What makes your Shul different from other Orthodox congregations in Orange County?

Our Tefilah (prayer service) reflects contemporary American Torah-observant practice in a normative context. For example, a dramatic percentage of our mitpal’lim (worshippers) arrive in Shul on Shabbat morning to daven Shacharit. We sing robustly, and our davening is marked by a certain ruach and ta’am (spirit and flavor) that emanates from the audible participation of the congregants, the “daveners.” You personally matter in our shul. Your presence really matters to us. Even those who are less strong in Hebrew-reading learn the catchy contemporary tunes and traditionally soulful melodies that we sing from week to week. Moreover, consistent with the policies of National Council of Young Israel, all of our congregational lay officers are Torah-observant. Our Rav is a nationally prominent rabbinical leader and speaker, whose books, writings, and commentaries influence Jewish thought — even among prominent rabbis — throughout the United States. His Shabbat sermons and Torah classes are uniquely dynamic, often deeply moving — even as they emanate from the heart and not from notes — and he is nationally sought-after as an acknowledged expert on a wide range of Jewish and public issues. Our prayer services include a wide range of variegated melodies that you will be humming in no time, and we vary our melodies to keep weekly davening robust and fresh. Most importantly, what makes YIOC so special is the accepting culture of our respective congregants. You will sense that difference almost immediately.

How Open and Friendly Is Your Shul to Newcomers or to People Less Observant?

You will never feel more appreciated in a shul for being you — not for your money or for your membership paper work, but just for being you — than you will feel at Young Israel of Orange County. YIOC is remarkably free of “cliques.” Like “Cheers,” it is a shul where “everyone knows your name.” As a defining founding principle, we also are dramatically free of “synagogue politics.” We do not have machers walking around. Nor do we have any talking in shul during prayers. From the moment you walk into YIOC, you feel the difference — the chevra (collegiality) and acceptance. Everyone is equal. Your finances do not define you as a person. Your prior Jewish experiences may provide texture but do not define you. Both our Rav and our Rebbetzin often recount their roots, growing up in families that were respected not for their modest finances but for the sterling dimensions of their parents’ characters. You will feel that difference. It is your character that identifies you at YIOC. (Under the rules of National Council of Young Israel, a person may not be honored by a Young Israel congregation simply because she or he is wealthy.) You can be single, married, divorced. You can be Torah-observant, not-yet-Observant, growing, and searching. If your Hebrew is weak, we have a Siddur (prayerbook) just for you (and Hebrew-reading classes, too). Your accent does not matter. We honestly don’t care. Our Shul has been blessed, from its inception, with a sincerely friendly and warmly accepting orientation that emanates naturally from within people’s hearts. You can tell the difference so quickly. That is where our Shul’s wealth lies: in the people who comprise our congregation. You will find, too, a great interest in ideas at our Shul. Many of us are young marrieds starting families, others have been married longer and have teens. Some of us are “empty-nesters,” and others are Single Adults. Yet, a common social bond finds that conversations at our monthly Shabbat community lunch and in other social settings tend towards ideas rather than discussions of things . . . or of people. You will experience the difference immediately.

Is there a dress code for Shabbat services at YIOC?

When you show up to enter our House of G-d, you already are making a powerful statement. You are demonstrating a devotion level that is sacred. So . . . come as you may, consonant with your own cultural morés and sense of style. You will notice, over time, that most people at YIOC prefer to dress for shul in a traditional style of “contemporary Shabbat.”

What time are Shabbat services?

During the seven months of Pacific Daylight Time, we begin Mincha and Friday Night Kabbalat Shabbat services at 6:30 p.m. On the other months (Pacific Standard Time), we begin 15 minutes before that Friday’s sunset. Services typically run 75-80 minutes, from the start of Mincha to the conclusion of Shabbat Maariv davening. On Shabbat mornings, we begin at 9:00 a.m. and typically conclude between 11:30-11:40 a.m., depending on whether the Torah portion is a bit longer, whether a unique celebration is happening, or what-not. All this in Jewish Orange County and in Jewish Irvine — there is never any cost or charge for any YIOC class or teaching. “We teach Judaic Learning for your living, not ours.”

What about, uh, food? Y’know: Kiddush, nosherei?

Every Shabbat’s morning services are followed by a traditional Kiddush collation. We get to spend time with each other, just enjoying company and making new friendships. Even so, we all like eating Shabbat meals at home sometimes, inviting guests — or being invited. And if you are among those of us who prefer eating Shabbat lunch at home with your invited guests — whether on one particular Shabbat or on every Shabbat — that’s great also.

What about my driving to Shul on Shabbat? Am I gonna get ‘looks’? You see, I’m not exactly ’100% Orthodox’ — but I am trying to find something warm and traditional that emanates from the people and the heart.

We cannot emphasize this enough (so we begin with bold-face font for this one): Young Israel of Orange County sincerely welcomes and thus is warmly open to every Jew, and even every aspiring Jew, who wants to experience a normative Torah-observant Shabbat experience. No one — from our Rav, on down — ever will ask (or, actually, even wonder) how you got to Shul, where you eat your meals in Orange County, or anything like that. And, come to think of it, no one among us even would think to wonder. It is outside our congregational culture to poke around and to judge. It is the aspiration of every Torah Jew to live within walking distance of shul, and several of our members have made the effort to fulfill that aspiration. When we have our own structure some day, our private shul parking lot will be closed on Shabbat.

Besides davening; do you have other programs, groups? F’rinstance, anything uniquely for women?

Absolutely. We sponsor a wonderfully robust YIOC Womens Group that operates around a three-part focus: (i) great women’s social programs; (ii) unique women’s educational programs; and (iii) chesed (kindness) efforts, which includes focusing on bikur cholim (visiting the ill) and assisting in the needs of women in our congregation with babies or expecting ‘em soon. Our YIOC Womens Group was founded in June 2008 at a brunch of more than thirty women. It’s a great group, lots of wonderful women of varied backgrounds and generations.

All this in Jewish Orange County and in Jewish Irvine — there is never any cost or charge for any YIOC class or teaching. “We teach Judaic Learning for your living, not ours.”

Do you offer Bar Mitzvah / Bat Mitzvah Training?

Absolutely! We conduct a fantastic, progressive Bar Mitzvah/ Bat Mitzvah training program that aims at teaching Jewish values, Jewish ethics, Jewish pride, and Jewish knowledge to pre-teen boys and girls studying for their big day. Boys learn to lead a service, so that they can have meaningful and real knowledge that they will use any Shabbat they like for the rest of their lives. They learn to read Hebrew, to read from the Torah in the traditional melody, to prepare a meaningful Bar Mitzvah speech. Also uniquely, they evolve a personal relationship with Rav and Rebbetzin Fischer — and that relationship continues long past the Bar Mitzvah Day. Girls, too, learn to read Hebrew, to navigate the Siddur and the Jewish prayers, to prepare a meaningful Bat Mitzvah speech, and they learn more substantive Judaism — Bible, Jewish history, the Siddur, Jewish traditions — than they imagined was “out there.” As with the boys, the girls studying for Bat Mitzvah learn real, substantive, tangible Jewishness and Judaism — love of Israel, pride in their heritage, and real knowledge — that will last them a lifetime and even enrich them as future Jewish parents. Also like the boys, girls also evolve a personal relationship with Rav and Rebbetzin Fischer — and that relationship continues long past their Bat Mitzvah Day. (By the way, we offer a uniquely discounted Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah membership arrangement.)

Howzabout programming for kids / Teens?

We sponsor a full-blown YIOC Youth & Teens Program, as well as special social programs and our groundbreaking “Open Yeshiva” for Orange County Teens.
All this in Jewish Orange County and in Jewish Irvine — there is never any cost or charge for any YIOC class or teaching. “We teach Judaic Learning for your living, not ours.”

How about programs for me to learn more Judaism?

If you want to grow in your Judaism, Young Israel of Orange County offers a dramatic plethora of options for you and your family. Rav Fischer teaches a great Chumash-and-Rashi “roundtable” class every Tuesday night. Attendance began with six people in March 2008, and — without any advertising or publicity — it has continued growing, now ranging to 15, even 20, people and more. (Indeed, one young married couple in the ‘hood met each other during the course of a few weeks’ Chumash-and-Rashi with Rav Fischer. How’s that for commentary?) Those who start attending the class just keep coming back every week. Our Rav also teaches Talmud and Halakhic Codes including Rambam’s Mishnah Torah and the Shulchan Arukh Mishneh B’rurah (Jewish laws from the Shulkhan Arukh for everyday living year-round) every Thursday evening; a course in Biblical prophets (N’vi’im Rishonim) every Shabbat afternoon, Halakhah/ Jewish laws and their unique everyday applications during the course of the absolutely best Se’udah Sh’lishit meal in Orange County. We offer classes in Hebrew Reading and “Siddur Navigation” skills on Monday evenings, to maximize your options. We have warm teaching volunteers who will sit with you in Shul during davening to help you keep your Siddur right-side-up. Rav Fischer has begun a monthly “roundtable” — college-seminar-style — for robust give-and-take around the table on critical cutting-edge issues in Jewish life. And we run an every-other-monthly “Saturday Night at the Movies” program at which we show great flicks, followed by pertinent discussion of Jewish-grounded themes that arise for consideration from the films. We also offer a strong program for individuals interested in studying for conversion to Judaism. And, if by any chance we do not offer what you are looking for — just ask, and we will make it happen for you!

By the way, is Irvine my best choice — as among all cities and localities in the O.C. — for a rich Jewish life?

Absolutely! If you are going to live in Orange County (the “O.C.”) — whether because of its fantastic lifestyle, its wonderful opportunities, a job transfer, or whatever — you want to live in Irvine. No other community anywhere in Orange County even remotely compares to what Irvine offers a traditional Jew. Other O.C. communities may have (at the most) one “Chabad” congregation, but Irvine has — get this! — Young Israel of Orange County, two “Chabads” (Lubavitch), and yet another Orthodox Union shul. That’s four shuls. Moreover, Irvine has an Eruv that covers the expanse of the city’s “University Park” community (zip code 92612). There is no other Eruv in Orange County. (When our Rav arrived in Irvine in August 2005, a series of political obstacles that had delayed the Eruv’s completion for more than a year serially were overcome.) Naturally, YIOC’s base is located smack in the heart of the Eruv community. When our Rav arrived in Irvine in August 2005, he set three initial priorities for his tenure, topped by his public announcement in front of 150 people — before a shovel had been set into breaking ground — that he would mobilize efforts to actualize the construction of a cutting-edge, contemporary Mikveh in Irvine within three years. That Irvine Community Mikveh — called the “Community Mikveh” because the project has been undertaken jointly by several shuls in Irvine, from the University Park community to the Woodbridge community, and is administered and operated by a corporate body independent of any particular shul — opened to the public in 2009. Meanwhile, for boys and girls, there is an Orthodox Jewish Day School only twenty minutes’ drive from YIOC — the Hebrew Academy of Huntington Beach in Westminster. The school is run by Lubavitch, but is not doctrinaire. (Rav Fischer endorses it, sent his son there, and can discuss the matter further with you.) The Girls’ School runs through high school, from Grades 1-12. The Boys’ School runs from Grades 1-8. Rav Fischer will be delighted to discuss with you appropriate and excellent options for Jewish High School options for boys. (Please note that Rav Fischer expressly does not endorse the local “TVT” / “Tarbut v’Torah” school as its curriculum currently is structured. No Orthodox rabbi’s family anywhere in Orange County sends any of their children there, and it would be prudent to consult with Rav Fischer regarding the school’s several lacunae.) Thus, as Irvine has grown — with four Orthodox shuls, a Community Eruv, a Community Mikveh, a Jewish Gift Store, a multi-faceted Jewish Community Center, and options in nearby communities proximate to Irvine for substantive Jewish Day School education — our community has become the place in Orange County to make a traditional Jewish life. There is absolutely nothing else in all of Orange County that even remotely approaches Irvine as the center for living a Torah-observant life in Orange County.

All this in Jewish Orange County and in Jewish Irvine — there is never any cost or charge for any YIOC class or teaching. “We teach Judaic Learning for your living, not ours.”

OK — what’s it gonna cost me?

A fair question. So let’s start from the “bottom line”: We offer very generously advantaged membership discounts for (i) New Members, and (ii) Bar Mitzvah/ Bat Mitzvah Membership Households. Our philosophy: First and foremost — Young Israel of Orange County will welcome you from the get-go. It’s not about bucks. We will welcome your children into our Youth Program. Even if you never contribute a dime, you . . . and your family . . . and your friends . . . absolutely may come to — and participate in — anything and everything. Naturally, the “American Way” in Jewish life often finds families and single-person households opting at some point in time to express affiliation with a loving and warm Shul that resonates for their souls. That expression of affiliation typically is expressed, ultimately, by “joining” a Shul as a “member.” It allows you personally to be counted, to know that you are contributing to tikkun olam — making a better world — and to know that you are making a difference by amplifying and augmenting something greater than any individual. It also helps pay for our programs and our professionals and costs. You will be thrilled that our membership options are less expensive than most any other Jewish congregation in Orange County — even though we offer a world-class Rabbi, a professionally staffed Youth Program, a robust Women’s Group, great learning and social opportunities for personal growth . . . and the most spiritually rewarding normative Torah-observant prayer environment you will experience anywhere in Orange County, California. And — if, confidentially, you cannot afford any of our nominal membership categories — we still will welcome you as an honored full-blown member with all the privileges of membership. As the expression goes: “No one is going to check your tzitzis.” And we mean it.

OK — sounds great. What’s my next step

Just show up in Shul! Or just show up at a class. Or contact our Rabbi. Whatever makes you a Happy Jew! Really — whatever makes you a Happy Jew.