You might be one who would dismiss the country club set as people who are shallow, privileged and snobby. As usual with broad generalizations you’d be partially right and mostly wrong.
A country club is typically a place centered around a golf course bordered by the tennis club and if it’s been recently updated there are plenty of pickle ball courts in the space where members used to play tennis. Pickle ball is a recent phenomenon much easier on aging knees.
If the golf course is the club’s heart, the club house is it’s arms. That’s where the welcoming is done. Though there’s plenty of socializing going on where sports are played, the serious business of meeting and greeting belongs to the clubhouse which is where the bar is located and the food is served.
If you go as a guest to a country club you’ll notice immediately the friendliness between members and staff. You might even cringe slightly when you first see it and think about how the country club familiarities resemble the ones portrayed in 1950’s period films when southern ladies showed a condescending affection for their “help”.
Yet to dismiss the relationship between server and those served is to sell it short. Both classes are children of God, all made in God’s image, and every one there, each in their own way devoted to God, or at the least not without faith.
Country Clubs, like Baby Boomers, are seasoned. The 1960s saw an uptick in golf enthusiasts and there grew more and more suburban country clubs.
By 2008 membership had long been declining, the Greatest Generation was in the throes of dying out without replacement. Few Gen-Xers had the time or interest for five hour rounds of golf, Millennials surely weren’t joining and the recession left many Baby Boomers unable to keep up with the steep dues.
That’s the setting where this story begins.
After hours, in the card room, at Saddlewood Country Club, in Willowbrook New Jersey, sat six men who were the elected leadership of Saddlewood. Under consideration was a proposal from neighboring Buena Vista Country Club, Farmingham New Jersey.
It wasn’t an easy decision. There were complications. Buena Vista was a Jewish club. Saddlewood was only two generations away from being a restricted club…no Jews allowed. True, there were exactly zero Jewish members. But not because of any rules and not because of anti-semitism. It’s just that people of the Jewish faith always joined Buena Vista.
Each to their own.
Except now, for financial reasons it made sense for Saddlewood and Buena Vista to consolidate. Buena Vista would sell their property, and bring their members and assets to Saddlewood.
The transition period went smoothly, the members were mingling and getting used to one another’s differences and appreciating the similarities.
The biggest difference was on the food and drink side of the club. It’s an age old stereotype with truth behind it. For the most part, the Jews of Buena Vista prefer eating over drinking and the Gentiles of Saddlewood were more likely to be patronizing the bar than the kitchen.
It all worked itself out with a little teasing, a lot of tasteless (but funny) jokes and good old-fashioned camaraderie.
And then it happened.
It was a Thursday a little before midnight. The local synagogue, Beth Elohim, which means House of God, burned to the ground. It was set on fire by a twenty-nine year old man, a drifter, who had recently joined a white supremacy group online.
He acted alone. But the Jewish community did not stand alone.
With the destruction and desecration of a holy house of worship came a rallying cry from thousands of citizens of Willowbrook and neighboring towns.
“We are One People, united under God!”
People of every faith, and even those with no faith, raised their voices against senseless hatred.
Many of the members of the newly merged and newly named Buena Vista at Saddlewood Country Club were also members of Beth Elohim. It was where they worshipped every sabbath, it was where their children and grandchildren went to Hebrew school. And now it was gone.
The congregation of Beth Elohim came together to meet and discuss the future of their spiritual home and the at-hand problem of where they would worship in mere hours with the Jewish Sabbath beginning at sundown. The meeting was held in the dining room at the country club which is located not far from the site of the synagogue. Bob Mack, the club president welcomed the congregants as they came streaming in. He offered them his personal condolences and those on behalf of the Buena Vista at Saddlewood Country Club.
There was urgency mixed with the sadness in the room. How could they be prepared in such a short time to welcome the holy Sabbath?
Bob Mack spoke up from the back of the room. “The house of God is where His children are. Let Buena Vista at Saddlewood be your sacred space as long as you need it.”
There were cheers among the tears. But only for a brief moment, there was work to be done to get ready for the Sabbath.
Arrangements were made to borrow a Torah scroll from a Jewish Day School in the area. The president of a synagogue two towns away loaded up his SUV with precious cargo; prayer books, and made a special delivery to the country club with plenty of time to spare.
Less than twenty-four hours since the horrendous fire, the Jews of Willowbrook were together in a new home, temporary – but no less holy.
The lights were dimmed. Sabbath candles were lit. The Torah scroll was draped in cloth. The worshippers sat comfortably, glowing in the candle light.
Once again in a very short period of time they raised their voices in unity. This time there was no anger, no defiance. Simply peace. They raised their voice in song: “L’Cha Dodi…” they sang as they welcomed the Sabbath bride.
They prayed with song, they prayed with praise, they prayed with gratitude.
It took well over a year for Beth Elohim to plan and rebuild. Buena Vista at Saddlewood Country Club was their interim home through it all. Even though there was excitement when the new building was finally ready, it was a bittersweet goodbye to their country club home and its members of different religious persuasions who made them welcome.
A few months later when country club life got back to normal, it was obvious that something had changed. It was a new normal with a fully integrated membership whose lives became so entwined it was easy to forget who was Buena Vista and who was Saddlewood.
Yet, truth be told, some things didn’t change. The Jewish members still preferred eating over drinking, and the Gentile members were more likely to be patronizing the bar than the kitchen.