and gathered, welcomed and inspired, created and corrected. Falling short sometimes, succeeding often, course correcting always – constantly striving to live up to the hopes and dreams of our founders, Lee and Toni Leichtag z”l, and our community.
For ten years, we offer ten words that best exemplify what Leichtag Commons has meant to thousands of people over the years.
- Legacy: Our Jewish Food Justice Fellows who arrived in the fall of 2013 once told us that when they gathered for Shabbat, their first toast was always to Lee and Toni Leichtag and their daughter Joli Ann z”l. They made it possible. Now it is up to us to make it happen.
- Uncommon: As Rabbi Lenore Bohm who offered words of Torah said, the Commons is actually a place that is most uncommon. It was an unusual step for a private foundation to take, to buy a piece of land, to say to the community, this is your canvas. Sometimes doing the least expected leads to the greatest reward.
- Curiosity: Food Justice Fellow alumna Arielle Golden noted that not only has the development of the project been characterized by curiosity on the part of the Foundation, also the Commons awakened the curiosity of the community. Asking questions is the heart of Jewish tradition. Our Sages teach us, “Who is wise? Those who learn from everyone.”
- Talent: Our gathering brought together those who have been closest to the property over the years, staff both past and present, Hive members and alumni, consultants who spent hours shaping and sharpening our vision. Former Program Officer Niki Mazaroli aptly cited the example of the tree which we celebrate on Tu B’Shvat; so many people’s roots were grounded at the Commons, she said. They grew and now their branches have reached many people and many places.
- Pragmatism: Embarking on a new project requires humility with a knowledge that failures will come more rapidly than successes. We have several under our belt – largely due to pragmatically learning through doing and investing in what really worked on the ground. This has led to relevancy that we would never have been able to plan.
- Justice: In a series of focus groups in 2011 and 2012, our community shared loud and clear: we want a place where we can pray with our feet, citing the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. At the event, many told stories about acts of justice that have taken place at the Commons from the Art Show for a refugee artist from Syria in 2016 to stepping up to house the Safe Parking Program in 2020. The core Jewish imperative Justice, justice shall you pursue takes shape at Leichtag Commons.
- Remembrance: We will never forget those whose imprints on Leichtag Commons last far beyond their time. Though they are no longer with us physically, Murray Galinson z”l, Shep Scharlin z”l and Naomi Rabkin z”l impact us every day in each decision, each idea, each program. They are an indelible part of the Leichtag story.
- Collective: Dr. Ari Novy, alumnus Foundation staff member and currently CEO of the San Diego Botanic Gardens spoke about goals that cannot be achieved or even addressed without the involvement of many different sectors, backgrounds and demographics. He shared that he was drawn to this neighborhood that inculcates talent in service to the community while tackling audacious societal challenges.
- Identity: While the many are needed, the individual is seen. Whether that be through the dignity of paying what one can for produce at the Coastal Roots Farm Stand or celebrating being LGBTQ+, a person of color and Jewish at a recent session of Shabbat by the Sea, Rabbi Lenore Bohm compared this embracing of the individual to the invisible rising of the sap in trees that then culminates into blossoms. That which is not seen but is happening inside at the right time will burst forth.
- Redemption: The world is imperfect and so are we. Leichtag Commons is the platform where each of us hold agency and power to make this life and this community a bit better. A place where hope is activated, where possibilities abound. Just as the Jewish concept of Mashiach (Messiah) promises us a better day as long as we work hard to achieve it, Leichtag Commons awakens the ability of each person to help redeem themselves and the community.
In the words of our Jewish tradition: A community is too heavy to carry alone.
Thank you for your partnership and your friendship.
Here’s to the decades to the come!