Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Middle Eastern
by Paul Tutwiler


  1. Zoroastrianism
  2. Judaism
  3. Islam
  4. Baha'i

Deferring to Melton's terminology, I call this family "Middle Eastern." The term, however, is clearly ethnocentric from a European perspective. The family is more properly classified as "West Asian," and regarding it as such enables us to grasp more clearly the similarities between the spiritualities which have originated in this part of the world.

Since the time of the earliest West Asian record concerning worldviews and religion there has been great concern for the power of both good and evil and the struggle between the two. This struggle has been personified, not only — at times — in the relation between various gods, but also as that of a single God, from whom all good proceeds, against whom greater or lesser forces of evil are pitted, although ultimately all the evil forces are to be destroyed. Monotheism, in other words, is a West Asian worldview. It was exported to Egypt and did not take hold there, but it was also exported to Europe, where it was highly successful.

The religions of West Asia are, in order of time, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha'i.


Zoroastrianism was the principal religion of the Persian Empire for many centuries, and it exercised great influence on the Jewish and Christian worldviews. Until recent times there were a few Zoroastrians remaining in Iran, but their principal group has been in India, where they are known as Parsees.

Parsees have immigrated to the San Jose area, where they have a center, Dar-e-Mehr Rostam & Morvarid Gulv, at 10468 Crother Road, San Jose, 95127, tel. 408-272-1678. ( 2010)

While centering on the struggle between good and evil, Zoroastrianism went through several phases in antiquity. Its non-monotheistic version, in which the ultimate forces are a good god and an evil god, is the original Religious Dualism. The forms of Dualism from then until nownever allow the evil god to triumph on a cosmic scale, but some of them consign the ultimate fate of the world as we know it and live in it to the power of the evil god. In this eventuality, of course, preservation from such a fate is the reward of the faithful worshippers of the good god. The belief in the value of such worship is a characteristic of various Gnostic religions and, more to the pint for us, it has been found in Christian groups which are deeply moved by the evil they perceive in the world. Such groups include Christian heresies such as the Bogomils, the Cathari, and the Albigensians of the Middle Ages. Dualism is not a good fit with modern worldviews, and I have no knowledge of dualistic spiritualities in Santa Cruz.

Two thorough studies of Dualism are:

  • Janet Hamilton and Bernard Hamilton. Christian Dualist Heresies in the Byzantine World c650-c1450, Manchester University Press, 1998.
  • Yuri Stoyanov. The Other God, Yale University Press, 2000.


The largest current American Jewish groups are, in descending order of their emphasis on the everyday, practical importance of Jewish religious law, the Orthodox, the Conservative, and the Reform. These distinctions emerged in the twentieth century, as the great waves of Jewish immigration from Europe in the preceding century took various stances in regard to the mainstream of American life.

A useful resource for identifying synagogues is the "Jewish Web Directory," 2010.

» Temple Beth El. Aptos, 1869-2010.

A small Jewish community was established in the 1850s and 1860s in Santa Cruz. The earliest record of worship in the community dates from the Jewish Holy Days of fall, 1869. Starting with 1872, the local press announced the yearly Holy Days celebrations, which were held in various places, including the Masonic Hall, Farmers Union Hall, Unity Church, and a schoolhouse. (George J. Fogelson, "The Jews of Santa Cruz: the first eighty years: 1853-1934," in Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No 1, October, 1981, pp. 99-115. For the 1869 event Fogelson cites the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sep. 18, 1869; for the other dates and locations he cites The McHugh Scrapbook, p. 15. The "schoolhouse" is on the same site as "Pioda Hall," which is mentioned as one of the Jewish worship locations by Eric Ross Gibson in the San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 22, 1994.)

In 1934 the Jewish community established a synagogue in a remodeled home on 49 Chestnut St. This structure is still standing, although its street number has been changed to 516 Chestnut. The successor to this synagogue, a new building at 920 Bay St., Santa Cruz, the original Temple Beth El, was dedicated in 1954. (Fogelson, op. cit.)

In the course of time the congregation joined the Reform movement, and in 1990 it dedicated its current Aptos structure. (SC Sentinel, Jan 29, 2006) Its address is 3055 Porter Gulch Road, Aptos 95003, tel. 479-3444. ( 2010)

» Temple Beth El Home of Peace Cemetery. Service org, Santa Cruz, 1877-2010.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Santa Cruz established this cemetery in 1877. Moses Meder, a Santa Cruz county resident prior to statehood, and not a Jew, sold the land to the society for $100 and is buried there. (Fogelson, op. cit., citing Mildred Brook Hoover et al, Historic Spots in California, Stanford, 1906 revised, p. 472) The cemetery, as I observed in 2010, is located at 425 Meder St.

Temple Beth El Home of Peace Cemetery
Temple Beth El Home of Peace Cemetery
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

» Rastafarians. Community, Santa Cruz, 1980-1984.

The 1980 through 1983 Yellow Pages and the SC Sentinel, July 26, 1984 list the Rastafarians with a telephone number, but no address. The 1980 Yellow Pages also list a "Rastafarian Monastery" in connection with the New Life Church.

Rastafarianism is a form of Black Judaism brought from Jamaica to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Its theological content is less known than its insistence on Black superiority. (Melton, Encyclopedia *1128)

» Hillel of Santa Cruz. Service org, 1989-2010.

This Jewish Student support group at UCSC was formerly at 608 Mission St. (1989-1993 Yellow Pages) Then, after a gap, it moved to its present location, 222 Cardiff Pl., Santa Cruz, tel. 426-3332. (2002-2008 White Pages) It has a website, 2010.

» Temple or Tiqvah for American Jewish Renewal. Santa Cruz, 1993-1996.

According to the 1994 White and Yellow Pages this group's address in 1994 was 2636 17th Ave., Live Oak; in 1995 it was 309 Cedar St., but in 1993 and 1996 it had only a telephone number.

» Chadeish Yameinu. Santa Cruz, 1994-2010.

Founded in 1994, this is a "Jewish Renewal" group. "Jewish Renewal is 'transdenominational,' welcoming all faiths, and focuses on the core values of Judaism." (SC Sentinel, Feb. 17, 2007)

Over the years the group has met in various places, including St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Aptos (SC Sentinel, Sept. 20, 2003), "Senior Citizens Opportunities", 222 Market St., Santa Cruz. (SC Sentinel, Oct. 1, 2005),The Garden (SC Sentinel, Feb. 17, 2007), and the First Congregational Church. (SC Sentinel, Aug. 23, 2009)

In 2010, the congregation's website, lists the telephone number of the Rabbi, 429-6936, and a postoffice box.

» Congregation Kol Tefillah. Santa Cruz, 1994-2010.

This congregation characterized itself in the SC Sentinel, Sep. 16, 2001 as "... a traditional, egalitarian Jewish community affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism ... a 'leaderless' community."

Founded in 1994, the congregation rented space in Unity Church until May 20, 2007, when it moved to a location of its own at 200 Washington St. (SC Sentinel, May 21, 2007) Its telephone number is 457-0264. ( 2010)

» Aayn Sof Jewish Renewal and Kabbalah Congregation of Santa Cruz. 1997-2000.

This congregation was listed without a street address from 1997 to 2000 in the Yellow Pages. It appears that it is the group referred to in the following announcement in the SC Sentinel of Sep. 11, 1999:

KABBALAH CONGREGATION OF SANTA CRUZ: Rosh Hashanah discussion of wisdom from the tradition of Moses and Miriam. White clothing encouraged. 10 a.m. today, SAT Temple, 1834 Ocean St. Extension, Santa Cruz.

Tashlikh (spiritual purification by the sea). White clothing, bread and musical instruments encouraged. Today at 5 p.m., Moran Lake Beach Park, between 26th and 30th Avenues on East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 335-9090.

In 2010 there is an Ayn Sof Community in San Francisco, which, on its website, ( 2010), states that it serves the "San Francisco Bay Area including... Santa Cruz." An email of mine to this group in 2009 elicited no response.

» Chabad by the Sea. Santa Cruz, 1999-2010.

Established in 1999, this is the Santa Cruz outreach of the Lubavitch Jewish movement, an American orthodoxism promoted by Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. Lubavitch is in turn a form of Hasidic (or Chassidic) Judaism, which developed in modern times in eastern Europe. Lubavitchers are extremely conservative in their lifestyle and clothing. ( 2008 and "Mission from God: How a local group of lubavitchers plan to bring Jews back to Judaism," in the Good Times, Aug. 19-25, 2004) The location is not listed in 2010, but the telephone number is 454-0101. ( 2010)

Since 2007 the rabbi of this congregation has had a weekly radio program, including call-ins, on KSCO, although in February 2010 "The Radio Rabbi is on a break due to economics." ( 2010)

» Congregation Tsemach Adonai. Felton, 2000-2010.

Since 2000 the White or Yellow Pages have listed this congregation. The 2008 Yellow Pages placed it under "Synagogues—Messianic"; the current telephone number is 477-7739. (2010 White Pages)

» Kolaynu. Santa Cruz, 2001-2005.

Calling itself "The Progressive Jewish Voice of Santa Cruz," this group held Rosh Hashanah services in 2001 through 2005 at the Pacific Cultural Center, Santa Cruz, with the telephone number for information, 475-3313. (SC Sentinel, Sep. 20, 2001 and Oct. 1, 2005)

» Alondra's Jewelry. Watsonville, 2007-2010.

Listed under "Churches-Jewish Messianic" in the 2007 Yellow Pages, this establishment is listed under "Curches and Places of Worship" in 2010, which also state that it has been "in business" since 2007 and that it is at 1044 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville 95076, tel. 763-3994. Nevertheless, on a visit to this location in February 2010 I learned that it is no longer there.


Since the beginning of the 21st century certain aspects of Islam have come to the fore in world events. Its general history, dating from the 7th century and including enormous geographical and demographical expansion, is well known. What needs also to be appreciated is its unique and powerful theological position among the world's major religions. Islam is a univocally absolute monotheism. Judaism is resolutely monotheistic and rejects the thought of a competing divine force, but Yahweh relates in a special way to the affairs of His Chosen People. To Christians all people are chosen by God, but in the doctrine of the Trinity there is a difference between calling God the Father divine and calling Jesus, the Incarnate God the Son, divine. The Christian position is absolutely monotheistic, but the analogous, rather than univocal, use of the term needs to be explained. Not so in Islam, where nothing, absolutely and univocally, nothing is like God, and no further explanation is needed.

The Muslim population of California was slight until recent years, and even now it is small, but the introduction of Sufi spirituality has proved to be popular among non-Muslims.

» Subud Santa Cruz. Conf center, Soquel, 1973-2010.

A Subud House is located at 3800 Old Soquel-San Jose Road., Soquel, tel. 476-3020, but the regional Subud contact is at 1943 Redwood Dr., Aptos, with the above telephone number. ( 2010) The center has been listed at its present address in the White Pages since 1973.

Bapak Sobuh was an Indonesian who in the 1930s initiated a religious movement which stemmed from a Muslim background and which was attractive to Sufis. (Melton, Encyclopedia *1152)

After three years of receiving this spiritual experience, which he called the latihan kejiwaan, Indonesian for spiritual exercise, Bapak was able to pass it on to others. In time, they also were able to transmit it to those who asked.... You can receive the contact for the first time by being present with others who are doing their latihan. This is called the opening. The latihan is usually done twice a week and lasts about thirty minutes.... People receive according to their own natures. As the latihan goes deeper, you begin to receive and understand the inner guidance which accompanies you through your life. You can be in contact with this spiritual experience, without any intermediary, any time, anywhere.... Although Subud is not a religion, many have found a deeper understanding of their own beliefs from the evidence they receive for themselves. ( 2010)

» Islamic Center of Santa Cruz. Capitola, 1995-2010.

The Islamic Center, both a mosque and an activities center, has been at 4401 Capitola Road, Capitola 95010, tel. 479-8982 since 1995. (1995-2010 White Pages) Additional information about it can be had in 2010.

Islamic Center
Islamic Center of Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

» Zamzam book store. Service org, Santa Cruz, 2004-2008.

This book store was known locally especially for its works on Sufism. I observed it in 2004 in one location and in 2005 at another. Both those years it was listed in the Yellow Pages. In 2007, however, it has disappeared from its last location and it is no longer in either the White or Yellow Pages. It did, however, evolve into Niche of Light, as explained on the website 2008: "The still waters of Zamzam were disturbed through four shifts of place, until eventually becoming ethereal in the dawn light of cyberspace." An ad in the "Bookshop Santa Cruz Reader" for Winter, 2008 gives Niche of Light's telephone number: 831-428-2490, but the website does not exist in 2010.

» Rumi Academy. Conf center, Santa Cruz County, 2005-2010.

Rumi Academy is a center of the Threshold Society, an organization dedicated to the study and practice of Sufism in the Mevlevi tradition. "In 1999 Camille and Kabir Helminski moved from Putney, Vermont to Aptos, California. Under Camille's and Kabir's direction The Threshold Society is working to apply traditional Mevlevi principles to the conditions of contemporary life. In addition to their continuing work as spiritual teachers, they are now involved in several creative projects in writing, recording, and educational consulting." ( 2007-2010)

On a visit that took me only to its gate in December, 2007, I was assured by a neighbor that it was indeed a place of Muslim Sufism, but that there was not much traffic to and from it. The Rumi Academy street address is 270 Quarter Horse Lane, Watsonville CA 95076, tel. 685-1613. (2005-2010 White Pages) At this same address, but with telephone number 685-3995, is the Threshold Society Bookstore, also called "Threshold Productions." ( 2010)


The Baha'i faith originated in the mid 19th century in Persia, from which it has spread its message that all the great founders of religions, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed, and, lastly, Baha'u'llah, have revealed the same world faith, and the Baha'i mission is to promote spiritual oneness throughout the world. As it is put in 2010,

The Baha'is believe in an essential unity of the great religions of the world. However, this does not mean they believe the various religious creeds and doctrines are identical. Rather, they view all religions as having sprung from the same spiritual source. The social and outer forms of different religions vary due to the circumstances at the time that they were founded. Other differences in doctrine and belief can be attributed to later accretions, after the death of the founder.

» Bosch Baha'i School. Conf center, Bonny Doon, 1974-2010.

The complete name of this facility is John and Louise Bosch Baha'i School and Conference Center. It was opened in 1974, replacing the Baha'i school in Geyserville, California. ( 2007) The website 2010 does not have the above information. The school is located at 500 Comstock Lane, Santa Cruz 95060, tel. 423-3387. (2010 White Pages)

» Baha'i Faith. Throughout Santa Cruz County, 1975-2010.

The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Santa Cruz, California was incorporated in 1977. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 4444) The Yellow Pages from 1975 on list under the name Baha'i Faith a contact telephone number for Baha'i groups in Santa Cruz County. At present there are two contact numbers, 423-3387 and 621-6176. ( 2010) The website 2010 has information about the Baha'i faith.

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