Congregation Emanu-El is thrilled to offer the Tauber Anshei Mitzvah, our adult b’nei mitzvah, training program. The next cohort will convene in the fall of 2023. This is an 18-month program that will meet weekly during the academic year. This course will culminate with a meaningful group b’nei mitzvah service. Content will include practical Torah/Haftarah chanting skills, as well as continued academic study and enrichment with our cantors and rabbis.
The first session of 2021 will be on zoom. It will be determined by the class how in person and zoom sessions are balanced. This course is best delivered in person, however, we want to accommodate all participants as best we can.
Students are encouraged to know the Alef-Bet before entering the class, although we will take students through the basics. Cantors Attie and Luck will help you learn as you go. We can also recommend fantastic Hebrew tutors should you wish to speed up the process.
When: Sundays from 12:00 – 1:30 pm
Location: Partially on zoom, partially in person.
Cost: Emanu-El Members only $360
Summer 2022 session TBD
Please contact Ariana Estoque, at 415-750-7550 or at [email protected] if you have any questions.
Thinking of becoming Anshei Mitzvah?
Read the Divre Torah from past students below.
Upon awakening every morning and saying the Modeh Ani, I am reminded how very lucky I am. Not only am I lucky enough to start a new day, I am thankful for the new life I have with my new understanding of faith, compassion, family and community.
Many years ago, I was dating a nice Jewish boy. I was not raised in a Jewish home. But his family welcomed me into their lives as just another member of the family. Not only was this a gay relationship, but also I was not religious. I was welcomed to Passover, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and many many Shabbat dinners. It was comforting to me to be embraced with all the warmth his family had to offer. Unfortunately that relationship did not last… As I say, it was long ago and I was very young.
Many, many years later friends invited me to a Gay and Lesbian brunch at the home of the Rabbis Singer. It was life changing. After a talk with Rabbi Johnathan, I knew this was a pivot point in my life. After the initial joke, how do I get started, answer……get circumcised. Fortunately that was done. Next step study was the Intro to Judaism class here at the synagogue. Then a mentor ship with Rabbi Roditch on the path to conversion. On the day I was asked if I commit myself to being Jewish, to never renounce my choice and build a Jewish home, with all that entails. I agreed. Then one of the interviewers said something to me. She said, now you are Jewish. You never need to look back, you never need to refer to your conversion. That I had always been Jewish I simply found my way home. After wandering for years with no real place in life, I had returned to my place of origin, to my family and my people. I have been so grateful for being embraced by my friends and this congregation.
And look at me now… Standing here on the bimah chanting prayers, in Hebrew no less. With the help and support of Cantors Attie and Luck, and the support of my fellow B’nei Mitzvah class I have come to a truly meaningful point in my life. As someone that chose to make this change in life as an adult, I feel tremendous gratitude to all of you that have been a part of my teaching.
I’d also like to say that once again, the Modeh Ani has had a very real meaning in my life. My brother recently passed away in his sleep. It was completely unexpected and shocking. So every morning that I awake, I am truly grateful that my soul has been returned to my body and that I can wake with the knowledge that I start a new day with the intent to improve myself, to be the most compassionate person I can be and to live a life full of hope for the future.
So, from this day forward, I will never refer to my life before finding my way back to Judaism and to the people I love.
In today’s Parsha, we hear the story of Joseph, who is hated by his brothers not only because he is Jacob’s favorite son, but because Joseph brought bad reports of his brothers to their father. In other words, he is a tattle tale. Furthermore, Joseph is a dreamer, and he tells his brothers about dreams in which he appears to rule over them. The angry brothers sell Joseph into slavery. While enslaved, Joseph is wrongfully accused of a crime and thrown in prison. But, as the Torah says, God was with Joseph, and he was a successful man throughout the ordeal. By the end of the Parsha, Joseph is accurately interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners.
Reflecting on today’s Parsha, I saw some interesting parallels with my own story. To begin with, I, like Joseph, was considered by my siblings to be, if not the favorite, at least the most spoiled. Luckily, my siblings never sold me into slavery, but I imagine similar ideas crossed their minds. Also, I have always been fascinated with dreams, and thought of becoming a psychoanalyst, interpreting the dreams of others. But it is Joseph’s personal transformation throughout today’s Parsha that reminded me of my own journey over the past few years. Young Joseph is spoiled, tattling, an arrogant dreamer. But by the end he is considered trustworthy and admirable. No longer a tattle tale, he doesn’t blame his brothers for his enslavement, nor Potipher’s wife for his wrongful imprisonment. No longer an arrogant dreamer, he is a valuable dream interpreter.
I can only imagine that Joseph spent some of his time enslaved and imprisoned reflecting upon how he ended up there, what he might have done differently and perhaps most importantly, the direction in which he wanted to turn his life if, and when he was released from prison.
Rabbi Hanan Shlesinger, in his commentary on this Parsha, noted “Only through the lack, only when we are far from having consummated our desires and dreams, only when all is not revealed and clouds still cover the heavens, only then is the deepest meaning available and only then can we access the wealth of potential greatness hidden within our souls.”
Fortunately, I have never been imprisoned, but like the rest of the world I was forced to remain at home for a significant period of time during Covid. Like Joseph, I felt that God was with me during that time – I was blessed with good health, family, and a comfortable home. And yet, it was a complicated time. I had plenty of time to reflect upon my life, and I allowed myself permission to admit that, despite my accomplishments, I had not yet consummated my desires and dreams. For one, I had yet to become a Bat Mitzvah. When I was 8, my parents gave me the choice to go to Hebrew school which I politely declined. For many years, I resented being given that choice because as a child, and admittedly a spoiled one, I chose the easy way out. And I regretted that choice. But during this period of self-reflection, I was able to realize the potential that Rabbi Shlesinger alludes to. I turned that resentment and regret into action. I am now grateful for the path that led to my becoming a Bat Mitzvah today, rather than 35 years ago. For one, my 13-year old self would not have been nearly as enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn Hebrew, and engage in religious discourse as I’ve been doing this past 18 months. Moreover, my 48-year old self is extraordinarily grateful to embark on this journey with the remarkable people up here with me today, particularly my chevruta, 3 very special women I likely never would have met had I not taken this journey at this specific time. Finally,
This process helped give me the clarity and courage to embark on another unconsummated journey which I’ll begin in the fall – that of becoming a therapist. So, I might just become a dream interpreter like Joseph after all… Shabbat Shalom
In 1943, when I was about seven, I came home one day from school and asked my parents what a “Jewish” was? A friend at school had asked me what it was like to be Jewish. I had no idea because this was the first time I had heard about it. We lived in Hancock Park, an upscale area in Los Angeles, where there were very few Jews. I’m not sure why my parents hadn’t mentioned that we were Jewish. One reason maybe that they were trying to protect me from the antisemitism so prevalent in United States at the time. Another reason may be that we belonged to a Jewish community that did not want to be too Jewish-a community that wanted to assimilate. We and the rest of the community celebrated Christmas instead of Hanukkah and Easter instead of Passover.
Ever since then, I have been on a journey, searching for what it means to be “a Jewish”. What I have learned is that for me, the essence of Judaism is the pursuit of social justice. Over 2000 years ago, the Torah simply but profoundly captured the essence by saying in Leviticus 19:9-16, “when you reap a harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall not pick your vineyards, bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.”
Temple, Emanu-El Clergy has helped me reach this conclusion. Through the Temple’s social justice programs, I have been able to work with inmates at San Quentin, and formerly homeless youth at Larkin Street, and help a formerly undocumented immigrant enter the mainstream of American life. As a member of the temple for over 60 years, I want to express my appreciation to the Clergy for providing these opportunities to me.
As I stand here before the Torah today, I realize that my bat mitzvah is more than a culmination of my search for what it means to be Jewish. My bat mitzvah is only a milestone in a continuing study of Judaism, it’s history, culture and practice, which I know will sustain and enrich the remaining years of my life.
How did this class of twelve Anshei Mitzvah students coalesce? Our reasons for joining this cohort are numerous, I believe, and our motives complex.
Perhaps not for me, however. My reason is simple and can be traced to one single word, one Hebrew word found in the book of Genesis, where our Torah portions are also located. So if any common thread can be found with that and my D’var Torah, this is it.
I came across this word not in our Anshei Mitzvah studies or any other religious endeavor, but when I was halfway around the world over a decade ago, working in Bangkok and living in a hotel room. I didn’t have any friends there and I didn’t speak the language, so books kept me company in the solitary evening hours after long days at work.
It was during that assignment that I discovered John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The centerpiece of the novel is a scene where two characters discuss the translation of sixteen verses in the fourth chapter of Genesis. One notes that the Hebrew word “timshel” is translated differently in the American Standard and King James versions of the Bible: in one, it is translated as “do thou”; in other words, a commandment. In the other, it is translated as “thou shalt”: a promise. These two translations are absolutely inequivalent: are you commanded, or are you preordained?
Intrigued, the character delves into study; he and his elders learn Hebrew and consult with rabbis so they can get to the root of the meaning. Their conclusion? The translation is “Thou mayest.”
In explaining this to the other character in the scene, he says:
“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?…Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
My fellow Anshei Mitzvah students and I are all here today because of timshel. We all made a deliberate choice to embark on this course of study, this rite of passage as a conscientious step toward deeping our Jewish identities.
For me personally, I pressed the “enroll” button on Temple Emanu-El’s website just a little over a year ago, on Yom Kippur after a day of deep reflection. At age 40, single and childless and recently relocated to the Bay Area, the milestones of adult life were missing and the roots in a community were absent. If I didn’t know the “thou mayest” translation of timshel, I could have easily shrugged my shoulders and said there was nothing to be done about it: this was the path that was preordained or commanded of me. But no, timshel says that I have a choice: so what, I asked myself, was I going to do about these feelings?
I was fortunate that my neighbors, Barrett and Tria Cohn, invited me to Yom Kippur services as all these feelings were churning in my gut. Watching Cantors Attie and Luck, I found myself thinking “if I join this Temple, I wonder if they have an adult anshei mitzvah program I could join…?” When I logged onto the website after the service, I was delighted to find that they did.
And so began my journey to correct my misplaced feelings of being “not enough:” not Jewish enough, not adult enough, not grounded enough. Completing the Anshei Mitzvah program is a tremendous milestone for me. I feel a deeper connection to myself, my religious identity, and my community. And in the words of my favorite novel: “…I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”
Standing here affirms my commitment to embracing a Jewish life. My heart has found a home in the compassionate and rigorous spirit of inquiry and welcoming that I have experienced from so many of you on this journey. I draw strength from being part of a spiritual tradition with a deep resilience and renewal built on community practice and direct spiritual experience. Joseph’s story in this portion links me to powerful forces of transformation, forgiveness and leadership that can be gathered from a strong tradition of guidance and action. I look forward to continuing my study and practice of this ever-mysterious path.
When I told my family and friends that I was in an Anshei Mitzvah class and was going to become Bat Mitzvah they said “That’s great, why?”
And honestly I didn’t have a good answer. So I thought about it.
I know, that even though I’m getting up there in age, being Bat Mitzvah is not because I think this will get me a better seat at the table in Heaven.
I have never yearned to be Bat Mitzvah, even though my child Kate and my brother John became Bat and Bar Mitzvah here at Temple Emanu-el with great joy and celebration. Even my father was a Temple Emanu-el Bar Mitzvah.
I can’t sing a note, so chanting the Torah before a live audience terrified me.
But as I’ve grown older, I realized I wanted to have a deeper and more personal connection to my Jewish heritage. To paraphrase Rabbi Fine’s eloquent poem, “It’s all about the journey.” So I started attending Shabbat services through the live stream. I signed up for Cantor Attie’s Hebrew class and then this Anshei Mitzvah class. I can now read a little Hebrew and have a much better understanding of our liturgy.
I am reading the Five Books of Moses, for the first time, and listening to The Study, a podcast that discusses the weekly Torah parsha with a contemporary interpretation. I am discovering Old Testament origins that are new to me. Lech L’cha, a favorite Debbie Friedman song, comes from Genesis. I didn’t know that! Elohai N’tzor, a Pink Martini hit, is based on Psalms. Ditto!
These studies have brought added meaning to my Jewish life. I am learning a lot and feel more grounded in my Jewish history.
Thank you to Cantors Attie and Luck especially, and to all the Emanu-el clergy, for being such inspirational guides and teachers.
For me, this belated journey into Judaism has been a joy and I can’t wait to find out what’s next!
There are so many questions when one decides to have a bat mitzvah in ones 50s. I’ve always had a strong sense of Jewish identity but haven’t felt connected to the Jewish community and except for the prayers and songs learned at Jewish summer camp on the Oregon coast, my Jewish education was limited to family dinners on Jewish holidays. As some of you know I love to cook, and I’ve done a pretty good job of mastering recipes needed to carry on culinary traditions, but otherwise my knowledge about Judaism and our traditions has been superficial. I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I might be able to study for an adult bat mitzvah, but I credit the reflection that the pandemic spurred for prompting me to do a search and to find this program. It has been an incredible privilege to be a part of this amazing chavrutah and to soak up the teachings of our cantors and rabbis. I’ve come to have deep appreciation for the repetition and tradition of shabbat and holiday services. I also love the fact that we are grounded in a text which is timeless and promotes healthy dialogue, interpretation and re-interpretation.
On this journey, I’ve discovered that I have the privilege of being part of a community that is permitted to think for themselves about whether Vayashev, or the Joseph story, is about a boy with a big ego, a dysfunctional family full of spite and favoritism and ultimately forgiveness, strong women who advocate for themselves albeit in unconventional ways, the ability to rise above adversity when in tough situations or to do some crazy things in the name of fairness. All of this thinking is permitted, and perhaps more importantly, we are pushed to draw parallels between the ancient stories of the torah and contemporary issues.
I was most struck by issues related to family in our parasha. As I talk about family here, I mean family in a broad sense of the word, both actual family as well as our extended families whether at work or in our communities. Like the relationship between Joseph, his father and his brothers, we’ve all experienced complex feelings and stress related to family, friends and colleagues. Perhaps we’ve felt dumped in a figurative pit akin to that pit into which Joseph was tossed. Joseph and his brothers did stupid stuff in their youth, created misery for their father and each other, provided no apologies nor reconciliation and many years passed before Joseph forgave his brothers. Despite immense love and respect, I’ve observed this to play itself out in many families. While ultimately Joseph was able to choose forgiveness rather than remaining passive or choosing revenge, there were many lost years along the way. We may not be able to eliminate the misunderstandings and disagreements, but I am hoping we might accelerate pathways to forgiveness. Joseph ultimately used his experiences and unfortunate situations in a positive way. Perhaps we too can creatively rise above pettiness and adversity to bring our families and the communities that are our greater families together.
Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of a community that promotes open dialogue, deep thinking and reflection as we make connections between ancient text and the challenges of real life in the 21st century. On this bat mitzvah journey, I have barely scratched the surface of Jewish learning and sincerely look forward to the next chapter. In the words of Rabbi Hillel, which always seem relevant to me, “if not now, when?”
Complicated family relationships are at the heart of Parsha Vayashev. Joseph was a dreamer and initially his dream of rising to a leadership role was poorly received by his brothers to say the least. Yet, by staying optimistic and making the best of all of the trials he endured he was able to realize his dream and become the leader he was designed to be. I think this story invites us to examine how our words and actions come off to others. While Joseph may have had a good message his delivery needed some work. Leadership means building connections with others in a way that builds trust and admiration for others to follow. Family relationships in particular create so many opportunities for hurt feelings and misunderstandings, the more comfortable we are with others the easier it is to be careless or overly frank with our words. When family conflicts develop it’s important to keep in mind where the other person is coming from and that they may not mean for their message to come off in the same way it’s received. I know there have been many times in my own life when I’ve done a poor job conveying my thoughts or feelings to others. I think in many ways becoming Bat Mitzvah at this stage in my life is more meaningful because the breadth of human experience that comes with time makes the Torah more meaningful.
Coming to this moment in my life of being Bat Mitzvah has been a dream of mine for a long time. With my 40th birthday around the corner reaching this milestone is all the more meaningful. Getting to this point and connecting with the other people in this Benei Mitzvah group has been such an amazing experience, and as a result I feel both more connected to my Jewishness and more connected to myself as a human being. And for my kids, Ronin, Colin and Leela, if there’s anything that I hope you can take away from the story of Joseph it’s this: No matter how annoying your siblings are, while you can ask them to apologize or tell on them, it’s never ok to throw them in a well.
I’m so fortunate to be able to stand here today in front of my friends and family, my parents, husband and kids, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate having all of you in my life.
Welcome friends, family, and congregants, to today’s morning shabbat service, which will be co-led by the members of our Congregation Emanuel Anshei Mitzvah class. I’m Susanna Benningfield, one of our group of a dozen adult congregants who will become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah today, as many 13-year-olds have done before us, alone, on this bima, including my sons Jonah and Max when they were 13.
Some of my friends have expressed surprise that there is such a thing as an adult becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. They are curious as to why I didn’t already go through this rite of passage when I was a teenager. In my case, I couldn’t figure out a way to have a meaningful experience for myself at that place and time, and told myself I could always do it later, when I could find the right time, place, and community support. For me, the right place has been with the Congregation Emanuel Anshei Mitzvah class, and the right time ended up being 44 years after turning 13.
What does it mean to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Cantor Attie explained that it’s the moment we each enter into the Jewish covenant and accept the responsibilities of being a Jew, which is an important commitment to make at any age. In addition to this, Cantor Attie went on, the B Mitzvah is now held responsible for their own actions, not their parents. For this Anshei Mitzvah class, perhaps most of us already ticked that one off our list.
Our class began working together in October of 2021, after a year’s delay during the COVID lockdowns. We had weekly Zoom meetings with Cantor Attie to learn Hebrew, and then continued on to learn how to chant Torah trope with Cantor Luck. Over the 14 months of our study together,, we have had monthly meetings with the rabbinical team to learn about Jewish literacy and competency, participation in Jewish communal life, ritual practice, and morning shabbat service preparation. Part of this preparation has been learning how to chant lines from the Torah parsha Vayeshev, which begins with the story of Joseph and his brothers. You will hear teachings from my classmates on this parsha throughout today’s service.
But why does the Jewish tradition have a coming-of-age rite that involves a public reading test?
According to Rabbi Benay Lappe, the responsibilities of being a member of the Jewish community include two things: Gamirna, the process of one’s engaging in learning and study, and Savirna, the development of one’s reason, specifically one’s engaging in learning to cultivate one’s moral intuition. As we do a deep reading of the primary texts, and then bring our own interpretations to these stories, we join in the tradition of the Talmudic scholars who interpreted these texts themselves in past generations. In this way we are in dialogue with our ancestors about the meanings to be found in these stories, and we have permission to disagree about these interpretations. By constantly reconsidering and rethinking the same ancient sacred texts, we can keep our traditions but make them relevant for us in the present.
The Tauber Jewish Studies Program is made possible by The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, reflecting the dynamic, generous, and enduring spirit of Dr. Laszlo N. Tauber.
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