Shalom Rav From Our Rabbis

April 1, 2024
Reflections on Hope and Gratitude
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Time is such a funny thing, isn’t it? It feels like High Holy Days recently ended. We were just heading into the darkness of short winter days, and here we are in the midst of Spring. It was cold and dark, but now the days are getting longer and lighter. Get out and take some walks. Certain trees look dead, until you inspect them more closely and realize that inside, a vibrant sap is flowing, and you realize that tightly closed buds are soon to blossom.

The psalmist said, “I look up to the mountains. What is the source of my Help?” I look to the lengthening days, to the seemingly dead trees packed with the promise of closed buds, to the mountains all around us, to the vibrant life-force flowing within the walls of our own congregation. These are the sources of my Hope.

I distinctly remember arriving at my first rabbinical position at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York. It was summer, 1989 and the rest of the clergy were away on their much-needed vacations. Before my first Friday night service, I asked congregants if the tradition of the congregation was to stand before the open or closed ark at Aleinu. They were unsure. I was unsure. Congregants immediately started coming to see me with life problems that had never occurred to me. I learned to sit, to listen, to be present, and to share Jewish tools and Jewish sources of ancient wisdom for walking through hard times. I was 29 years old, and just getting started. And now I am 64 and completing a very full and fulfilling synagogue rabbinate.

Even though it is hard to remember a time as fraught as now, my biggest “take-away” from my entire career is that, as Jews, we have every reason to embrace a long-view attitude of optimism, hope and gratitude. Ours is one of hundreds of vibrant and healthy synagogues all across the country. Like so many other synagogues, we offer more opportunities to connect with the Jewish people over Torah, services, social justice, cultural gatherings, or lifelong learning than any one person could attend. People continue to join Emanu-El throughout the year, we have more conversion students than we can handle, and I am convinced that if we knew how to “market” what we have at Emanu-El, we would have even more members.

Day after day, all throughout my rabbinate, I have witnessed the ways in which Jewish tradition, ritual and community have made a profound positive difference in the lives of thousands of synagogue members as they celebrate and observe the highs and lows of a human life. In every synagogue Jonathan and I have served, our vision has included radically welcoming any person to enter as they are and walk the path of Judaism at their own pace.

Sometimes our rented space while we are under construction looks like a tree in winter. On the walls just down the street, someone has written “Kill the Jews” (the local police promptly come out and clean the walls, even if the graffiti will later be re-applied). Inside the building, throughout the week, the tiniest little Jews enthusiastically embrace daily Jewish living. Every Sunday, the place is teeming with Jews of every possible age. Tiny children holding hands and giggling. Teenagers everywhere with so much beautiful hair! Dedicated teachers sharing their love of Judaism week after week. It is impossible to show up on any given YFE Sunday morning and not feel hopeful about the future of Judaism.

What has struck me most, from October 7, 2023 until now, is how unfailingly all parts of our community refuse to cower or bend to the will of those who would like us all to disappear. Services have been full and heartfelt. We keep starting new classes on top of the old ones. There is a hunger to learn more about our Judaism, to grow a deeper sense of connection and belonging, to proudly express our Jewish selves, even as we work for peace for all peoples.

I am filled with gratitude for the health of this Jewish community as we prepare to transition to rabbis emeritus who plan to stay in our current home as long as possible. With Rabbi Bauer set to step up on July 1 to be our next senior rabbi, Emanu-El is poised to open a brand-new exciting chapter in the almost 175-year Emanu-El history book. Rabbi Jonathan and I will be away July 1 through the end of December and then back in January, 2025 to support Rabbi Bauer and to attend our favorite services on most Fridays. I hope you will be there, too. Nothing kicks off a weekend like the beautiful, musical, hope-filled services at Emanu-El.

Time is such a funny thing. I was just 29 and getting started in my career and suddenly I’m pushing 65 and searching for San Francisco’s best senior citizen deals! The greatest gift time has given me is the gift of hope, optimism, and bottomless gratitude. And the number one reason for that hope and gratitude is you. Thank you.

March 1, 2024
With Esther’s Courage
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

In taking time to think about the trajectory of our rabbinic career during this final year of our active rabbinate, this Purim is especially meaningful. The Megillah, a text that the rabbis had to think about including in the Bible, tells a story that is common and resonates with us today – yet again an antisemite tried to harm us, and we were able to overcome their hatred. But the Megillah is also the story of Jewish women finding their voice as leaders of our people, something that is also essential for us to appreciate today. The scroll of Esther opens up not focusing on Haman, but with Vashti, the Persian queen challenging sexist male authority, and closes with Esther as the new queen, not Mordecai, determining the fate of the Jewish people. How strange and yet encouraging to have an ancient text show in its pages a transition from trying to silence women to having a woman, in this case, a quite young one, show the people the way forward. Esther used her voice, her wisdom, and her courageous leadership to guide the people and she declared the holiday which we practice down to this day.

The story of Esther resonates with me personally because I have many memories of being not just a rabbinic couple and the relative uniqueness of that experience, but of what it was like being married to one of the early generation of women rabbis. We have been rabbis for almost 36 years and so what seems normal today was not so normal back in 1989. For much of the first half of her career, I would often hear from Rabbi Beth about another fellow Jew, often a member of the temple we were serving, say, “Oh, until you, I didn’t know that women could be rabbis!” Or, “Oh, we wanted the male rabbi to lead our service.” Even worse: “I can’t believe I kissed a rabbi,” said by a male congregant in the kiddish line. Such occurrences were not uncommon. Even my own mentor could not control his sexism when he told me that having women rabbis would lead to the feminization of the rabbinate, as if that might then happen in medicine or politics or any other area of professional leadership. Rabbi Beth, like so many other women rabbis of her generation, bravely put up with this behavior, trying to change it over time, showing the power and great need for Jewish women’s leadership. She and others spearheaded the way for women rabbis that are now some of the primary voices of American Judaism, not just in the rabbinate but in other areas of Jewish leadership. It was an effort that took courage à la Esther to change something wrong in Jewish life.

Being a part of a community that believes that the ancient can inform the new and that the new can add or modify the tradition so it can still be meaningful in our day is such a blessing. We are so wonderfully served by not just Rabbi Beth, but Rabbi Parris, Rabbi Mintz and Cantor Attie. Our work, however, is still unfinished because as the Book of Esther reminds us, we have to always be vigilant against hate, but also against sexism. There are still those today who would like to quiet women’s voices – which is why we believe supporting Women of the Wall is so important – and of course those who want to control women’s bodies. Across the world, women’s rights are under attack. And we have yet to have a woman president lead this country. So come hear the Megillah this year. Learn from Mordecai’s example – as he understands the value of being an ally while not being at the center of the story – and be inspired by the courage and heroism of Esther and by Vashti. In the Talmud, the rabbis who were canonizing the Bible have Esther come and demand that her text be included in the Tanach – the Hebrew Bible. “Establish me for future generations,” she demands. And we are blessed because those ancient rabbis heartened to her voice!

Hope you can join us on Friday, March 8th as we celebrate Rabbi Sarah Parris’s five years of teaching us her Torah.

Rabbi Jonathan

February 1, 2024
Focusing Our Awareness
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

If you’ve been around the Jewish people long enough, you probably think you have mastered every possible Jewish acronym from ADL to ZBT. But do you know the acronym JDAIM? This was a new one for me, but an important addition to our Jewish lexicon. JDAIM stands for Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month and it happens every February. As you read this, we are taking the month to focus our awareness on Jews with disabilities, and Jewish families with family members with disabilities. The ultimate goal is that every person should be welcome and included in our Emanu-El community, and that it takes work to make traditionally excluded people feel included.

For Jews, the concept or including every person in our community is fundamental to our understanding of Jewish theology. God created each person in the divine image. If a person happens to have a diagnosis or autism, or they are deaf, or they have a form or mental Illness, or they are missing a leg or an arm, each one is created in the divine image and carries within them a spark of God’s holiness.

Unfortunately, throughout the generations, our society has often feared, ostracized and ridiculed individuals with any category of disability. You might think that with our belief that every person is created by God and carries a spark of God within, we would be the most inclusive, welcoming people. But societal prejudices run deep. We often simply do not know how to welcome in people we perceive as different than ourselves.

Though this one month is focused on disability awareness and inclusion, it’s an ongoing process of improvement. Here is one example of growth in understanding and change: In my childhood, there were almost no children with disabilities in my religious school, and none of the children with disabilities at my childhood temple were called to Torah as B Mitzvah.

Over time we learned that there are methods and measures that can be implemented at Temple to create an environment that welcomes everyone. Hiring special needs teachers, teaching assistants and tutors trained with skills to help children with disabilities participate in all facets of Temple life has been one method. We believe that it is the right of every Jewish child to be called to Torah as B Mitzvah. We design services that are meaningful and accessible for each child on an individualized basis.

Ideally, we want Jews with any kind of disability of all ages to fully participate in all areas of Temple life. As a synagogue we can continue to raise awareness and educate ourselves. We can work on our own journey to overcome societally inculcated bias and stigma associated with difference. And we can always remind ourselves that the root idea of Judaism is that each one of us is created in the divine image and we each carry a spark of the divine within ourselves.

If you happen to be at services Friday, February 9th, we plan to have resource information available to all of our congregants. May we always look for the holiness in each and every person. Happy JDAIM!

January 1, 2024
What’s Going Right
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Charles Silberman in his Book, A Certain People, now almost forty years old, taught that we Jews as a people always think we are dying, and so we are always working to save ourselves! That notion that we have a communal hypochondria, the side-effect of which is that we are always working on ourselves and trying to improve, is an observation I think is right on point.

So in the spirit of the secular new year as opposed to Rosh Hashanah which reflects that “Silbermanian” perspective as we acknowledge our faults and think about what might be, I want to take this moment and focus on what we are doing right and should celebrate with a l’chayim.

It is good to consider how Congregation Emanu-El is in many ways thriving, even as we worry about the conflict in Israel, and the new antisemitism that has reared its ugly head, representative of some of the fractures in American society.

So…. What is going right:

This past month 250 people turned out for our monthly Tot Shabbat which has been growing and growing in popularity. As you see parents make new friends there and at our beautiful preschool, with children filling up the room, one wonders about the claim that the city is bereft of people under the age of eighteen.

Speaking of children – our religious school is teeming with activity as well. We have nearly seamlessly made the transition to holding classes at the Star of the Sea. This year we have over 560 children coming into our building for religious and Hebrew Schools. The family retreat for the Spring at Camp Newman already has a waiting list and our youth and Madrichim – student-teacher program is filled with teens learning how to be future teachers and leaders.

Through our Young Family programming (for families with children under 6), we’ve introduced a range of exciting new initiatives catering to young families in addition to Tot Shabbat over the last six months. These include monthly coffee dates for parents of young children at Breck’s, Mazel Tots — engaging music classes for toddlers and their parents/caregivers, and monthly outdoor Shabbat programs held in various parks across the city.

Our Adult Learning classes are under way and people are excitingly engaging in learning from our packed Intro to Judaism class, and our adults preparing for b’nei mitzvah in the Anshei Mitzvah class. Rabbi Noah Westreich’s new Talmud class is wonderfully underway and so is our new Leadership Torah Class and Cantor Attie’s ShirSong. All this is in addition to wonderful Torah studies, scholar in residences and special speakers.

The Tzedek Collective in the work for Tikkun Olam this year has successfully sponsored a refugee family from Ukraine. Moreover, they have also joined up with St. John’s next door to support the food bank and winter shelter programs, on top of leading Light of Giving and other social justice activities. Cantor Luck also has our 7th graders volunteering at City Hope, bringing support and friendly faces to some of the homeless population.

Our Young Adult program led by YALC with its signature Late Shabbat is thriving with attendance increasing to upwards of 400+ young adults filling up the sanctuary, all wanting to connect to Jewish life and build community here at Emanu-El.

Our Ten Lev Collective is ramping up to help members in need where possible with food, visits, outreach and support. This is a wonderful way to link our community together.

And our new building proceeds on schedule; the construction team has now dug what will become the foundation of our updated home, giving us a glimpse at an even more dynamic spiritual future here for Jewish San Francisco.

I could go on much further, because there are so many ways to engage, but I wanted to give you a more global perspective of what is happening in this beautiful and meaningful community. Perhaps it will help you remember that there is so much good out there despite the disappointments, and that your engagement matters!

Shana Secular Tovah,

Rabbi Jonathan

December 1, 2023
Light and Miracles
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

I kvetch with you every month that I am writing these words in late October for you to read in the first week of December. If it used to be challenging to guess how things would be in the Jewish world a month from now, it has only gotten harder.

The first week of December 2023 will be only eight weeks since Hamas’ bloody and violent attack, not on military installations, and not on occupied territory, but on the Southern border of Israel, davka / precisely on large numbers of civilian peace activists, babies and Holocaust survivors.

Of so many articles that were written, I felt that words penned in an OpEd to J. The Jewish News of Northern California by our own Danny Grossman, most deeply echoed my personal feelings. Danny wrote: “I had no time to mourn before being confronted by Russia and China’s refusal to denounce this attack, before seeing Iran stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Hamas, before hearing Syria and Lebanon suggest that Israel provoked the massacre. I had no time to wrap my head around the full-throated justification of terrorism being shouted across college campuses. Even as we wept, many of our most respected academic institutions failed to rebuke Hamas. Some suggested an outright moral equivalence between a murderous pogrom on the one hand and a military effort to dislodge Hamas on the other. Through my grief, I wondered how it could be so difficult to denounce a terrorist organization’s complete contempt for the sanctity of life.” (J., October 22, 2023)

As a person born 15 years after World War II ended, I still can hardly wrap my mind around that level of violent terror, murder, and kidnapping of Jews. At different moments of every day and night, I think about each of those who were kidnapped. How are they being treated? How are they enduring captivity? Are they even still alive? I have thought about all the individuals and families who no longer have their daughter or their son or their mom or their grandparent. The loss is incalculable. I know that so many of you are sharing these thoughts. We worry, too, for innocent Gazans who are also being held captive by Hamas, as Hamas uses its resources to fire on Israel and protect itself, rather than protect and feed its citizens. These thoughts take us to a very dark place.

Enter Chanukah, December 7th through 14th. A holiday focused on light. We need light. A holiday focused on miracles. We need miracles. A holiday that reminds us that Jews have persevered through the darkest of times. We need that reminder.

When you are feeling helpless and hopeless, here are some things you can do:

  • Light your Chanukah candles every night in your window to proudly proclaim your Jewishness, and to increase the light.
  • Bring your Chanukah menorah and join us Friday, December 8th. Treats at 5:00 pm. At 6:00 pm we will add to Emanu-El’s light by installing our newest rabbi, Rabbi Noah Westreich. A very charismatic rabbi, Rabbi Matt Green from Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, will speak with us that night. Teens will sing.
  • Use our website to check out so many ways of bringing in light together including: Tot Shabbat Chanukah, Warriors Chanukah, and Marin Pop Up Chanukah.
  • Nothing brings light quite like helping others, so check out our Temple volunteer and Tzedek opportunities on our website, including our Light of Giving effort.
  • Mark Friday night, January 12 and Sunday, January 14, 2024, 10:00 am on your calendars now for a light-filled celebration with our friends at Third Baptist Church. This will be my final opportunity to speak directly to our friends at church and I have a few things to say!

When things are bad, especially for the Jews, our best response is to come together and to find every possible way to increase the light. Happy Chanukah!

November 1, 2023
Reflections of God
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

As we reel from the horrific attack on Israel by Hamas we begin to remember those who perished, understand what was lost, and consider how we can come together and go forward. It is paramount that we see Hamas differently from other actors in the conflict as they are a nihilistic terrorist organization bent on destruction. They clearly state that they have no interest in finding a path to peace and they certainly reject a two-state solution. The killing we witnessed on social media was a modern-day pogrom, and the targets were civilians, the innocent, children, elderly, and even babies. Their deaths were celebrated by these haters, and those who try to use phrases that equate Israeli actions which we at times must condemn, with what Hamas did, either do not understand what they are seeing with their own eyes, or do not want to understand.

At the same time, we must not vilify the Palestinian people – they, like us, are reflections of God, and we must keep seeing that in them and in each other and find the path to peace.

An example of what was lost: In rabbinical school Rabbi Beth and I had the honor of studying with Ben Zion Wacholder, professor of Talmud at the Cincinnati camps of the Hebrew Union College. Dr. Wacholder was legally blind, and it was rumored that this was due to his experience during the Holocaust. He had blonde hair and managed to pass himself off as non-Jewish laborer. People believe that to survive, he at one time resorted to eating bark from a tree. It is hard to separate the mythological from the historical, but it is true that after the war he learned English while attending Yeshiva University, where he got a BA in English literature. While getting his PHD at UCLA and working as a librarian at the Hebrew Union College while still a graduate student, he began helping the rabbinic students with their Talmud homework. It became clear that he was an Illui – a brilliant scholar, and eventually he became part of the faculty of the college. Rabbi Beth and I were privileged to attend a Passover seder in his home, and it was Dr. Wacholder who, using early PCs with a graduate student and a concordance that they had received, forced the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were under the purview of just a few scholars, by using an early computer program to pre-publish some of the scrolls. He was such a brilliant, gentle man. His grandson, the grandchild of this survivor, was murdered by Hamas in his home in Israel.

We have too many stories like his. The attack was the worst loss in terms of numbers of lives lost in one day, since the creation of the state. Our Israeli family members are now having to fight yet again for their right to exist, and they should not have to; the resulting cost on both sides, will be heavy. Innocent Palestinians will inevitably suffer because of the extremism of Hamas.

What can we do? How do we not just feel powerless to respond? First, we can come together to both comfort each other, but also to keep proudly building Jewish life both here and there. Join us by making the minyanim on Shabbat, come to the classes and lectures, and show that Jewish life here in San Francisco is flourishing.

We can speak out when others want to castigate Israel for defending its right to be a Jewish state. There are those who claim Israelis are colonialist, ignoring our history, or that the Jews who make up the majority of the state are from the Middle East. Their stand against the right for Jews to have nationalism just like any other people, is a form of antisemitism.

We can be more confident as we stand up against hatred – Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live – and we can proudly stand up for ourselves. We can support the rebuilding of that which was broken and push for support from our leaders in government. We can donate to the hospitals and to the agencies that are committed to helping people in need. And despite the pain – we can also keep extending that hand of peace to those willing to take it.

We can also talk and listen to those who may have different perspectives from you about Israel and the conflict. One who wants a two state solution, and wants Israel to leave the West Bank, is one who desires peace and is not anti-Israel. However, they may not understand that Hamas does not embrace that vision. Hamas only believes in destruction. So listen and talk, and engage and do not write someone off. And we can keep calling, writing and reaching out to our friends there. They need to keep hearing from you, that you care, that you are there for them.

We can visit too – I hope to lead a solidarity trip in February , and walk the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Beersheba and the border, showing that we are one, a determined people standing together.

Let me know if you are interested.

October 1, 2023
Activating Your Judaism
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

My parents loved to throw dinner parties for their friends throughout my childhood. My mom would pull out all her Julia Child recipes and make a fancy French meal. My parents would dress up, and then, about 10 minutes before the start time, my dad would ask nervously, “So, Do you think anyone is going to come?” He asked every time, and the guests showed up every time.

I feel like that sometimes in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days. We worked so intensively to get the Temple ready for our great High Holy Day family reunion. A day or two before, I always wonder, “Will they show up?”

And yes, throughout last month’s High Holy Days, you flooded in. You dealt with the temporary inconveniences of the renovation. You filled the seats. You livestreamed in from all around the globe. You came to the Redwoods, the park, and the beach. You sang, you listened, you did your own teshuvah, you were part of the Jewish collective praying for a better year of peace, health and joy.

On Rosh HaShanah morning, I encouraged you to consider your own agency in building the Jewish future. Increasingly, throughout the decades of my rabbinate, I came to realize that it was you who perpetuates Judaism by showing up, by joining, by leading, by participating, by doing what you love Jewishly and by trying new Jewish experiences. I realized that as a synagogue member, it wouldn’t matter if you have kids or not, or if you come all the time, or not, but that you are perpetuating the Jewish future in so many different ways.

Mid-October ushers in the Jewish month of Cheshvan, and it is a Hebrew month without holidays. A holiday-free month reminds us that there are so many ways to activate your Judaism. Read a Jewish book. Deepen your own knowledge of Jewish history. Visit a Jewish museum. Take an in-person or online class about Judaism. Give tzedakah. Come to Torah Study. Find one new additional way that you mark Shabbat. Do a deep dive into what is happening in Israel right now. Mark your calendar to meet one or all of our upcoming Emanu-El scholar/speakers: Adam Kirsch on Friday, November 3. Sigal Kanotopsky on Friday, December 1. Rabbi Matt Green on Friday, December 8. Each speaker will deepen your own Jewish knowledge and understanding.

Before long, it will be Chanukah and we will light up the dark nights with added light each night. Temple will host a number of gatherings, and I have no doubt you will show up! This period of time between the end of the chagim and the start of Chanukah presents a wonderful opportunity to think about one part of your own Judaism that you could deepen, and take some time to do just that. Find your way to embrace the Jewish present in a manner that contributes to the Jewish future. Your rabbis, cantors and engagement team are all here to support you on your personal Jewish journey.

September 1, 2023
Our Sacred Sanctuaries
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

I sometimes give tours of our Main Sanctuary to curious visitors wanting to learn about our building, history and community. There is that moment when we come up the steps of the bimah and approach the ark that is for many, breathtaking. The view from up high is pretty amazing, but seeing the ark up close, the intricate design and tremendous attention to detail, its beauty is astounding. The artists who created at the behest of the architect, tried to utilize materials that the Torah describes as having been part of the design of the original ark -lapis lazuli, rubies , gold, and there are even stave rings, to recall the ancients carrying the ark through the wilderness- though I can’t imagine anyone being able to lift the one in our sanctuary. It must weigh a few tons.

As we find ourselves entering this new year in the midst of construction, I am grateful that our Main Sanctuary will be fully available for all of services. It is in that wonderful space, truly reflecting hiddur mitzvah – making the fulfillment of the mitzvah beautiful, that I find my spiritual self able to open up. Besides the sounding of the shofar, as the room reverberates with the prayers of more than a thousand people and the light pours through the beautiful stain glass, the melodies and
music lift us spiritually higher, as do the teachings of our rabbis and cantors.

These holidays are both meant to be grand and warm, elevating and inviting, communal and personal and the ark at the center calls us to say Hineni, here I am, in a place of
holiness, ready to renew my own sense of holiness. It is a time of Jewish reunion, where we beckon anyone who wishes to connect with this ever young tradition to come and join us and experience the depth of Jewish wisdom and spiritually and find community.

Yes, we are under construction, and the High Holy Days are a time to reconstruct, redirect ourselves, and find new pathways of hope in our lives. This year, we will make sanctuaries and celebrate the beauty of creation in front of the Ark, but also in the Redwood Grove, at Baker Beach, and even in the church next door which has so graciously offered to help us during this time of Emanu-El’s renewal.

We hope to see you with us, helping us to build up Jewish life in San Francisco, and encouraging your friends to join this community as well. Let us together say, “Hineni – Here I am, as we join hands in working on teshuvah, making our lives even better and welcoming in a new year.

Shanah Tovah u Mtukah,
Happy Sweet New Year,
Rabbi Jonathan

August 1, 2023
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time.

I’ve always loved that classic David Bowie song, Changes. Those opening chords, the beat, and that wistful opening, “Still don’t know what I was waiting for, and my time was running wild.” The song came out the year before my Bat Mitzvah. Talk about Changes. Oy. Puberty. Leaving home. Learning. Growing. Changing. Heraclitus said that the only constant in life is change.

More about change in a moment. But first, I’m excited for you to read all the pages of this month’s Chronicle. One thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to providing the widest variety and depth of Jewish experience. As you thumb through the pages, take note of the different religious, educational, and cultural activities coming up in the next few months. From our Welcome Back Shabbat on Friday, August 25 to our upcoming High Holy Day services and events to the thrill of scholar Adam Kirsch in November (Google him! It’s a big deal), there are as many opportunities for you to strengthen your connection to Judaism and to Emanu-El as fit in your schedule.

We recently opened the fifth book of Torah, the Book of Deuteronomy, or D’varim. D’varim literally means “stuff” or “words,” or “words about stuff.” Throughout D’varim, Moses looks back with the Israelites and reviews all the changes that have taken place and are yet to take place as the Israelite people stand at the threshold of the Promised Land after a long sojourn in the wilderness.

Like those Israelites, we, too, stand at the threshold of our Promised Land. Portions of our building are under renovation. We continue to gather in our Main Sanctuary and around the Bay. Sometimes, though, it feels like we are wandering in the wilderness —holding meetings in coffee shops, looking for other venues around the City for programs, preparing to gather in our Main Sanctuary for the upcoming High Holy Days.

Change is hard! Seeing evidence of the renovation in progress can feel unsettling. Uncertainties about what it is all going to look and feel like when the new building opens can make us feel anxious.

Right now, we are all together in the wilderness marching toward the promised land of a stunningly renovated building that is far more safe, secure, welcoming, and user-friendly than the one that served our people so well for these past 100 years. This year, the changes you see happening as you arrive for High Holy Day services may feel off-putting at first. Try this. When you see the changes as the building is transformed, see those changes as an invitation to take stock of how you want to change in this coming year. Do you want to spend less time on your device? Give more to the community? Focus on your friendships? Work on patience? Stand up for human rights? Show your love for San Francisco? Deepen one aspect of your Jewish practice? Strengthen your Jewish identity? The High Holy Days teach us that change is desirable and possible! If Congregation Emanu-El can change to meet the needs of the time, so can we.

Change is hard. But change is easier when we journey together. It might be tempting to check out for a couple years and come back when it is all done. But we need you now. Please be sure you have renewed your membership. That commitment means so much to us and enables us to serve the whole community. Have you encouraged friends to join us? Bring them to our beautiful services, educational and social justice events. Jewish or non-Jewish, every week new people walk through our doors, find meaning in our Jewish path, and choose to walk with us. Are your kids enrolled in YFE and in our Teen programs? They will experience so many more changes throughout their lives. The kids and teens who come to our youth programs attest to the sense of connection, love and meaning they get from peers and the loving, supportive adults who run our youth programs.

Learning leads to changing leads to growing. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange!” We don’t have to do it alone. We can face the familiar and the strange together.

June 1, 2023
Building Our Jewish Future
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

In 820 BCE or so, the Tanach tells us that the King of Judah, named Yoash, realized that the great Temple needed to be repaired. He set up a system in which the priests would collect the donations commanding them saying, “Let every priest receive money from his constituency and use it to repair any damage in the temple.” But by the twenty third year of his reign, he realized that no repair had taken place. “Why have you not repaired the damage to the Temple,” he enquired. And the text is silent in response but tells us that he turns the responsibility for both collecting the money and repairing the Temple to others. What we learn from this is care of the physical facility, the gathering place of the Jewish people is a holy endeavor that cannot be left to the religious leadership. The call to build and make a holy place- as God instructs Moses in the Book of Exodus, “Ta’aseh li mikdash, v shachanti b’tocham – make me a holy place that I might dwell among you,” lies with the people – with all of you.

I take that teaching to heart. Congregation Emanu-El, which all the clergy feel so proud and honored to teach and engage with, belongs ultimately to you, its membership. The process of building and rebuilding the Temple is something that we all together must engage with if we care about vibrant Jewish life. Jewish life cannot be left to Jewish leadership, it is only vibrant if we together make meaningful gathering places where we build a deeper sense of community.

The phrase – Ta’su li – make for me – is in future command tense. Making community is an ongoing project that is not completed when the physical structure is finished. It depends upon we the people working together, learning together, praying together, and helping each other and others together. This will be more important than ever after our groundbreaking this month. Yes, the building will be under construction with the Main Sanctuary remaining open for services and life cycle events while our schools are gathering at the Star of the Sea – but our sense of community and engagement will also remain “under construction” as we continue to actively build bridges to each other, to learning and to Jewish engagement.

We should all be so proud of our Board and the volunteer leadership that has brought us to this point. We must also be grateful to so many who have given so generously to make the renewal of this Mikdash, this holy place, possible. The work of fundraising is not yet done even as we begin to build. Nor is the work of community building that we hope you will engage with us even more deeply as we embark upon this next period.

It is exciting and we have many wonderful things planned in the year ahead from services both in our sanctuary to Emanu-El activities all around the city and in Marin. So, join with us this month – come to the groundbreaking if you’re able, make the minyan on a Friday night or Saturday morning. Help with the work of our Tzedek Council, take a class offered by our adult learning program, register your child for YFE – for the work of community building, here at beautiful Emanu-El is an ongoing project. “Ta’seh Li Mikdahs” -together we are building the holy, we are building the Jewish future!

May 1, 2023
Happy 75th Birthday, Israel
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Consider the United States of America in the year 1851. Millard Fillmore was our 13th President. Only a year prior, a second fugitive slave law, enforced by the federal government, strengthened the rights of slave owners, and threatened the rights of free Blacks. In that same year, California entered the Union as a free, non-slavery state. In 1851 Sojourner Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. The New York Times was founded. The YMCA was founded. The San Francisco Jewish community held its third High Holy Day services. In 1851, the United States was 75 years old.

This month, we celebrate 75 years of the founding of the State of Israel. As you read this, Jonathan and I are headed to Israel for our second Israel trip in four months. We recently returned from our Reform rabbinical conference where over 200 Reform rabbis gathered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This month, we are accompanying Mayor London Breed on a San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Trip.

American Jews run the gamut from the staunchest defenders of the Jewish State to those who proclaim that Israel should not exist as an independent Jewish state. Most Jews are somewhere in the middle, struggling to balance our love for Israel with our concerns. I have listened to hundreds of American Jews of all ages share their thoughts about Israel and concerns range from: How can we defend Israel against a persistent, aggressive, well-funded and organized campaign of delegitimization? How can we demonstrate our love and support for Israel while criticizing government policies that run counter to our most cherished Jewish value that every person is created in the Divine Image? Why does Israeli government policy privilege ultra-Orthodox practice while not giving equal access to non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism? Why support Israel when the government does not support Reform Judaism?

Why are so many quick to call out Israel while turning a blind eye to governments who govern in a far more egregious manner? Can I show my support for Israel while strenuously objecting to the occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank or examples of discriminatory behavior toward Arabs and other minorities in Israel? Is it safe to visit Israel? Why is the food in Israel so amazing? Why do I feel so happy when I am in Israel? Why is Israel such a leader in tech innovation? Will Israel’s right to exist be perennially threatened? These are just a few of the questions I hear American Jews asking every day.

As we prepare to celebrate Israel’s birthday here at Emanu-El, I encourage you to google a recent essay penned by the current CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Rabbi Hara Person.

The title, “Reform Rabbis will Not Stop Working to Build the Israel of our Hopesand Aspirations,” says it all. I loved the essay’s willingness to embrace the complex messiness of the 75-year-old State of Israel. Rabbi Person notes the concerns of an ultra-right-wing government bent on stripping away democratic values such as an independent high court, reversing rights for nonorthodox Jews, minorities, women, LGBTQ+ and other communities, and quashing the proposition of two states for two peoples.

On my last trip, I encountered a tale of two Israels. In many ways, it was not so different than a foreigner coming to San Francisco to marvel at the latest tech of a driverless car, the best-ever farm-to-table meal, the glories of Golden Gate Park and Land’s End, but also the Tenderloin, the theater district, growing wealth disparity, systemic racist policies that drive the Black community out of San Francisco, anti-Asian violence, chronic homelessness, open air drug sales, addiction and crime.

The problems San Francisco faces are insidious and deeply entrenched, but they don’t keep us from loving San Francisco. Even the knowledge that we now occupy land that for over 10,000 years was home to the Ohlone does not keep us from feeling that San Francisco is our home and that we will keep working at addressing the chronic issues that plague our home. Our Tzedek Collective exists for just this purpose. The United States is now 247 years old. Israel will be 247 in the year 2195. “ALEINU,” we pray every Friday night. “IT IS UP TO US.” I pray that we will all redouble our efforts to build the Israel of our hopes and aspirations.
Happy 75th Birthday, Israel.

April 1, 2023
Recognizing Our Promise
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

I love that the Torah teaches us that just after celebrating the first Passover while still in captivity, a mixed multitude then left Egypt. The Jewish people, the Torah is reminding us, does not consist of one ethnic group or particularity, but all of us who choose to join in the Jewish adventure, are bnai -Abraham vSarah, the generations of Abraham and Sarah.

The act of going, of choosing to leave Egypt, following Moses into the unknown, was an act of liberation yes, but also defiance through personal agency. We become a people, the Torah implies, when we stand up for ourselves.

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Beth and I found ourselves in a mixed multitude on the streets of Tel Aviv, as we joined with leaders of the Israeli Reform movement protesting the proposed changes in Israeli law that would limit the power of the Supreme Court as a check on the Israeli Government.

The scene was like nothing we had ever witnessed in Israel. 150,000 people crammed into the streets, which is the equivalent of a few million Americans joined together in protest. And they were a mixed multitude – people from all walks of life and political perspectives, from all ages and ethnic groups, Jews yes, but also Arab Israelis, realizing they needed to stand up and take action for a democratic Israel – one that respects the rights of the minority, protecting those rights by having a free judiciary that can override the majorities’ attempts to diminish them.

What is going on in Israel is extraordinary. The Israel we love and will continue to support and stand up for is turning 75 this year, and it is finally having to face up to some of the deficiencies in their political and social structure that has allowed extremism to be tolerated and fester. While it may take more time to bring change, what is encouraging is that so many people now realize – this mixed multitude, that change must come. They are in the streets working to promote a democratic Israel that is a Jewish state, reflecting the best of Jewish values.

After that first Passover in Egypt, the Israelites had a journey ahead of them too. There were waters to be parted, challenges to be met. But they made their way with hope and determination to Sinai and then to the Promised Land. This next generation of the Jewish people is on that same journey and we will together recognize our promise!

As you sit at your Passover Seder tables this year, please add special prayers for Next Year in Jerusalem – for peace, for democracy, for the rights of all of us to embrace God’s blessing as we celebrate freedom and holiness.

Happy Passover!

March 1, 2023
Right Time. Right Place.
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

The story of Purim is just one more reminder that fear and hatred of Jews that results in violence against Jews is, itself, an old story. Each generation generates its own Hamans. And it is never just Haman, it is all the followers who jump on Haman’s antisemitism bandwagon, along with those who stay silent in the face of hatred and violence against Jews.

The Purim Megillah is a hilarious, remarkable Jewish Bible story that is filled with “types.” Year after year when I hear the Megillah, I am struck by the personalities. Vashti. She recognized a sexist circus when she saw one and said, “Get me out of here!” King Ahasuerus is a party boy and gives little thought to anything but his own entertainment and power. He is a leader without a moral compass. History has provided us with a few of those “types” in every generation.

The “type” we can learn from is Esther. She seems so young and vulnerable at the start of the story. She is objectified for her beauty and in every instance, she is told by all the men around her where to go, what to say and what not to say, and how to parlay her beauty in order to position her to be where someone else thinks she needs to be. In other words, young Esther has no agency.

You know the story (Come hear it all over again at our Purim Spiel on Sunday, March 5, at Temple and on Monday night, March 6th, at Manny’s — see details on previous page). Haman relays those iconic words to Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people….” Haman presents Ahasuerus with an edict calling for the destruction of all Jews. The King gives his assent. In the drama that ensues, Uncle Mordechai messages Esther to go to the King at once and plead for her people. Esther explains the impossibility of this task based on palace rules. And then, it is these words from uncle to niece that transform Esther into the “type” we can all aspire to be. He says to her: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the King’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance of the Jews will come from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” (Esther 4:14)

Year after year, I am deeply stirred by these words. I believe they could be a mantra for us all every day. Why are you here? What is the purpose of your life? What does YOUR position in life enable you to do to help the Jews and to help all people? What would it take for all of us to muster our courage and refuse to stand by while any people are being singled out and attacked?

If you have not been forbidden from practicing Judaism, then practice! If you have the means to help Jews and all minorities who have their own Hamans, then help. If you are worried about the rise in antisemitism and all forms of hate, speak up, speak out, connect with Temple, JCRC, and all other organizations that monitor and call out hate against Jews and other targeted groups. Who knows, perhaps you are here right now for just such a purpose. Happy Purim.

February 1, 2023
Shabbat Shekalim – Here I Am
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

This month on the Jewish calendar, there is an observance that is almost obscured by the call to celebrate Tu BiShvat and the annual Torah reading of Parshat Yitro. The former celebrates the new year of the trees which is currently taking on an ever more ecological significance while the latter includes the reading of the Ten Commandments, the ethical foundation of the Jewish tradition. Having to stand in time near those two significant calendared events, on the 27th of Shevat which this year coincides with the 18th of February, it is a moment easily ignored. But that day the calendar states is Shabbat Shekalim — which translates roughly as “The Sabbath of Shekels.”

Shabbat Shekalim recalls a time when in the ancient world they would take a census and each household would then pay a half shekel to be used in support of the work of the mishkan — and eventually the Temple — the centers of Jewish worship and spiritual life. The funding paid for the functioning of the spiritual centers, including keeping them in repair and maintaining the priests. In the prophetic reading of the day, it is noted that King Josiah realized the priests had failed in their duty to make the repairs and so set up a system of control. They engaged the larger community to both collect and protect the funds while also taking responsibility to maintain and repair the house of worship.

Today Shabbat Shekalim is observed just with a special Torah reading, but the work to fund our communal, spiritual, educational centers — synagogues — goes on. The Talmud has this famous verse “Im Ein Kemach, Ein Torah, …. If there is no flower (meaning, sustenance, or funds of support) there can be no Torah.” The essential work that we do as Congregation Emanu-El, from helping people through some of the most difficult moments of their lives, while creating frameworks of joy at other moments of the life cycle, the teaching of our children and our adults, the celebration of our culture as well as encouragement of cultural creativity and growth, the work for social justice, the building of Jewish community, the observance of the holidays, the interfaith work and opposition to antisemitism — which includes paying for the guards at the door — all depends upon the collection of shekels from people like you, who care about Jewish community and the Jewish future. As King Josiah found, we cannot depend upon the spiritual leaders for this work, we have to engage and depend upon the Jewish community.

At Congregation Emanu-El, our kemach, our sustenance, comes from the dues you contribute as well as your contributions to our Impact (annual) Fund. We are strengthened as well by people remembering us in their wills, helping to build up our endowment. Every shekel we get is put to good use and though we may be perceived as being a very blessed synagogue, our budget runs as a true nonprofit and in these times coming out of Covid and dealing with inflation — your gifts matter and are significant and so needed.

Fortunately, we have wonderful lay leadership in our community, guiding our financial direction, always thinking of better ways to ask your help funding us, that we might serve all Jews seeking welcoming, egalitarian Jewish community. The work is important, it is holy. And your help to keep Torah vibrant and engaging at Congregation Emanu-El makes a true difference.

Shabbat Shekalim asks each one of us to stand up and be counted and say, “Here I am,” at whatever level I may do, ready to help support Jewish life.

Thank you for doing so.

January 1, 2023
Recommitting to Dr. King’s Vision
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Each year, our Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Pulpit Exchange weekend is second in attendance only to High Holy Days. Friday, January 13th, we hope to once again fill our sanctuary with congregants, guests from Third Baptist Church, and guests (Jewish and non-Jewish) from all around the City to reflect upon, reenergize and recommit ourselves to Dr. King’s vision.

This year, our service will focus on the topic of hate and hate crimes against different minority groups including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, AAPI people, Hispanic people, Native Americans, LGBTQAI+ people, people with disabilities, and women. We will name it. We will condemn it. We will commit ourselves to standing up to hate against any minority group.

I hope you will bring yourself and your friends and help us fill up our sanctuary, but not for the purpose of creating a large service, and not for the purpose of coming to a heartfelt service with great music and food, and not for the purpose of hearing Reverend Amos Brown’s rousing message (all good motivators).

Come because this year’s service will acknowledge the reality of crimes based on hatred of individuals because of their association with a particular race, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. Come because you are feeling disgusted with the
ongoing reports of hate crimes in this country and you want to publicly take a stand against hate. Come because you have had your own experiences with antisemitism and you want to stand together with others who experience hate for no other reason than that they are part of a minority group. Come because Jewish people (including Black Jews) and Black people have a historic allyship, and we reject any attempts to pit one against the other.

Services can be many things. They create space for us to take a much needed pause, a deep breath and to express deep gratitude for life, itself. Services create an opportunity to sit with community and feel less alone. When everything feels like it is falling apart, services remind us of the enduring nature of Jewish tradition, values and hope.

And to all this, our annual MLK Pulpit Exchange service gives us the opportunity to
open our doors wide to welcome in people of all faiths, sexual identities, abilities and disabilities, and ethnicities. Then we go in great numbers on Sunday, January 15th (Dr. King’s actual birthday!) to the 10:00 am Third Baptist service where Rabbi Jonathan Singer will deliver the message, Cantor Attie will sing, and our Temple President Ellen Fleishhacker will deliver greetings from Emanu-El. Rather than meet once a year for a feel-good service then go on our own ways, we partner with Reverend Brown all year long to fight antisemitism and racial injustice. Reverend Brown organizes all year long against hate, and so do we. We invite you to find the information online to join the Black and Jewish Unity Coalition that meets the second Thursday of each month.

When you join us Friday night, January 13 at 5:00 pm for dinner and 6:00 pm for services (MLK Late Young Adult Shabbat services at 8:30 pm), you are not just coming to services. You are making a statement against hate. See you in shul.

December 1, 2022
The Festival of Lights and Song!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

To get ready for Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, besides putting the Chanukah menorahs from our collection on display, I will also search in the back of our closet for the Chanukah box. It is a gift box that contains a mixed multitude of those colored candles, some crumpled and tangled but still useable foil decorations, and a mélange of plastic dreidels and other chazerai.

For some of us, that box is not unlike our Christian friends’ Christmas boxes. We similarly work to bring the light of joy into our homes at the darkest time of the year. Each holiday has its decorations and foods, gift-giving and time for families to gather. And each has its story. It is inaccurate to argue that Chanukah is a Jewish replacement for Christmas, because it is based on an historic event and is established in the Talmud. And yet there can be no doubt that how we observe it was influenced — as has often been the case in Jewish history — by absorbing our neighbors’ practices that we found attractive.

At the bottom of my Chanukah box are applesauce-soiled sheets of music with the words of Chanukah songs printed upon them. Rock of Ages, Oh Chanukah Oh Chanukah, and Light One Candle are a joy to sing — and, yes, they were inspired by the Christmas practice of caroling. Take the story of one of the most famous of these songs: I Had A Little Dreidel. Just by reading those words, I am sure the melody of that little ditty is playing in your head. While one might know that this is not a song from Sinai — meaning that it is not ancient — its derivation is fascinating. This song, which we sing after lighting the candles, is actually related to Shalom Aleichem, the Shabbat song! Samuel Goldfarb and his brother, Israel, were both Jewish composers who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City. Israel, who became a Cantor, composed the melody to Shalom Aleichem in 1918. Meanwhile, Samuel made his way to Seattle. There, while working as the music director of Temple DeHirsch Sinai, a Reform synagogue where Rabbi Beth once served, he popularized the Dreidel song that he had written back in New York. He introduced it, we are told, so Jewish school children would have a song to sing in the Seattle schools along with the Christian children. It was, as we all know, quite the Jewish musical hit!

As you prepare for your lightings this year, I hope you will put together some song sheets and join together in singing your favorite
Chanukah tunes. As simple as some may be, they are a way to celebrate Jewish particularity and culture while emphasizing the holiday’s focus on freedom and identity. Although we may have learned this practice from others, the joy these songs bring certainly adds to the blessing of the Chanukah lights.

Happy Chanukah!

November 1, 2022
Giving Thanks
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

We Jews are named for the second-century biblical kingdom of Judah. Yehudi means “Jew” and Yahadut is Judaism. Yehudah — Judah — was one of Jacob’s children. When Judah was born, his mother, Leah, gave thanks. The root of the name of our people is the root of Hoda-ah, which means “thanks.” In other words, Jew/Jewish/Judaism is synonymous with Thanksgiving.

The American holiday called Thanksgiving has long been my favorite American holiday. My parents instilled in my sisters and me a strong sense of both Jewish and American identity. In addition to weekly Friday nightdinners and beautiful seders, they prepared a grand Thanksgiving feast every year. Since we lived near a Navy base, we often had young sailors in uniform at our Thanksgiving table and my little sisters and I could barely contain our giggles and crushes on these handsome young men!

While I will always love the idea that the American people set aside one day a year to focus on our sense of thanksgiving, I feel especially proud to be a part of a religious civilization where we are commanded and invited to give thanks every day from the moment we wake up, throughout our day, and until we go to sleep at night. We are a people of giving thanks.

Culturally, we have also been known to be a kvetchy (complaining) people! My favorite joke is about the Florida waitress who walks up to a table full of Jewish patrons and asks, “Is anything okay?” Kvetching is as old as the Torah. No sooner had God, Moses, Aaron and Miriam freed the Hebrews (as we were called a few appellations before we became the Jews) then people started complaining about everything from their aching feet to the lack of decent food. I, myself, am a great complainer. I complain when it gets cold and foggy in the summer. I complain when I run out of chocolate. And don’t even get me started
on the paucity of texts and calls from my kids. Beyond our petty complaints, Jews have a beautiful history of not sitting quietly in the face of injustice. When we experience antisemitism, racial disparity, gender inequity, wealth disparity and so many other wrongs, we complain and join coalitions of complainers in order to change the system for the better.

But just as Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to not complaining, so, too, Judaism is filled with daily, weekly and seasonal opportunities to express gratitude. Every morning, we thank God for restoring our souls and giving us another day. Tradition encourages us to say 100 blessings each day. Every Shabbat, we express thanks for creation and for rest. Judaism relentlessly pushes us to focus on gratitude. Do you owe a call to anyone to thank them for being there for you? Call them. Do you owe a note of thanks to anyone who helped you recently? Write them. Feeling like you live in abundance? Volunteer to help those with less. Helping others is a form of giving thanks that everyone can do. Need to change your proportion of kvetchy to grateful? Come to Shabbat weekly thanksgiving services. There’s a time to kvetch and a time to give thanks, but let’s mostly give thanks, ho’da-ah, for the many blessings in our lives.

October 1, 2022
Welcoming Sukkot – Let it Rain!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

American music has so many songs about rain. “Let
it Rain, Let it Rain,” by Eric Clapton; “Here Comes
the Rain Again,” by the Eurythmics; and the musical
theater classic, “Singin’ in the Rain,” to name a few. Not
to be outdone, one of the first Israeli songs our children
learn is a rain song too — “Mayim Mayim Mayim,” a rain dance song composed by Emanuel Amiran-Pougatchov to celebrate water being found in the Negev in 1937, after a seven-year search.

Songs about rain remind us just how precious water is. Our lives depend on rains coming in their seasons
to help grow our crops, renew our forest, fill our rivers and lakes, and bring hope to our lives. Ancient Israel did not draw much water from the Jordan River but was dependent upon rainfall to help with agriculture. Our ancestors knew that, each year, they had to be concerned about water usage. As a community, they prayed and hoped for the blessing of rainfall. And so they developed ceremonies and prayers expressing this longing that also teach us about our interdependency and the need to care for the land and appreciate nature’s beautiful gifts and rhythms.

Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, which begins this month in the evening of Sunday, October 9th, is not just an agricultural celebration of the fall harvest. It also incorporates prayers for rain. Perhaps this year, with
the ongoing drought that is causing so much damage to our essential systems, those of us who have seen Sukkot as a minor festival to connect with lightly, after having fully engaged with the High Holy Days, might come and join together in hopes of bringing on a better rainy season.

The rain features of the holiday are manifold. The act of bringing together the lulav — a combination of a
pine, willow, and myrtle branches — with the etrog — a citron from the lemon family — and shaking them in four directions is a prayer movement meant to help bring on the rains. In ancient Israel, Sukkot was also celebrated with a water–drawing festival, during which the Levites would bring waters up to the Temple and pray for a good year of rain. And of course, at the end of Sukkot we change the second verse of the Gevurot prayer, praising God who “Moshiv ha’ruach, umorid ha’geshem — causes the winds to blow and the rain to fall.” We continue to say this prayer from the end of Sukkot all the way to Passover.

In a time of drought like this one, I wonder if the physical act of spiritual expression — shaking
the lulav and praying for rain — is needed more than ever. I ponder bringing the whole congregation to the Golden Gate Bridge for a lulav rain prayer. But maybe, really, what we need is for the time of Sukkot
to remind us of our essential connection to the earth, the fragility of our existence, and the work we must do to refocus ourselves on being caretakers of this earth, understanding and respecting the preciousness of water.

For too long we have acted as if we are above nature. Sukkot teaches us that we are a part of and dependent upon it. Maybe observing this holiday in a more intentional way will remind us to conserve water, share food with those in need, and work for a greener earth and against climate change so the rains will fall in their season and the blessing of the land may be shared by all.

September 1, 2022
Where We Find Hope
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Is the relentless nature of the Ukraine War, the pandemic and mass shootings causing you to despair? When we wake up to another climate change reality or encounter more unhoused people as we go about our day, it is hard not to lose hope. Yet, we Jews know that hope is an essential component to change and to making things better.

As we prepare ourselves individually and as a community to greet the Jewish year 5783, let’s pool our go-to’s for our greatest sources of hope. Here are just a few:

Esah Einai el-he-harem. The psalmists invite us to turn to nature. That’s right. Take a break from doom scrolling. Stick your device in a drawer for two hours. Get thee into nature and lift your eyes up to the mountains and trees. Gather with our community at the water on Tashlich and contemplate the vastness of our Pacific Ocean that connects us to the other continents and people. We can hike among soaring redwoods and giant sequoias and ponder their endurance and what they have seen in their time on earth. Ma’ayin yavo Ezri. Opening our eyes to the jaw dropping WOW of nature is a source of our hope. Spending time in nature compels us to advocate for a future of environmental sustainability. On Wednesday, October 5, join Rabbi Sydney Mintz and myself as our congregation spends part of Yom Kippur in the redwoods, refreshing our individual and collective sense of hope.

Another source of hope: recently, I wanted to help a wonderful conversion student of mine who told me he has a hard time reading history books but needed to do so for his conversion process. Rabbi Jason Rodich to the rescue! Rabbi Rodich told me about David N. Myer’s Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction. At just 115 pages, I recommend it to you as an antidote to despair. This gem of a book reminds us of so many times when our people not only endured unspeakable tragedy but continued to create and evolve. We were expelled. We were massacred by the hundreds of thousands, then by the millions. We were made the scapegoat for pandemics and for every bad event. Reflecting on our sustained capacity not merely to survive but to live to see better times can give us all hope that there is much we can do to serve those in our society who are most vulnerable, and to be voices of resistance and for change.

More hope, closer to home: in just two years, our building will celebrate its 100th birthday, even as we collectively give it the remodel it so richly deserves. And our San Francisco Emanu-El community gathered for the first time in 1849, 173 years ago. So, when you renew your membership, as I hope you have done or will do, you are not “only” supporting the holy work we do right now. You are not “only” making sure you have any lifecycle service you need and access to our wonderful clergy. You are not “only” supporting the Jewish future. You are also a significant part of this magnificent redwood tree, planted over 170 years ago, that we call Congregation Emanu-El. When you become an official member or renew your lasting membership, you are expressing hope by acknowledging the deep roots of our history, our resilience, and our plan to help people find purpose and meaning in their own lives for many more centuries.

Looking for hope? BE WITH US THESE HIGH HOLY DAYS! Come in person. Watch our streamed services. Join us on the beach, in the redwoods, or in our magnificent, historic, enduring Main Sanctuary. Come virtually or in person to our Teen Services. I guarantee you will leave them feeling more hopeful. These are just a few sources of hope that have served me well. If you are struggling, therapy can be so helpful, and be sure to take time on Zoom or in person with one of our clergy. It really helps. Wishing each of you a renewed sense of hope in 5783 — and please share with me the sources of hope in your own life.

August 1, 2022
The Jewish Holiday of Love
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Jewish Valentines Day (believe it or not, there is such a thing) falls this month. Of course, it has a different name with no reference to a Catholic saint. It’s called Tu B’Av. The name is taken from the Hebrew pronunciation of the date, the Fifteenth of Av. On that day, during the time of the Second Temple, according to the Mishna, “the daughters of Jerusalem would go out, dressed in white, and dance in the vineyards. And they would call out, ‘Young man, consider who you would choose to be your wife!'” I love that image of romance, being sought just outside the walls of the Temple. The Talmud is reminding us that love and the holy are intertwined. Our tradition wants us to find love in our lives- not just romantic love, but love of life, of being, of giving, and of connecting with wonder.

If you peruse the Siddur, the prayerbook, the word Ahava, the Hebrew word for love, is expressed multiple times describing both how we should feel a connection with the holy and appreciate this beautiful aspect of human expression. Love is built into the fabric of our religious sensibility. So Heschel taught when he said, “A religious individual is a person who holds God and humanity in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” The Hebrew word for love is built of the Hebrew word for give, implying that love is built on giving an aspect of the self to others.

It would be great to celebrate Tu B’Av at the synagogue and help make a space for singles to meet each other, if they so choose. Now and then, I try to make Shidduchim, matches between people, because the tradition teaches that you are helping God bring joy to creation. With our engagement department in the near future, we may set up a few speed dating opportunities and you can always write me to help tryto make a connection.

But as we think about the coming year, and what it means to be part of a spiritual Jewish community, take a moment, and consider the various ways that our connection to this minyan called Temple Emanu-El is grounded not just in responsibility, or obligation, but in Ahava — a sense of love, joy, friendship, and a giving of the self so as to be open to true meeting.

This Temple is one place to experience joy whether celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, wedding, standing under the Sukkah with the starlight shining through the roof, welcoming Shabbat with the beautiful music of our Cantors, or standing at the edges of Baker Beach with hundreds of people gathering for Tashlich.

It is here that we hope you will find friendship in the minyan in a time when so many are missing a sense of community. Of course to do so, you have to be willing to come and gather with us and give of yourself- whether at services, helping in our schools, volunteering on our Tzedek Council or studying in one of our adult education classes.

We know that it is an act of love to bring your children to learn with us, enrolling them in our schools and youth programs and joining hands with other parents, our clergy and teachers as we pass Jewish values and love of Torah on to them. Just as it is an act of love as an empty nester to help keep Jewish life flourishing by engaging with us all the days of your life.

It is our hope that in the year to come we will continue to build an even deeper sense of community, based on joy, love and friendship as we work to support Jewish values and passionately see the wonder in life, even as we try to bring tikkun to a broken world. So come be with us in loving and joyful community, and make a friend, ground your life in meaning, and maybe even fall in love outside of the walls of this great Temple.

June 1, 2022
Summer Reading for the People of the Book
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Summer is just around the corner. Seasonal slowing down is our mandate. Of course, we will gather for services every Friday night at 6:00 pm. You can join Torah study on Shabbat morning. There will be programs. If you have to deal with something difficult, your clergy will be here for you. But we hope you take some time to relax, get outdoors, travel and read a few good books!

What will you read this summer? Perhaps you will immerse yourself in a stack of good novels, or some thought-provoking nonfiction. Maybe you will finally read the classics you never got around to in college. Looking for a good Jewish read? I recently read Daniel Matt’s “Becoming Elijah” and loved it. This coming year, author Dara Horn will join us. An Emanu-El book club will read her wonderful fiction, “A Guide to the Perplexed.” Then, there is her most recent provocative title, “People Love Dead Jews.” I enjoyed one of her earlier novels, “The World to Come.” (Sign up information for the Book Club can be found by clicking here).

Speaking of great books, there is one that never grows old, and that is our Torah. I don’t think we realize just how stunning it is that the Torah has endured through the millennia. Our thirteen-year-olds, Torah study students and rabbis find new meaning in the classic teachings each week. Is there any other book that we can say with confidence will still be read, studied and treasured 3,000 years from now? Even more than the wonder of its endurance and its depths of interpretation, the most powerful aspect of Torah is that it connects all Jews in the universe, regardless of movement affiliation.

From the most liberal to the most orthodox, Torah is the center of our faith and belongs equally to all of us. Decades ago, a Jewish artist from the Bay Area traveled to the Gondar region in Ethiopia. In a remote village, he walked into a hut where the Jewish villagers opened the Torah scroll and read the same Torah portion his congregation in Berkeley was reading on that Shabbat.

On June 5th, we complete our biblically inspired count of seven weeks times seven days. It will be 50 days post-Passover. On the Hebrew calendar, the date is the 6th of Sivan, Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of Torah to the Jewish people. Early on, Reform Jews stopped the practice of carrying the Torah around the congregation in a Hakafa because the ritual struck early Reform Jews as idolatrous. Not only did the ritual return, but it is beloved by congregants to this day because it reminds us that the Torah, our greatest of all books, belongs equally to all of us.

On Shavuot, it is traditional to stay up late into the night studying Torah with friends, and also to eat ice cream and cheesecake. Who can argue with these excellent traditions? We are, after all, a people of the book.

May 1, 2022
Yom Ha’atzmaut: Celebrating Israel’s Achievements
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

The other day I was sitting at lunch with Tali Zisman, a member of the temple who grew up across the street from Golda Meir, with Ben Gurion’s house just a few blocks away. It is so fascinating to talk with someone who was there at the founding of the state — whose family had immigrated from Vilna and Warsaw as a part of the yishuv. As a young man he served in the IDF as Israelis organized themselves to stand up against attempts to wipe out a country that like so many others was carved out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire.

This month as a part of our celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), I plan to interview him and have him share his experience growing up as the State of Israel was just growing up. It is such a gift to have a window into this aspect of Jewish history and celebrate the blessing and the miracle that we Jews today often take for granted. We Jews who are committed to the messianic vision of creating a world reaching towards perfection, so want Israel to be what the Torah envisions — an “or l’goyim,” a light unto the nation. At times though, we are so good at seeing what is wrong with something, that we forget to celebrate and appreciate what is right with it, and the blessings we have achieved. We know Israel must keep working hard on extending the hand of peace, of making sure it is a place that welcomes the rainbow diversity of Jewish identity, that treats its minorities equally with the majority, that works to restore balance to the economy so all Israelis live with dignity and hope as she pushes back against her extremes. But everything I just wrote could also be said about our country. We are not wrong to point out what is broken and needs true tikkun — to be repaired — in either place.

But Yom Ha’atzmaut asks us to step back and celebrate with full vigor what has been achieved so far. And there is much to celebrate. Israel is today home to the largest Jewish population in the world, a population that is diverse in color and religious expression, that is young and vital. It is still the startup nation that is helping to bring technological miracles to the world. With the help of our Israel Action Committee led by Jordan Hymowitz, she is bringing in the rest of Ethiopian Jewry as they seek to make aliya, and just hosted an incredible array of Arab/Muslim nations who as part of the Abraham Accords want to not just seek peace and pursue it but also partner together with Israel to create a safer, more economically vibrant Middle East. Israelis are in Poland and Moldava helping with the Ukrainian refugee crises and welcoming in Ukrainians as part of their efforts to offer refuge even as Prime Minister Bennet serves as a conduit with the Russians in attempts to bring an end to that awful, most horrific conflict. She is a country with health care for all, colleges that are accessible and well respected, and a culturally dynamic place. Who knew that in this little strip of land, so much talent could be concentrated and despite the ongoing conflict expressed as she strives not just to survive, but to thrive.

Yes, we join with those who want the state to be better, and we as a synagogue support that effort. We work hard to be a center of loving and diverse dialogue about Israel, creating a safe place for people for speakers from different ends of the political spectrum to express their opinions about how it might be an even greater reflection of the vision expressed by the founders in the Declaration of Independence. We also understand that there are some who subconsciously or not reflect an antisemitism that denies nationalism only to Jews and therefore embrace an anti-Zionism. Wanting our children to have the tools to stand up against such a perspective and be well educated about Israel, we have expanded our study opportunities in our religious school and are working to try to restore the annual Emanu-El teen trip to Israel so they might witness firsthand both its miraculousness, help affirm their own Jewish identities, understand that which can be made better, and see themselves as partners in helping those working on it, join together to create the Jewish future. Now that COVID-19 seems to be lifting, we are continuing our various adult trips there as well, and encourage you to join us.

April 1, 2022
Responding to Antisemitism
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

This past January, San Francisco residents found fliers strewn all over town claiming that Jews are responsible for everything to do with COVID-19. Those same fliers showed up in Marin in February. It turns out that one group is distributing variations of this accusation flier all over the country. During these past few months, a Jewish woman riding the Manhattan subway was threatened with the words, “you little Jewish girl better get off this train before I hurt you.” Jewish businesses in parts of the country have been vandalized. Swastikas were etched on schools and synagogues. Orthodox Jews have been physically assaulted. Each one of these incidents happened in 2022.

I shared these concerns with you in a sermon I delivered this past February. If you missed it, I want to assure you that there are numerous things we can do to respond to antisemitism. As Jewish households and as a Jewish community, it is our obligation to respond to attacks on our people and to the spread of misinformation for the purpose of fomenting violent hate against us.

How can we respond? Here are just a few and I would love to hear your own thoughts on how you, we and our community can effectively name and respond to the rising antisemitism of this time.

  1. If you experience or witness an antisemitic incident you can report it to the ADL’s online portal at It takes less than 2 minutes to fill out the form. It is important to have a single place where every antisemitic incident is catalogued. I encourage you to go to the ADL’s antisemitism tracker and read what is being reported around the country.
  2. Get involved and support our local JCRC, which does a fantastic job bringing Jews and our many allies together to respond to antisemitism. JCRC is at the forefront, representing all of us whenever there is an instance of antisemitic incitement.
  3. The single most powerful way you can respond to antisemitism in our time is by increasing your own Jewish pride, practice and identity, both publicly and privately. Our website, eblasts and the monthly Chronicle provide hundreds of options for participating in Shabbat, learning, a small group, an outdoor activity, a holiday, or numerous Jewishly organized social justice opportunities.

Antisemitic activity in the United States is on the rise, but so, too, is a plethora of creative and deeply meaningful opportunity for Jewish expression. The very presence of Congregation Emanu-El–the building and the people– for over 170 years is our best of many responses to antisemitism. From all around the city, I look up and see our beautiful dome shining on the horizon proclaiming, “We are here to be great Jews and great citizens of this region and this country. And we’re not going anywhere.”

March 1, 2022
Celebrating 50 Years of Women in the Rabbinate

This year, we celebrate 50 years since the ordination of the first female American pulpit rabbi: Rabbi Sally Priesand. We are excited to host Rabbi Priesand, alongside Emanu-El’s women rabbis, to reflect on how the rabbinate has changed for women over these past 50 years. See page 7 to learn more about how to attend this virtual program. Congregation Emanu-El has benefited enormously from a talented group of women rabbis and cantors. In celebration of 50 years of women in the American rabbinate, we have asked each of our current and emerita rabbis and cantors to share a reflection on the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Priesand’s ordination.

When I was newly ordained, I regularly visited the temple preschool. On a day off, I stood at an intersection, waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street. Waiting directly across the road was a dad with his toddler. The preschooler saw me and shouted excitedly, “Daddy, look! There’s the rabbi!” The dad looked in my direction and said to his daughter, “Where, honey? I don’t see any rabbi.” Slowly, people everywhere are starting to see women rabbis and cantors. In my earliest years, Jews constantly remarked, “I’ve never before met a woman rabbi!” I rarely hear that comment anymore. Google “rabbi” right now and click open the images. Still nearly all male faces. Google “doctor” images and note the difference. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go so that everyone sees women rabbis and cantors.
— Rabbi Beth Singer, Ordained 1989 (she/her)

Sally Preisand forged the way for female rabbis, and Barbara Ostfeld did the same for female cantors. I entered Hebrew Union College just seven years after her investiture, and my class was the first all-female cantorial class to be invested (now Ordained) as Reform Jewish clergy. I was not always convinced that women should be rabbis and cantors, as I was the product of an Orthodox cheder education — but it didn’t take long for me to change my outlook. In fact, I believe women contribute a very unique perspective to Jewish thought and worship — we add our voices to the interpretation of texts that have overlooked us; we have insisted on the inclusion of the ‘imahot’ into our male-centered liturgy and have adopted the songs of Debbie Friedman, Nurit Hirsch and others into our worship. I am proud to have been a part of this revolution and have gained so much both personally and professionally from my role as Senior Cantor (now Emerita) of this distinguished, historic congregation.
— Cantor Emerita Roslyn Barak, Ordained 1986 (she/her)

In 1997, I was hired as the first “out gay” Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El. The JWeekly (aka “The J”) headlined “EmanuEl’s new role model: Lesbian, Woman, Jew, Rabbi” which was big news 25 years ago and today could be the name of my next One Woman Show. When I entered Rabbinical school 30 years ago, it was radical to come out of the closet. Today, most congregations would not only warmly welcome a Queer Rabbi, but many feel that it is actually an asset to their clergy team. We still have a long way to go when it comes to equality, but I am filled with hope when I meet our newest Rabbis and Cantors who are being ordained in a very different world than the one I lived in 25 years ago. If I had signed my signature she/they in 1997, no one would have any idea what that even meant. Today, I hope you do.
— Rabbi Sydney Mintz, Ordained 1997 (she/they)

It was 1984 when I began to lead our people in song and prayer. In a role that had been traditionally occupied by men, I didn’t know many other women doing what I was doing. I had heard of Debbie Friedman but didn’t meet her until many years later. But surely, I stood on her shoulders and on the shoulders of other women (including our own Cantor Roslyn Barak) who paved the way for a female guitar playing spiritual leader of song. It was exciting to be at the vanguard of bringing new styles of prayer and music to synagogue worship. I was ordained as a cantor in 2014 and today I look around and see so many young women cantors who remind me of myself. It is with pride and joy to see how much the Jewish world has embraced the music of women. We are a long chain of tradition, L’Dor V’Dor, and I am proud to be one of the sweet singers of Israel.
— Cantor Marsha Attie, Ordained 2014 (she/her)

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a generation where it has always been a given that women could — and should — be rabbis. From childhood I was surrounded by a positive female rabbinic role model in my own family: my aunt, Rabbi Deborah Joselow, served a congregation while I was young and has gone on to serve as a leader at the Union for Reform Judaism and UJA-Federation of New York. In rabbinical school I was fortunate to learn from outstanding female faculty at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus and I am especially grateful to have developed a deep network of talented fellow female rabbis around the country whom I lean on daily as we navigate the rabbinate together. I am keenly aware how lucky my peers and I are to stand on the shoulders of past female clergy who paved the way for our generation to serve the Jewish community in new and different ways.
— Rabbi Sarah Joselow Parris, Masters in Jewish Nonprofit Management 2016, Ordained 2017 (she/her)

February 1, 2022
Every Day is Justice Day
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

When we were little, our parents observed all the Hallmark Holidays, including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We asked, “When is Children’s Day?” They always replied, “Every day is Children’s Day.”

Last month we celebrated Tu B’Shvat. On that one day, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, we considered the implications of climate change from a Jewish lens and from a social justice lens. Coincidentally, Tu B’Shvat fell on the same day we honor the legacy of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. We gathered virtually with our brothers and sisters and we celebrated the power of coming together for racial justice. We celebrated alliances against racial hatred and against antisemitism. This entire month of February is dedicated to a celebration of Black history. March is Women’s History Month.

Judaism teaches us what my parents taught me: Every day should be environmental consciousness day. Every day should be Commitment to Stand Up Against Antisemitism Day, and every day should be Racial Justice, LGBTQ+ Rights and Women’s Equality Day.

Judaism teaches us to think about and protect all the things that God creates: a natural world of fragile beauty that sustains us, people of all skin colors and faiths, and all the different ways there are to be a human being on this planet. Judaism demands a daily Tzedek consciousness of each of us at home, in our work and in our community. Judaism imbues us with a purpose on earth as God’s sacred partners. Our purpose is simply this: to make the world a more just place. Tzedek! Tzedek! Tirdof. (Justice! Justice! Every day it is our purpose to pursue it.)

Concerned about rising antisemitism? Get involved with our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and other groups that are always on the front lines. Want to stand up against systemic racism? Get involved in our Black and Jewish Unity Coalition. Want to be sure that we continue to create a world that is safe for people of all sexual and gender identities? Support the work of organizations like Keshet. Worried sick about the health of our planet? Find a group like the Jewish Climate Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or one of many effective environmental organizations. Support Congregation Emanu-El and visit our website regularly. Emanu-El is a social justice organization every day, not just a few Fridays and Sundays throughout the year. The Emanu-El Tzedek Council webpage is filled with opportunities to be a practitioner of justice every day.

It’s great to plant a tree on Tu B’Shvat. We love connecting with our Black sisters and brothers on MLK weekend. We gather to call out antisemitism when an antisemitic event occurs. But let’s remember that we are commanded to wake up each and every day, to thank God for restoring our souls and giving us another day — and then to celebrate each day with action. Judaism challenges us to make every day Tzedek Day.

January 1, 2022
Hearing Each Other
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

“Bersheet Bara — In the beginning, creation unfolded” is one translation of this opening text of the Torah. Another, promulgated by Ibn Ezra, an 11th century Spanish commentator, begs to differ. The Masorites who added the helper vowels to the printed version of the text, he reminds us, made a choice. Their rendering produced the approach that many take — but he points out that it is also correct to read it not as “In the beginning,” but “In a beginning,” creation unfolded. I love that approach and the fact that I can encounter a radically different understanding of the creation story in almost every traditional Torah commentary. When you open such a commentary, called a Mikraot Gdolot, you see on the page many opinions supporting the well-known thesis “two Jews, three (if not more) opinions.”

I think this Jewish encouragement of multiplicity of perspectives while still embracing a strong sense of community is important as we consider what it means to be a synagogue today. That the synagogue serves as a “third” place in this time of alienation and atomization, especially as we learn to live with COVID-19, is to me more important than ever. It needs to be a place where Jews can discuss and hear different ideas, including those that may make each of us uncomfortable. But lately, I have heard from more than a few of you that you worry that the bully pulpit is used by us clergy, at times, for exactly that purpose: to bully from the pulpit. I appreciate that concern because I know what a privilege it is for us as clergy to have freedom of the pulpit and teach Judaism from our varying perspectives. And I recognize that it can be a burden at times to hear words with which you disagree as you sit respectfully in the congregation.

I want to convey to you that we as a clergy team do understand that it is our essential duty to teach Torah and promote a deeper understanding and love of Judaism. As I look back at the sermon flow this past year, many were not politically or policy focused, but were spiritual or Torah focused messages. And yet we as clergy are also charged to promote Jewish values that reflect a living Torah and are applied to our lives today. Those values of loving the stranger, caring for the poor and for the earth, seeking justice, or promoting Zionism, are not the bastion of either the Democratic or Republican parties, but in our politically charged day each of us can reach such a conclusion after hearing a particular sermon.

I acknowledge having worked as a rabbi for over 30 years that people often hear either what they want to hear or attach to one part of a teaching and don’t focus on the totality. Certainly, we clergy have our political perspectives, but we are a diverse bunch and do want to engage the whole community. And if you as congregants disagree with something we have taught, we all welcome your response and engagement in respectful discussion.

What is most important is that we both promote the beauty of Torah and its call to reach higher in our lives, and then not be afraid to engage in dialogue as community.

The synagogue is not just a big tent, but a center of Jewish dynamic creativity and, like a page of Torah commentary, needs all of us to share our piece of Torah with each other and not shy away when we disagree. God loves diversity and we at Emanu-El love and respect all our members whether you are right, left, center or, like me, at times a mix of all of the above.

We are learning to live with COVID-19 and Emanu-El is striving to be a place that is welcoming, that is safe, but that is also a center of meaning and a home to the Jewish people. I encourage you to come daven with us, hear us, and engage us if you agree or disagree — for that is what we Jews have always done!

Happy Secular New Year!

December 1, 2021
Judaism at Home
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

First, let me wish you a very Happy Chanukah. Throughout my childhood, we always put our menorah on the dining room table, said the blessings and ate the most delicious hand-grated potato latkes. These days, we place our Chanukiah in the window to proudly “proclaim the miracle” to everyone. We run the potatoes through a food processor.

And then there are the community celebrations. We donate to JFCS to help other families. We went to Golden Gate Park and invited anyone, Jewish or not Jewish, to bring in the light. We’re gathering Friday night, December 3rd, all ages, to enjoy a Chanukah service led by our teens. On Sunday, December 12 we will participate in our annual Light of Giving tradition. But mostly, Chanukah is celebrated in our homes.

What makes a home a Jewish home? I ask this question to each of my Bat and Bar Mitzvah students. They tell me about the mezuzah on their front door. Their shabbat candles. Their Chanukiah. Their family Seder traditions. One student recently told me of a particular drawer in her home, filled with Judaica items. I love hearing about the different ways our families observe Judaism at home.

If evidence of your Jewish identity is scarce in your home and you like it that way, I am not here to change your ways, I promise! But for those of you who would like to up your game in the “what makes a home a Jewish home” department, it is both easier and more life altering than you might imagine.

I love Reform Judaism’s idea that we each choose those practices that add meaning and grounding to our sometimes chaotic lives. Jewish home practice centers on values of gathering, celebrating and shifting our focus from material gain, to a cultivation of gratitude via religious/spiritual/cultural contemporary ritual. Judaism is not anti-pursuit of material goods, but it does provide a counterbalance to a secular culture of materialism. Not only a counterbalance, but a balance. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to build a more deeply Jewish home, but it takes some thought to adapt Jewish practices to our own sensibilities. Rather than thinking of Shabbat practice as onerous, it can be as easy or as complex as you choose. You can order a large box of Shabbat candles online. You can light them 18 minutes before sunset or at 9:30 PM when you return home from work Friday night. You can bake or buy challah. You can make a special meal or order in. You can Zoom with your loved ones wherever they are. The idea is to create a pattern that works for you and your household. When our children were little, we put a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider on the table only on Friday night. That was one easy way to get our kids excited for Shabbat.

Increasingly, young adults are starting to invite vaccinated friends over for Shabbat dinner, for latkes at Chanukah, and for Seder this coming Spring. We need to think together about how to support our wise elders in their home Shabbat celebrations. It would be great for more empty nesters to take turns hosting others for Shabbat potluck dinner and conversation. Too many B’nai Mitzvah kids admit that they rarely do anything for Shabbat at home. We are depriving them of a practice now that will impact them as adults looking back at what made their home Jewish.

We all do so many things that make our homes comfortable and uniquely ours. All of the clergy are here to support you if you decide to “redesign” your Jewish home and answer the question in a satisfying way for your own self: What makes my home a Jewish home?”

November 1, 2021
Chanukah: A Celebration of Religious Freedom
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

For many American Jews, the explanation for the popularity of Chanukah lies in its proximity to Christmas. The seemingly fickle rules of Jewish calendaring resist this easy explanation. Since the calendar is a lunar/solar, it fails to always line up with our expectations. Instead of falling in mid- or late December, this year Chanukah falls at the end of November, coinciding with Thanksgiving weekend. Those Jews anxious for a Jewish expression of lights to compete with that most Jewish boy’s birthday must find another means to satiate that desire. I recommend, as have so many, plentiful portions of Chinese food and a good movie, though this year I encourage you to join us that eve for what will be a beautiful Shabbat service.

The proximity of Chanukah with Thanksgiving this year does cause one to ponder the fact that, at least in American folklore, these holidays are both connected to religious freedom.

Chanukah, which means rededication, is not directly connected to the Maccabees having defeated the Assyrian Greeks who were working to unite their empire by forcing all the religious centers — including the Temple in Jerusalem — to practice a religious syncretism that embraced worshiping the Greek gods along with so-called local deities. No, Chanukah is not declared as a result of military victory, but celebrates the Maccabees retaking control of the Temple, cleansing it of the Assyrian idols, and rekindling the lights of the menorahs in the Temple precinct. Victory over the Assyrians would take a few more years of struggle. When we kindle our Chanukah menorahs we are celebrating that they cast the light of religious freedom.

In terms of Thanksgiving, we are taught that the Pilgrims, like many other European groups, came here in search of religious freedom for themselves as well. They were religious Puritans of a sect that was fleeing persecution and came to these shores to escape religious hatred. The feast they participated in with Native Americans was a festival of gratitude for the harvest and for survival.

Chanukah, too, involves a feast. We are taught to eat foods rich in oil just as the lights of the Temple in Jerusalem were kindled with olive oil. In your homes that week, I hope you will embrace both the Ashkenazi tradition of eating latkes (potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce) and the Sephardi custom of eating sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Like Thanksgiving, this is not a low-calorie holiday!

I hope you also join us in our outdoor Chanukah lightings. We’re having a major one on the third night of the festival, Tuesday, November 30, at the Bandshell in Golden Gate Park. We do so to publicly and joyfully express our Jewish identity as a religious and cultural minority in this great country that embraces religious freedom for all. Maybe it is good that this year these two holidays fall together. In a time when some might want to promote a monolithically religious America, let our celebration of Chanukah be a reminder that each of us in our own beautiful way — Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and all others — cast our particular light of blessing with the hope that all may share in it and be warmed by it.

Happy Chanukah and Thanksgiving!
Rabbi Jonathan Singer

October 1, 2021
How Community Cares for Each Other
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Every morning when I wake up, before I even get out of bed, I engage in the beautiful Jewish practice of saying: “Modah Ani.” I thank God that my soul was restored to me for another day and that I get another opportunity to live on this planet, to feel the love of my family and friends, and to try and do something good for others. I love the way another Jewish daily prayer zones in on the workings of our bodies. Because, the prayer reasons, if any internal organ that is supposed to open can’t open, or other body parts that should stay closed, don’t stay closed, we would not be well enough to get up every day and express our gratitude to God for life itself.

As many of you heard from our President, Alan Greinetz, in August, I was diagnosed with a spinal tumor. Thanks to a skilled neurosurgeon, it was removed and found to be benign. As I recovered, I started to think about what I learned about what helps us when we are ill. Knowing that everyone’s needs vary, here are a few thoughts, fresh from my time of diagnosis and recovery.

  • Joining Temple and finding your group(s) can be powerful. Feeling a strong sense of community is right up there with the “right” pain meds. Every text, email, voicemail as I prepared for and came out of surgery, made me feel connected and less alone.Those loving and encouraging words were a balm. The Emanu-El community response was so helpful.
  • Send a note. Leave a voicemail. Email. Text the person you know who is sick. Do not assume they know you are thinking of them. Do not expect any responses to your messages, phone chats or personal visits if they are ill. They may not have the strength. But texts, emails and voicemails (preferably left as voicemail, after 9:00 am and before 5:00 pm) along with old fashioned US Postal service notes are easy for a recovering person to read, listen to and enjoy on their own time during recovery. If you are ill and recovering, do not ever feel obliged to answer the phone or to text anyone or everyone back. Those reaching out simply want you to know you are in their thoughts.
  • Do you have a very concrete way of helping your friend/family/fellow Emanu-El Congregant? Do they need help with an errand? Groceries purchased? A meal? Hundreds of times, I have said to others, “Just let me know if you need anything,” and I think that conveys the sentiment of caring but ultimately, it can be too vague. Sometimes, a sick person may need nothing but to be left alone. Or they may need a meal. Or a ride to the doctor, a walking companion or simply more sweet texts/emails/voicemails. If you want to help, try to be as specific as possible with your offer.
  • Remember, it is easier for most of us to offer help than to ask for it. Many of us, no matter how much we need it, have a very hard time accepting actual offers of help. “Oh, I’ll be fine,” is our auto-response.
  • If you are recovering from illness or have needs, learn how to graciously accept genuine offers of help from others. If, at first, you automatically respond, “Oh, I’ll be fine,” it is always ok to take a few hours or days and write back, “I thought about your kind offer and here is something that would be helpful to me. If you can do it, great, and if you cannot at this time, I completely understand.”

Please email me with your own guidance for people who want to help, especially if your needs and preferences are different than mine!

When I received my diagnosis and learned that I would need the surgery very quickly, I patiently explained to my surgeon that I had too many upcoming important Jewish events that I could not miss. A rabbinical colleague and the surgeon patiently explained to me that, when it comes to our health, it doesn’t work that way! My clergy colleagues all stepped up so I could take care of myself.

Your health always comes first.

Judaism emphasizes health in our daily and Shabbat prayers. When we pray to God the Healer, we don’t mean a Surgeon in the Sky who cures some of us, but rather — a powerful unseen Force that supports our healing. We sing mi shebayrach for those who need healing. These prayers matter, whether or not you believe in God.

By the time you read this, I will be back on my feet doing the holy work I love most in the world. I will have woken up this morning and thanked God for restoring my soul.

Who is sick? Who is struggling and in need of community? I want to be there for that person, and I bet you do, too.
Happy Cheshvan,
Rabbi Beth Singer

September 1, 2021
Connections to Our Past Under the Sukkah
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

The last act one is taught to do as Yom Kippur concludes is to begin building your own sukkah. As a person disinclined to engage in picking up a hammer and nails, nonetheless each year I build our sukkah even though I am tired after having welcomed in the New Year. The sukkah is a fragile booth with an open wall and partially open roof so one might welcome guests and also see the stars. It is constructed for two reasons: First, we celebrate the Fall harvest festival as we decorate with a cornucopia of fruits of the field and invite guests in for food and drink — connecting us to the natural cycle, which, as we continue to experience drought made worse by global warming, is so important to do. Second, we remember that our ancestors dwelt in these temporary booths as they wandered through the wilderness making their way to the Promised Land.

Though my sukkah handiwork may leave something to be desired, I love that we get to rejoice in our blessings in a simple way, connecting with nature by being outside in a sukkah during this time together with friends and family, while also embracing the reminder that we come from humble beginnings. Yes, we were once a homeless people, wandering in the wilderness, erecting temporary shelters, hoping that God’s presence would inspire us to keep journeying forward and not lose hope of reaching our promised land.

This year as we continue to struggle with the effects of COVID-19, and even as we gather for High Holy Days, having been vaccinated or tested, it may be easier for some of us to embrace the open air shelter of the sukkah as a place to greet friends and gather with family. There is a plethora of homemade sukkah building examples on the web and one can easily still go to the hardware store and procure materials to build such a booth for there are no material limitations — just the requirements of being open and of a temporary nature. Put one in your backyard or on your deck, decorate it and then safely have friends over for a l’chayim, or plan a sleepover with your children, gently basking in the starlight and comfort of that cozy space. You are also invited to come join in our Sukkah celebration in Emanu-El’s courtyard and shake the lulav and etrog and make new friends as part of our vibrant community.

Now it is especially important to acknowledge that the pandemic has put even more pressure on those seeking housing. Homelessness, as you well know, is a complex issue and, in many cases, tied in with drug addiction and mental illness. But it is also the result of profound poverty, housing shortages that have been amplified by the last recession as well as this most recent one, and opposition to increasing housing density by NIMBY activists. The lack of housing is affecting the entire state, not just San Francisco. Let Sukkot remind us that we too were once homeless and be less judgmental of those in dire straits while also working to help them realize their promise by making an even greater effort to increase the housing supply. Great cities like ours have to make room for people to live in dignity and it is time for San Francisco to welcome more housing density.

The Torah tells us that we traveled by stages through the wilderness to make it to the Promised Land. We, too, will have to go by stages as we deal with the effects of COVID-19 that have amplified other problems in our society. May this new year and the experience of Sukkot help us renew our resolve to work on the essential problems facing us by caring more for our environment and caring more for each other.
Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Jonathan

August 1, 2021
Jewish Rituals in the Month of Elul
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

As I love to remind you, we often pen these messages one to two months in advance of publication and, as you already know, post-pandemic, our reality changes slowly and quickly at the same time. Are you still feeling the lingering effects of shelter-in-place? Have you been to the theater? Ball game? Services in the Main? Some in our community leapt back into activities as fast as the rules allowed, while others continue to practice great caution or have even decided that Home is Best!

As I reflect on this past year, which was “more different” than any other year of my previous 32 years in the rabbinate, the thing that strikes me is how Jewish rituals came through the pandemic in flying colors. Even more than that, you, our congregants showed a flexibility and resilience that held us all together during a challenging time. You showed up online. You watched us lead High Holy Days from a mostly empty Main Sanctuary. You rescheduled your treasured life cycles. You did outdoor, everyone-masked B’nai Mitzvah in the courtyard. You sat at a distance in small numbers in the Chapel and Main. You showed up in decent numbers for every service, holiday, speaker and educational program. You dropped tool kits off at Temple for homeless, pregnant women, and joined the Temple in doing so many different acts of loving kindness. You even drove up to the Temple entrance and celebrated holy moments from your cars! YOU are the reason Judaism evolves, thrives and persists.

Monday, August 9th, is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul. This month is designated for spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days ahead. There are countless ways for you to engage and renew. Here are just a few to consider: Each Friday in Elul for the entire month, starting Friday, August 13th, we use a special prayer book with beautiful readings at our One Shabbat 6:00 pm service. Join us. Spend more time in nature throughout Elul. Engage in acts of tzedakah. (Check out our Tzedek Council page for ideas.) If you meditate, find a mantra from the High Holy Day machzor (prayer book); any rabbi or cantor is happy to assist you with finding your mantra. Subscribe to Jewels of Elul. Sign up for Reboot’s 10Q. Pick up a copy of Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal by Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath. Add to your Jewish library by picking up a copy of Rabbi Alan Lew’s (of blessed memory) This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared. Post-pandemic, this book is likely to resonate more strongly.

This past year was a year like no other in our lives. But the coming of Elul has happened throughout Jewish history.

It was there to help us shift our focus from the material to the spiritual way back when, and it continues to present itself to us with all its possibilities. 
Happy Elul,
Rabbi Beth Singer

May 1, 2021
Lessons on Solidarity from the Book of Ruth
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

This month we celebrate Shavuot, which commemorates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Some of our customs for this holiday include holding a Tikkun Leil Shavuot (a night of learning) and reading the Book of Ruth.

The Torah tells us that it was a mixed multitude, a diverse Jewish people, that followed Moses out of Egypt and ultimately into the promised land. And our tradition illustrates that, from its inception, we were not the “chosen people” without also being those who chose to enter into a covenant. The very first Jews, the matriarchs and patriarchs, chose to connect to the ways of Adonai. Those who followed Moses into the wilderness chose to leave the known oppression of Egypt and venture into the unknown, and they became members of the people Israel at Sinai as they chose to accept the Torah. While receiving the Torah, they recited the words: Na’aseh v’nishmah—“we will do and we will hear”—thereby binding themselves as a holy community based on a covenant, not on race.

As we read the Book of Ruth, we are reminded that the gates of the Jewish community are always open to those who choose to join us by entering into that same covenant. The story of Ruth tells of a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism with these words spoken to her mother-in-law: “whither thou goest, I will go, thy people will by my people, thy God, my God.” Our tradition teaches that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, meaning that the messianic line runs through a Moabite convert!

I mention all of this because I think it is important to understand that Judaism, from its first formation and continuing into the present day, does not reflect a unified genetic or racial perspective. Instead, we the Jewish people are made up of a beautiful diversity that reflects the dynamism of God’s creation. We are of all genders, all colors, standing together as one people united by our values, learning from our history, supported by our rituals and love of learning and community. We are also supported by those who travel with us, who do not choose Judaism, but who do choose Jewish families; for that choice, we are indeed made better and we are grateful for it.

We are hurt when any member of our community (or a person of any community), because of their color, gender identity or sexuality, is discriminated against. An attack on them is an attack on all of us. Over the past few months, the fact that Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans are threatened by a racism that has become more pervasive must alarm all of us. In my conversations with some of our children of color, they have shared with me their fear of going to school or expressed that they’re trying to figure out how to pass and not be bothered.
This is an unacceptable situation and there are some things we can do. We have to keep demanding safety and support for communities of color. We have to speak out against all forms of hatred. But we ourselves also have to change our self image of who is a Jew. When we gather again in person, do not assume that the Asian person in front of you wasn’t born Jewish. Don’t think that the African-American congregant is just a guest. Ever since Sinai, we have looked like a mixed group, not just European, and that diversity continues.

We will be working as a congregation to find ways to stand up against this most recent expression of racism. Our Jews of Color (JOC) group, led by board member Paul Pretlow and member Kristin Posner, has been organizing along with Rabbi Parris. Also, Rabbi Rodich is working with JOC group leaders as well as Asian members and their families to determine the best ways that Emanu-El can continue to support our community and stand up for Jewish values.

Let us keep working on the ongoing process of celebrating the receiving of Torah together, sharing its blessing and values that ultimately make us the Jewish people.
Rabbi Jonathan Singer

April 1, 2021
Musings on a Year of Judaism in the Pandemic

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

When I was in college, our Hillel rabbi led a weekly reflection during the Kabbalat Shabbat service; he would intone the days of the past week and ask us to take a moment to remember something that happened the previous Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. In that spirit, this is a good time to think about one year ago in April, May, June, etc. Back in April 2020, still early in the pandemic, we thought we’d probably be gathering in the sanctuary for the High Holy Days. We had no idea. I remember hearing a scientist predict that the pandemic would last well into 2021; at that time, his forecast seemed overly dramatic.

A year ago, we managed to move all of our services and programs online. We conducted our last sanctuary b’nei mitzvah on March 14, 2020. We then scrambled to reschedule b’nei mitzvah, having students keep their original Torah portions but moving the dates to summer, as we felt sure the situation would improve by then. At a certain point, given the number of b’nei mitzvah students, we ran out of summer dates. So we did something we had never done before. We showed families how to set up a sanctuary in their own homes; we brought a Torah scroll to them and then led services via Zoom. Later, when the City changed some COVID-19 regulations, we were able to start conducting services in our outdoor courtyard (weather permitting), restricting them to only a small number of participants and having a precise setup that complies with every health regulation of safety, sanitation and distancing. As you read this, we continue to conduct all of our life-cycle ceremonies for congregants, either with a very small, spatially distanced setup in the Temple courtyard or via Zoom. To my knowledge, not one person has contracted COVID-19 as a result of attending a Temple event.

One year ago, Jonathan and I were invited to Zoom into a wedding as guests of a young man whom we had known since childhood. Like everyone, this couple had planned a big fat Jewish wedding, but ended up with a backyard ceremony in Chicago that included 15 spatially distanced guests plus hundreds on Zoom. Jonathan and I settled ourselves onto some outdoor furniture here on the west coast as we attended the wedding online. Jeff, whom we had known as a little boy, was attired in his suit and tallit. I was emotionally overcome when I saw him at the huppa. I cried and smiled throughout the ceremony, which we would not have been able to attend if it weren’t for Zoom.

April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April. Take a few moments and think about how you lived through each of these months. Schools were closed. Restaurants shut down. Emanu-El went online. But Jewish ritual endured! During each one of the past months, we welcomed babies; dozens of Emanu-El 13year-olds were called to the Torah; we officiated at weddings; and we stood at the graveside, often holding up a cell phone so that family members from afar could safely witness the mitzvah of burying their loved one. The ability of Jewish ritual to transcend even a pandemic is powerful. Reflect back. Biblical times. Rabbinic times. The Middle Ages. The Modern Age. The Tech Age. Throughout it all, Jewish ritual has endured.

Recently, a bat mitzvah parent, participating in her third child’s ceremony, reflected with me about how her family was focused much more on the ritual itself since there was no giant party to plan. We look forward to the day when it will be safe to gather in person, dance a Hora, hug each other, eat together, and celebrate our rituals with friends, family and the Temple community. It is a core value that, under normal circumstances, b’nei mitzvah services are celebrated in person in the sanctuary and all are welcome to attend as we officially accept each 13-year-old into the community. Until that time, you can hop online every Friday night at 6:00 p.m. for a warm service with music and a teaching; join Torah study at 9:15 a.m. every Shabbat morning with one click on our website; send your kids to Zoom or an outdoor Wilderness Torah experience; and celebrate holidays (and all of our Jewish rituals) in whatever way is deemed safest on any given day and week. Judaism has a long history of keeping the lights on. With our extraordinary Jewish rituals, we will continue to do just that.

March 1, 2021
Preparing for Passover
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Ma nishtanah halaila hazeh mikol haleilot? — “Why is this night different from all other nights?” is the first of the four questions we will ask as we sit at our Passover seders this month. Well, after having lived through a pandemic over the past year, we might reply that “while everything is different, nothing has changed.”

Nothing has changed as we prepare for a second Passover under quarantine. Yes, our Zoom skills may have improved, but the need to remain isolated until more people are vaccinated means that we’re in the same place as we were last year. Like our ancestors near the border of the Nile, we are stuck in our homes awaiting a future redemption.

At the same time, everything is different because we understand that redemption is nigh as the vaccine is being distributed. With the onset of spring this year, we can realistically begin to make plans for going forward – as soon as we are released from the “Egypt” of this pandemic. Some of you have already received your first vaccination or even both shots. Others are still waiting. But don’t get carried away, as we learn at Passover that freedom unfolds over time, not all at once. Our ancestors journeyed forth in stages, just as we must do now.

Like many of you, I had hoped that once we were all vaccinated, we’d be free to go out into the world again, to simply return to life as it was. But we must remember that it took our ancestors awhile after leaving Egypt to be able to taste the true joy of freedom. The Torah teaches us that they couldn’t just break out and return to life as it existed before slavery, but rather they had to dwell b’midbar — “in the wilderness” for a period in order to adjust to their new life situation. While doing so, they subsisted on lechem oni — “bread of affliction,” what we now call matzah, as they gradually made their way toward the Promised Land.

While I pray that our post-vaccination “wilderness” won’t last for years, I think we’re going to be in an in-between place for a while; we’ll have to learn how to re-enter and re-experience the larger world in a safe and sane way, one step at a time, continuing to wear masks, still distancing from each other, starting to gather in small groups. Perhaps this year, the matzah we eat during Passover can represent that process of transition. We will taste the simple joys in life, that which can sustain us, as we continue to move toward the beautiful complexity of life that we previously took for granted.

Remember that the seder celebrates the beginning of our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt; it does not celebrate their having reached the Promised Land. On Passover, we celebrate our people’s willingness to hold onto our sense of self during difficult times and make our way forward, inspired by faith in the holiness we call God. The end of the Haggadah imagines an even greater redemption with the exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Perhaps next year, we will be in that place of renewed freedom, having crossed over the wilderness of our current reality. For now, let us celebrate our fortitude, our ongoing sense of hope, and our determination to reach a better place by living our values and patiently moving forward to true freedom, not in a rush, but methodically and smartly, one step at a time, helping each other along the way.
Hag Pesach Sameach — Happy Passover!

February 1, 2021
Resilience: That’s What Purim Is All About
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

We are in the middle of a multi-session Temple series — “Building Resilience: Finding Meaning and Purpose in this Unusual Time” — for which you can still sign up on our website. As we wait for everyone to be vaccinated to give our bodies resilience in the face of coronavirus, we continue to wear our masks and practice social distancing. This month, our worlds collide with our annual celebration of Purim, a “Resilience holiday” (with a capital R!). On Purim, we wear masks and “inoculate” ourselves from the scourge of anti-Semitism by telling the story of our survival and our triumph over hate.

While most of us know about costumes, hamentaschen, and the Purim Spiel, there are two Purim traditions, less known among Reform Jews, that have the power to make us even stronger.

One of these traditions is called Matanot l’evyonim, which means “gifts to the poor.” You can fulfill this tradition by giving tzedakah during Purim to any organization that helps the vulnerable in our society. Among so many poverty-related issues, we know that food insecurity is an ongoing problem. JFCS and the SF Marin Food Bank are both worthy recipients for our practice of Matanot l’evyonim because they distribute food to those in immediate need while simultaneously advocating for changes that reduce the numbers of hungry people. Or you can volunteer with one of our Tzedek Council projects (check them out on our website) or any place that needs volunteers. Jewish practice asks us to give tzedakah throughout the year, but especially on Yom HaKipurim and on Purim (both of which contain the word Purim in them). Purim stands for “lots” or “casting the dice.” Both Yom Kippur and Purim remind us that much of what happens in the world feels out of our control, and enduring this current COVID-19 pandemic has also served as a reminder of the many things outside our control. However, by giving to others, we build resilience against the things we cannot change; we fortify ourselves spiritually by serving the needs of others. Regardless of how rich or poor we may be, each of us can give to or help others. We are more powerful than we think.

The other lesser known Purim tradition is called mishloach manot. This is the custom of bringing gifts to all of your friends on Purim. Many people fill compostable/disposable plates with hamentaschen and other treats like nuts, candies, and fruits, and then drop these gifts off at the homes of everyone they know. If you have never before participated in this Purim tradition, it provide pure joy… and joy builds resilience.

Just as we use an array of practices to build resilience against coronavirus, our customs of giving to the poor and sharing gifts are part of our practice of resilience as Jewish people. These joyful practices give us a sense of something we can do and they are a way to bring us all together. I hope you will continue to attend our Resilience series and maybe even try a new Jewish practice.

Chag Purim Sameach. And don’t forget to wear your mask!

December 1, 2020
Do You Believe in Miracles?
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Like me, many of you grew up hearing the fable of the eight nights of Chanukah. Remember? The Jews returned to the despoiled Temple and found only enough oil to burn for one night, but instead it lasted for eight days—a miracle! But according to historians, this is not the real story of Chanukah. Some claim that the holiday commemorates a civil war between two camps of Jews: assimilationists versus those who wanted to impose a strict interpretation of Judaism on everyone. Others say that Chanukah really is a belated eight-day Sukkot celebration, after Jews had been prevented from celebrating before they reclaimed the Temple. And some argue that the Rabbis in the Talmud knew all about the messy internal Jewish conflict but chose to go with the small-jar-of-oil story to place greater emphasis on miracles and de-emphasize battle. We pair this story with the Chanukah Haftara from the prophet Zechariah who said that we win “not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit.”

Regardless of its true back story, the theme of Chanukah is Miracles. One of my favorite prayers in our Reform prayer book states: “Days pass and years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.” The prayer book instills within us a Jewish idea that to wake up is itself a miracle. To breathe is a miracle. To feel joy and all of our emotions is a miracle. To walk is a miracle. To see a bird or a rainbow or an ocean is a miracle. To feel the warmth of the sun is a miracle. To love and be loved by others is a miracle.

2020 has been a very dicult year for many of us. A year of pandemic. A year of racial and political discord. A year of smoke and fires. Here at Temple, we continue to take measures that keep us safe, holding our celebrations digitally, as we continue our Emanu-El theme—Judaism, no matter what! Join us throughout Chanukah as we find new ways to increase the light and proclaim the miracle each night (see page 4). And join us next month as we partner with Third Baptist Church to shine a light anew on the miracle of our Black-Jewish relationships.

Throughout the Festival of Lights, we put a Chanukah menorah in our window to proclaim the miracle. Some
exchange gifts. But Judaism’s gift to us is that simply waking up each day is itself a miracle.

November 1, 2020
Rejoicing in the Gifts We Have
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

In the Talmud is a dispute over the proper name of this Hebrew month—is it Chesvan or Marcheshvan? Our home Jewish calendars refer to it as Cheshvan, which we believe comes from the Akkadian, meaning eighth, describing its place as the eighth month when counting from Passover (also considered a Jewish new year). But many other sources say the proper name is Marcheshvan, with the Mar addenda meaning either “month” or “droplet,” as the month customarily falls at the beginning of the rainy season.

Thus, much commentary has ensued, as it is the wont of our people to find meaning in something difficult. There are those who say Mar was added because the Hebrew meaning of that suffix translates as “bitter.” The month of Cheshvan is bitter, they said, because it is a rare Jewish month bereft of any holidays. Now that Sukkot has ended, there is no celebrating until Chanukah. Parenthetically, that reality is a relief to your Cantors and Rabbis!

But the Pri Chadash’s assertion that Mar refers to the rainy season is something that I want us to take note of. We just finished Sukkot with the shaking of the lulav and etrog, and in some teachings, that shaking action is actually an incantation or dance movement to bring about rains. Similar to California, Israel depends upon rain to provide nourishment for crops and water for people. Many Christian friends of mine are surprised when they visit Israel and find the river Jordan to be more like a stream than a river. Israel depends upon rain! During Sukkot, we are commanded to both rejoice and be happy even when things are not going so well. This allows us to take in the wonders around us, not let our bitterness blind us to life’s blessing, but then also pray for renewal of the rains.

This past month has brought much to make us bitter—from the horrible fires to the north and south, to the ongoing reality of COVID-19 and its limitations (that not only prevent us from gathering but is having profound economic implications for those who were already struggling), to our unique political climate with such anger and discord between our fellow Americans (I am writing this prior to the election). On top of that is a profound sense of despair that racism remains ingrained in the subconsciousness of our society, with Black Americans continuing to suffer cruel indignities every day.

But our tradition, which is no stranger to feelings of bitterness and despair, does not want those feelings to keep us from seeing hope, holiness, and beauty in our lives. Therefore, at Sukkot, we are commanded to be happy and rejoice in the gifts we have—even if the harvest isn’t so great—and then go out and work in the fields, replant, and pray for nourishing rains. Marcheshvan can therefore be seen as a call to continue that effort. Even if there are no holidays, we can rejoice in our lives, hold on to hope, and keep working to bring tikkun to a world so much in need of it. If you wallow in bitterness, you won’t change anything, but if you understand the Mar as drops of dew, you can step forward, refreshed, to continue the holy task of bringing blessings into the world no matter how hard the struggle.

As the psalmist wrote, “Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy.” So may we.

October 1, 2020
How Do You Express Your Joy?
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Oh Joy! One reason printed bulletins and magazines have a tough time staying afloat in this age of instant online media is that articles such as this one must be written under deadline weeks before print and distribution. If the USPS did its job, you are reading this the first week of October, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have come and gone. But as I write this, the High Holy Days have not yet occurred. Did our thousands of hours of preparation (and I do mean thousands, not hundreds) result in well-executed, vibrant, authentic, emotionally satisfying streaming services? Or did we fall flat? Did you choose to sit this one out? Or maybe, in spite of our best efforts, did you not realize that Emanu-El’s streaming High Holy Day services were open to everyone on the planet? (Anyone with a phone could have dialed in.) If you did participate, we hope the services were as meaningful as intended and that at least one of the sermons resonated with you; sometimes the message in a single sermon provides all the inspiration you need in the New Year.

Whether or not the services, music, and sermons spoke to you, the beauty of Judaism is that our cycle of holidays continues. Sukkot begins on Friday, October 2. When I was growing up, only the Rabbi and the Temple had a sukkah. Now, everyone can have a sukkah! You can order a prefab sukkah online (at for example), or you can buy a few materials at the hardware store and design your own. You can build your sukkah on a balcony, patio, or backyard. You can sit, eat, sing, and debate in your sukkah. You can watch Netflix on a streaming device in your sukkah. You can sleep in your sukkah and then feel even more grateful when you return to your comfy bedroom.

Gratitude is, of course, the underlying theme of every Jewish holiday. But unbridled JOY is the very essence of both Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Sukkot is traditionally referred to as Z’man Simchateinu—the “Season of our Joy.” This is an especially joyous time because we will have read all five books of the Torah, one portion per Shabbat for the past year, and we’ll now start reading through the Torah all over again. With each year of wisdom and life experience, we have the opportunity to find something new, something we never saw before no matter how many times we have read the Torah.

Historically, joy was expressed in an abundant Sukkot harvest. Today, joy can come from so many things. Do you have even a little food? Do you have a place to sleep at night? Do you have a synagogue? Do you have a couple of treasured friends? Do you have family members who care about you? Do you have at least some of your health? Are you breathing? If you can answer “yes” to even a few of these, then find a way to express your joy in this Z’man Simchateinu!

September 1, 2020
Kavanah in a Time of COVID-19
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

In Mishnah Brachot, chapter two, the ancient Rabbis state that one has fulfilled the obligation to recite the Shema if they directed their heart during the prayer. The term they use for direction of the heart (kiven libo) became the basis for the term kavanah, which means to have spiritual connection during prayer. Interestingly, the Rabbis went on to state in the next Mishnah that one can find oneself in different circumstances and still have kavanah, thus fulfilling the obligation to pray the Shema with true intention (even while working up in a tree or out in an orchard or at the wall of a building when prayer time comes around).

This High Holy Days season, with the effort to ensure the health of our congregants during COVID-19, we certainly find ourselves in different circumstances! When the time comes for our prayers this new year, the challenge we will face during the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awesomeness) is not that of praying in trees or on a wall, but in front of a computer screen, something that many of us might find frustrating. But remember, the Mishnah teaches us that, as Jews, we can and do have our hearts connected, attaining a spiritual uplift that will help us renew our days under many varied circumstances.

In this time of COVID-19, with the isolation it brings, we are even more deeply in need of the spiritual renewal that the High Holy Days offer us.To that end, your clergy at Congregational Emanu-El — with the wonderful help of Director and Congregant Becca Wolff and Producer and Congregant Lenore Naxon — are creating portals of spiritual connection that will make these Days of Awe meaningful and engaging, even though we won’t be gathering in person in our beautiful sanctuary. Via the miracle of the internet, we will hear the sound of the shofar, encourage each other to do teshuvah, work on return and renewal, sing the Avinu Malkeynu, and recite the Yizkor in ways that, a year ago, we could not have imagined.

And the experience need not be passive. Jewish mystical literature teaches that you can invite the Shechinah to be with you. But you must set the mood. The mystics encouraged their adherents to light candles around the room as well as incense, and to then focus in prayer, having created the atmosphere that encourages true Kavanah. For these holidays, we can act similarly by creating an ambiance in our homes that encourages spiritual intention.

Try setting your table with a white festival cloth and placing the screen on it, like a bimah, surrounded by flowers. Place holiday candles around the room to shed beautiful light. Also, put out Kiddish cups filled to the brim, ready to be blessed, with a round challah, and, if you own one, a shofar as well. Dress in white or in your most comfortable festive clothing. When the service starts, be all in, standing for the prayers when asked, singing with the Cantor and musicians, texting in your thoughts and hopes for the new year. Perhaps you can even keep a journal with you to write down your wishes for the new year, and remember those you need to honor or make amends with. Especially in this time, we have personal work to do — teshuvah — turning to our better selves as we seek renewal. The coronavirus pandemic will not stop Emanu-El Jews from engaging with our heartlines, connecting to the essence of ourselves and to the holy all around us! With each others’ help, with preparation and bringing the synagogue into our homes, we can build the bridge of connection and renew our days this year as of old! Shanah Tovah! Wishing you health, blessing, and renewal.

August 1, 2020
Welcome Rabbi Sarah Joselow Parris!

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

A year ago last February, following the retirement of our beloved Terry Kraus, Congregation Emanu-El was contemplating a new Engagement Leadership Model. Jonathan and I were headed to New York City for a family event when Rabbis Fenves and Rodich pulled us aside and told us: “We know a very talented Rabbi who is currently working at the Columbia Barnard Hillel in New York City, but her husband just got a job at Facebook headquarters and they are moving here.” “Her name is Rabbi Sarah Joselow Parris,” the Rabbis said. “She is amazing and you should hire her!” So after we arrived in New York, we met with Rabbi Parris on a Friday morning in a bakery on the Upper West Side.

As we walked out an hour later, Jonathan said, “We should hire her!” And so we did. Over the past year, Rabbi Parris joined Randi Fields and Ariana Estoque to form a powerful Emanu-El Engagement Team. Rabbi Parris distinguished herself by teaming up with our Early Childhood Director, Nika Greenberg, to offer small group opportunities to young parents. Rabbi Parris has worked on numerous engagement projects, and has met with more than 100 congregants (over both caffeinated and decaffeinated beverages) to help each one find a place at Emanu-El. When Rabbi Fenves told us that her family would be relocating to the East Coast, Rabbi Parris approached us about shifting her role from engagement to full-time clergy. She had attended our weekly clergy meetings and observed how we operate as a highly collegial and collaborative team to serve the members of Emanu-El and the wider community. After a national search, utilizing a congregant search team, and an affirmation from our Board, there was no question that Rabbi Parris was the most qualified candidate and a great match.

On July 1, Rabbi Sarah Parris officially joined us as a full-time Rabbi. She will be focusing on the preschool, working with young families, organizing synagogue small groups, and heading up our Jews of Color, Inclusion and Diversity group. Her portfolio also includes service leadership rotation, conversions, pastoral care, life-cycles, and all of the things that Pulpit Rabbis do. Rabbi Parris has been a vital partner as we have grappled with the uncertainties of our time vis-a-vis the upcoming High Holy Days. By the time you read this, our entire clergy team will have spent hundreds of hours imagining and planning an impactful High Holy Day experience, as our community mostly meets online to keep everyone healthy until there is a vaccine.

We have worked and continue to work on every facet of your High Holy Day experience from the website to the services to numerous creative opportunities for small, safe physical gatherings. One thing we can promise you: These High Holy Days will be historic! They will be like none other you have ever experienced. They will be more inclusive and open, yet powerful and to the point. While we would never wish for anything like what the world is currently experiencing, we are excited about the opportunity to create something that draws deeply from the well of our tradition and speaks uniquely to this moment in time. You don’t want to miss this! And you also won’t want to miss the specific, highly personalized opportunities for congregants only.

If you have not yet renewed your membership, please do so now. We need you and you need Temple. The warmest of welcomes to Rabbi Sarah Joselow Parris! Watch our website and Chronicle for a future date when we will all gather safely in the Main Sanctuary to officially “install” her as our newest Assistant Rabbi, and of course welcome you back in person. Your connection is what makes this Temple a sacred and special place.

May/June/July, 2020
Thank You For Your Ongoing Support!

By Alan Greinetz, Board President

Dear Emanu-El Community, I am writing today to thank you for your ongoing support of our synagogue and to invite you to join us for the year ahead by renewing your Emanu-El membership. Despite the shelter-in-place orders that have caused us to move all of our programming online and have our staff work remotely, we’ve been able to retain each and every member of our fabulous staff! Your membership renewal will enable us to continue to fully support the community during this period of unprecedented challenge.

Due to the economic effects of the coronavirus, we have decided not to increase our dues this year. Emanu-El is here to support our members in any way necessary at this time. If you are able to contribute at or above the suggested level, we encourage you to do so, as your community needs you more than ever. As always, there is room for everyone under our dome, and no one will ever be turned away. Despite the new COVID-19 reality, we are not standing still. Emanu-El remains a vital source of community and support for our members. It has been a joy and a comfort to join with many of you in online Shabbat services. Emanu-El has also hosted virtual baby groups, preschool and YFE classes, Passover Seders, and family T’filah, and we’ve conducted one-to-one outreach to congregants in need. In partnership with Chabad, we delivered 145 Passover meals to the most vulnerable members of our community. In addition, we have leveraged our community’s entrepreneurship, creativity, and heart to support local small businesses by launching the Tikkun Emanu-El Shuk. Jewish tradition teaches us that, in a crisis, we should not sit back and pray for a miracle.

Instead, we should do everything we can to address the situation for ourselves, our loved ones, and our entire community. The most impactful thing you can do is quite simple: continue to be a member of Congregation Emanu-El. We appreciate each and every one of you. Please visit and click on LOG IN TO MYEMANU-EL (top right of the homepage) to renew your membership. Please renew by June 15. We know that the year ahead will be an unusual one in our history as a congregation, a city, and a people. We must and we can create this future together.

April 1, 2020
Each Of Us Is A Receiver Of The Holy
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
In my neighborhood, they’re getting better at masking the micro receivers that have been placed by the various cell phone companies to give us the best possible reception. When they first came out, the large bulky devices were eyesores, but with progress, they have been made at times to look like trees, or now as simple extensions of street lights. While the issue of privacy is of paramount importance in our country today, the notion of receivers being all around us is not something that is surprising from the perspective of traditional Judaism.

As we read in the Torah, the giving of the law was a result of an encounter, not of an individual, but of the Jewish people — and not necessarily those of a genetic particularity, but those of whatever background who were willing to travel with us at the time, place themselves at the bottom of the mountain at Sinai, engage the Holy, and receive the Torah. The common notion is that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, and remained there for 40 days, and in the presence of the Holy received the tablets with the values that are essential to civilization as we know it carved into the stone. However, the Talmud teaches that, while Moses took the tablets in his hands, the people surrounding the mountain received it. The voice of the Holy, a Midrash proclaims, was divided into 70 languages so that the whole world might understand it.

All who were at Sinai — young, old, men, women, children, and infants — heard and understood according to their capacity. And that continued with the radically moving notion that the prophets heard Torah as do we today! What that ancient text imparts is that each of us is a receiver of the Holy. Pieces of Torah exist in every fellow traveler who joins the Jewish people. I love the notion that, if one opens oneself, if one truly listens, then Sinai is always happening, God’s wonder is always flowing, and you can choose to receive it and then share it. In a sense, this is what can happen at your Seder table.

As you share the Haggadah and tell the story of our redemption, opening your home to guests who come from different perspectives and attitudes, you can make room for each person to teach their Torah concerning the meaning of redemption, the willingness to march toward freedom in times of oppression, and how we can support each other along life’s journey. Without the receivers, those willing to liberate themselves at the first Passover and march towards Sinai, a mixed multitude the Torah tells us, there would be no Torah. The same is true today.

If we are to flourish as a people, we have to understand that the Torah is ours to receive and transmit. We are still a mixed multitude and Sinai does not happen without our joining together and being welcoming. Judaism doesn’t continue without you, and it is enriched when you talk and engage and learn from the Torah of those around you. Use the Passover guide included in this Chronicle to get ready for the holiday. Join us for an online class that will help you organize your Seder, pull out your Haggadah and go online to find songs and games, and help Jewish ideas flourish as you share at your table, helping each other to transmit and receive the wonder and blessings of Jewish life.

Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!

March 1, 2020
Lessons We Can Learn From The Talmud
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
Pop quiz time! Where does this passage come from?
“As it is told, Ze’ri would deposit his dinars with his innkeeper. While he was going about his business, she died, and he did not know where she had put the money. So he went after her to her grave in the cemetery and said to her, ‘Where are the dinars?’ She replied, ‘Go and get the dinars from beneath the hinge of the door in such and such a place and tell my mother that she should send me a comb and a tube of eyeshadow with such and such a woman who will die and come here tomorrow.'” Is it from:
A. The Bible
B. The Talmud
C. Jewish Midrash
D. None of the above.
This is a made-up story! If you guessed B, you are correct. The passage comes from a segment of the Talmud called Berachot, and this vignette is found on page 18b. When you open a page of the Talmud, the folio is so large, filled with commentaries all around the edges, that in a two-page spread, one page is a and the other is b. Reform Judaism has always focused on the Torah as our most sacred text and source of daily Jewish learning. The Torah is the common denominator of all branches of Judaism. Torah unifies us as a people. But recently, more Reform Jews than ever before have begun to explore the world of Talmud. This is due to a Jewish tradition called Daf Yomi, which invites Jews and everyone to read and study one page of Talmud per day.
The Talmud, a compilation of laws, conversations, stories, and debates that happened in the early centuries of the common era (compiled around the year 500), takes seven-and-a-half years to read from beginning to end… if you read one page each day. Many of the conversations and topics in the Talmud are surprisingly relevant. It starts right out with a long debate over when is the right time to recite the Shema prayer. While the minutia of the right moment to say a prayer may not speak to us, the trajectory of the conversation demonstrates that the questions are more important than the answers and that the minority opinions, not just the correct answers, are important.
But as we move through the pages and through the days, topics turn to how we say our prayers with full concentration and attention, the importance of fixed prayers as well as prayers from the heart, how Judaism introduced new prayers (early Reform Jews!), how we preserve human dignity, when to recite a traveler’s prayer, tefilat haderech, and my personal favorite: do the dead continue to know what is going on in the world of the living? There is a surprising amount of humor in the Talmud and 6th graders would really appreciate the “toilet talk” about what to do if you are in the middle of reciting the Shema and someone near you “passes wind.” There truly is something in the Talmud for everyone.
While you can purchase a hardcover multi-volume Talmud to pass through the generations of your family, there are also many easy ways to access Daf Yomi online. My favorite app is Sefaria, which has every Jewish text, including the Talmud. My favorite companion podcast is called “Take One” (from Tablet Magazine) and my favorite Daf Yomi daily email is a subscription called “Talmud” from the My Jewish Learning website. These are all accessible and focused on finding the meaningful thought from each page. And there are many other online resources as well. If you become enamored with Daf Yomi Talmud study, you can sign up for Queer Talmud Camp, Hadar Yeshiva Intensive, or another Talmud in-person learning opportunity. We are so lucky to live in a time when ancient Jewish texts can be explored and can guide us as we try to live our best lives. Give Daf Yomi a try and let me know what you think.

February 1, 2020
Confronting Anti-Semitism
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

As I write this, thousands of people are walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in solidarity against anti-Semitism and hatred in all of its forms. The march is an important public statement that the Jewish community will not be intimidated by those who hate us, and that we do not stand alone against the vile rearing of prejudice that is a stain on the American psyche. We in San Francisco cannot be naive when it comes to recognizing its resurgence and that we must continue to be vigilant in countering it.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav is famous for teaching that the whole world is a narrow bridge, but the essence is not to be afraid. To me, this teaching reminds me to respond to such hatred not from a stance of fear, but from one of courage and inner strength. If we stand together as Jewish people with our natural communal partners, we have the capacity to push back at this scourge in a way that few communities in Jewish history have been able to do.Standing together includes working across the Jewish community as partners with all expressions of Judaism.
We must give our absolute support to our Hasidic brothers and sisters as their outward appearance as Jews makes them targets. We support their right as Americans to purchase property, congregate in neighborhoods, and not be treated with nonsensical expressions of hatred that argue their existence as a threat to others. As a Jewish community, we represent less than 2% of the entire American population, and Hasidic (as well as other Orthodox) Jews account for only 20%, at most, of our Jewish population. Hasidim are a threat to no one, and America must know that we Reform Jews enthusiastically support their right to practice Judaism as they see fit.
Standing together also means acknowledging that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. We Rabbis are enthusiastic supporters of the State of Israel. At the same time, we can criticize that country, which we love, because we want it to be a “light unto the nations.” It is one thing to critique a country; it is another to deny its right to exist. Zionism is the national expression of the Jewish people and we have the right to that expression. To argue otherwise is to deny Jewish history and identity. It is essential that we speak out against anti-Semitism masked as anti-Zionism and be unafraid to challenge those with whom we might otherwise agree with politically and socially.
As Rabbi Nachman taught, let us not be afraid, but rather let us counter this hatred directly. We can do so by publicly celebrating our Jewish identity, by reaching out to the larger community to stand against all forms of hate, by building coalitions with people who embrace love and see the holy in all people, and by demanding that not just the government and officers of the law stand up against anti-Semitism, but that good people everywhere join with us. Here at Emanu-El, you will see more programming and events in the coming months as we discuss how to stand up against hate and encourage each other to participate in and find meaning in Jewish life. It is a sacred task that we have been given as part of the Jewish journey: to cast the light of hope and love into the world when others would try to embrace darkness!


January 1, 2020
Vote For The Association of Reform Zionists of America
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
Between January 21 and March 11, I’m asking you to do something that will have a powerful impact in making Israel a place for ALL expressions of Judaism, whether Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. What I’m asking is that you click on the link in an email we’ll be sending out later this month and VOTE for the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) slate to attend the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem this October. Voting for the ARZA slate will take less than 10 minutes of your time, and an expenditure of only $7.50. And by the way, the slate includes your two Senior Rabbis!
Rabbis throughout the U.S. are working toward a goal of 50,000+ American Jewish community votes for the ARZA slate. Why? First, earning over 50,000 votes will ensure funding for Reform and other pluralistic Israeli organizations. And second, it will give Israeli Reform Jews a voice and a place at the decision-making table alongside our Orthodox brothers and sisters. At Emanu-El, our audacious goal is 500 to 1,000 votes—so please VOTE ARZA, and ask all of your congregant friends to VOTE ARZA, either via the email voting link or at the Temple between January 21 and March 11.
Let me tell you why this is so important to me…All Reform rabbinical students spend their first year of study in Israel. It’s an intense, and intensive, experience—living in a Jerusalem neighborhood apartment; shopping at the local market; finding a synagogue; and studying both biblical and modern Hebrew, dikduk (grammar), biblical archeology,
and a host of other rabbinical subjects.
Jonathan and I spent our Israel year of 1983 living in the Moshava Germanit (German Colony) neighborhood and attending a very small variety of beleaguered Reform communities on Shabbat; the Israeli government only provided funding for Orthodox institutions, so it was difficult for Reform Judaism to flourish. The widespread belief in Israel was that you could be Orthodox, secular, or nothing. There are historic and political reasons for this situation, dating back to the founding of the state, but believe me when I tell you that growing Reform Judaism in Israel was like trying to raise sweet corn on a bed of concrete. The environment was that inhospitable!
Jonathan and I were so taken with our time in Israel that we briefly considered making aliyah and moving permanently to either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. However, we came to the realization that, while America allows Jews to be any kind of Jews we choose to be, in the Jewish homeland, it would have been extremely difficult to be a Reform Rabbi. While I have no regrets about our decision to serve the American Jewish community, I am proud to tell you that, in spite of the ongoing efforts of some to expunge Reform Judaism, the Reform movement in Israel continues to grow. It’s still small as there remains a concerted effort by the Orthodox rabbinate to suppress it.
But recent studies show that 15% of all Israelis identify more closely with Reform Judaism than with any other religious branch, or even as secular. There are now Reform and Conservative synagogues and Jewish communities all over Israel, and organizations like the Israel Religious Action Center fight for the rights of ALL Jews to have a place in Israel. The potential for Reform Judaism to flourish as a supported option among many is exciting. The fact that each member of our congregation can do this one thing to make a perceptible difference is heartening. Please be in touch with Rabbi Jonathan or myself if you would like to work with our Emanu-El team to really get out the ARZA vote. We believe that Congregation Emanu-El can make a difference!


December 1, 2019
Your Vote Matters!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
At the risk of putting our nonprofit status at risk, as one of your Rabbis, I am going to publicly tell you how to vote! In this case, since I am asking you to vote for me, or for Rabbi Beth, or for anyone on the ARZA Reform Movement slate, I don’t think I have much to worry about. However, in the election this January for the World Zionist Organization (WZO), your vote for us WILL make a difference for the good of the State of Israel and the Jewish People.
Five years ago, our Emanu-El membership participated in the WZO campaign, selecting candidates to represent North American Jewry at the WZO Congress and in its committees. The WZO was created as a means of connecting the diaspora more essentially with the State of Israel; it gives diaspora Jews, working with Israelis, an opportunity to affect policy in the promised land. Representation in the WZO is determined by the number of votes a group receives.
Representatives then allocate money to different causes in Israel while also advising the Karen Kayemet (the Israeli Jewish National Fund) in its activities. Our turnout five years ago gave the Reform Movement the largest seat at the table. It enabled Rabbi Mintz to attend the convention where she joined with others to ensure that a female Reform Rabbi would sit at the JNF table along with a male Orthodox Rabbi to influence policy. Our representatives succeeded in directing funding that was essential to helping the nascent Israeli Reform Movement increase exponentially in size. Previously, the Israeli Reform Movement had not received financial support from such an entity.
With our victory, however, they were granted $20 million over a period of five years, which was apportioned to Reform synagogues desperate for funding all over the country. Our WZO representation was also able to join in the debate about how best to support the peace process, encourage rights for LGBTQ Israelis, take a stand against extremism, and ensure that our Reform Jewish values were at the table.
Now, all of that progress is at risk if we do not perform as well, or BETTER, in the upcoming elections (January 21 to March 11). Voting will help those who may feel frustrated about not being able to influence Israeli policy actually make a difference. And voting is even easier this time! When the polls open, all you have to do is go online and register (for a fee of $7.50); declare that you are at least 18 years old, Jewish, and a permanent resident of the US; and affirm the principles of the Jerusalem program, which basically states that you think a democratic and secure State of Israel is important.
Rabbi Beth and I ask that you participate and vote for us! Know that, in so doing, you will help us represent a strong, confident Reform Zionism that celebrates the vitality and significance of the State of Israel. You will also be ensuring that the Torah values of loving your neighbor as yourself, embracing a beautifully diverse Jewish people along with an ethnically and religiously diverse Israel, and striving for peace remain core organizing principles of the country.
We want Israel to be a light unto the nations in a world that we know is desperate for goodness to shine more brightly. We are grateful that Aaron Tartakovsky and Kimberly Sanner have agreed to be the campaign captains, with the energetic support of our indefatigable Israeli Action Chair, Jordan Hymowitz. We will send out the voting links next month, and there will be laptops and iPads available for your use as well. Please let me know if you have any questions.

November 1, 2019
Gratitude For Our Wonderful Rabbis
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
True story: There was a famous American Rabbi who often traveled by plane and always ended up in conversation with the person sitting next to him. Inevitably, that person would ask, “So, what do you do for a living?” Based on his experience, the Rabbi knew if he divulged his profession, his seatmate, if Jewish, would invariably launch into a story about a negative interaction he’d had with a Rabbi. The Rabbi never came to visit his mom in the hospital. The Rabbi at his bar mitzvah had bad breath. The complaints went on and on… So, when asked about his line of work, the Rabbi learned to simply smile and respond with “You know the matzas you eat on Passover? I’m responsible for making sure the holes are all in the right places. That’s my job.”
That was a long time ago, and I like to think that, these days, the stories about Rabbis are mostly positive. Reform Rabbis have come a long way in our understanding of what it means to lead and serve Jewish communities in the 21st century. Ours is a complex dance — to uphold the standards of Jewish practice while meeting the needs of the Jewish people. If Rabbis are unbending in upholding the “rules,” people will simply leave. But if Rabbis say “yes” no matter the impact of the request on the integrity of this several thousand-year-old evolving religious civilization, we are not true leaders. We make mistakes, but we try to exercise leadership with the goal of transmitting Judaism, not just to the next generation, but to the one after that.
In small towns across America, there is one Rabbi. If you are a Jew or part of a Jewish family and you belong to one of these small-town synagogues, you might love the Rabbi, or perhaps you can’t stand the Rabbi, or she’s simply not your cup of tea. But this is the Rabbi who will officiate at your wedding, name your babies, lead your bat or bar mitzvah service, visit you in the hospital, and preside over your funeral. This Rabbi will easily deliver all five sermons throughout the High Holy Days, whether or not you appreciate his message and speaking style.
You know where I am going with this, right? How lucky we are at Congregation Emanu-El to have Rabbi Stephen Pearce as our Emeritus. Let me tell you, you cannot find a finer, more supportive or generous Emeritus than Rabbi Pearce. Rabbi Larry Kushner is our world class Scholar Rabbi in Residence. Rabbis Mintz and Bauer are our Senior Associate Rabbis, with years of experience and hundreds of beloved relationships. Rabbis Fenves and Rodich are the resident “young” equally treasured and talented Rabbis on our clergy team. Rabbi Jonathan Singer and I developed a unique model as co-equal Senior Rabbis, guiding the vision of this great historic place.
Over the course of the year, you will hear multiple sermonic voices as we all take turns teaching and preaching. You may find a particular Rabbi with whom you develop a closer relationship. I believe that each Emanu-El Rabbi has quite a “following.” But every year when I speak to the preschool and religious school parents, I encourage everyone to “collect the set.” Congregants who have bonded with multiple Rabbis know that it can be an asset to feel a sense of connection to more than one Rabbi. And regardless of how much you love the Rabbis, the real goal is loving the Emanu-El community more than any one individual. The Congregation is not here for the Rabbis; the Rabbis are here for the Congregation. And what about our remarkable Cantors? That is for another essay!

October 1, 2019
The Connection Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
It is the “Season of our Joy!” Although you may be reading this just prior to Yom Kippur, with its profoundly moving focus on personal and communal atonement, Jewish tradition teaches that Yom Kippur and the Jewish New Year are inextricably linked to Sukkot, which is one of the most joyous festivals of the Jewish calendar. So joyous, in fact, that one is to place the first nail in the sukkah just as Yom Kippur is ending. Even as you are breaking your fast, you are supposed to be preparing for the eight-day festival the rabbis called THE HOLIDAY.
Following this custom, in our Courtyard this month as the Day of Atonement comes to a close, you will see us preparing to put up our Emanu-El sukkah. I know that many of our members will be thinking, “Haven’t we done enough Jewish already? And why should we come back to Temple for the seemingly child-focused holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah?” The answer is, according to Jewish tradition, you have not fully experienced Yom Kippur if you do not then enter the sukkah and embrace its joy.
Sukkot reminds us that Judaism is not just about confession and atonement, but also about hope and appreciating moments of joy and celebration. Beginning just five days after the process of teshuvah during Yom Kippur, which involves denying the physical, Sukkot embraces joyous celebration by sharing food, drink, and stories while dwelling in a festively decorated booth. By placing these holidays so closely together, Jewish tradition makes a very deep point. Psychologically, the Day of Atonement leading into a time of celebration and gratitude affirms that, for Judaism, the concept of hope is core to our growth as individuals.
We are grateful for Yom Kippur and the days preceding it to focus on personal transformation, that which comes from admitting mistakes and then not just asking for forgiveness, but also working to change our behavior. As we sit in the sanctuary on Yom Kippur, free of other responsibilities and distractions like cell phones, we are taught to go deep into ourselves and do real kishke work — work that ultimately leads to an optimism that we can grow, change, bring our values to the forefront, and live a more balanced and loving life. And as we joyously break our fast, we need to reconnect to the world around us, immerse ourselves in nature, be under the stars, and deeply breath in the cool air of hope.
Connecting to the process of the harvest as we sit in the sukkah represents both freedom and connection to the time of the season. The sukkah is reminiscent of the booths where our ancestors would sleep as they quickly harvested the fall crops; with no time to go home to slumber, they spent those nights in the field in order to gather up as much bounty as possible. The sukkah also represents the portable huts that our even more ancient ancestors, the Israelites, who followed Moses into the wilderness, dwelt in as they migrated to the Promised Land.
Entering a sukkah after Yom Kippur affirms that, as we complete our teshuvah, we then go forward with hope. In a time of global warming, it reminds us to work on sustainability. In a time of isolation, it asks us to invite in guests and connect to community. In a time of over-functioning, it asks us to celebrate the beauty of simplicity.
I hope you will join us in celebrating these holidays, as there will be opportunities for members of all ages:
Erev Sukkot — Festival Celebration
First Day of Sukkot — Festival Service
Friday Night during Sukkot — Adult Israeli dinner in the sukkah (or nearby), with Israeli wines
Simchat Torah — Dinner and hakafot in Guild Hall
Yom Kippur and Sukkot are fundamentally connected, and it’s time for our community to embrace more deeply this entire “Season of our Joy.”


September 1, 2019
Reflections For The First Day of Elul
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
“Dear Rabbi Singer: I am writing because my dad was sick recently. I did not hear from you and it really hurt my feelings.”
“Dear Rabbi Singer: I saw you at Trader Joe’s and it felt like you did not recognize me.”
“Dear Rabbi Singer: At the event last week, I saw you talking to others, but you never came up and said Hi to me.”
I don’t receive emails like this often, but when I do, I always feel terrible for letting a congregant down because knowing our members and making them feel honored and respected is so important to me. And although none of us enjoys being told that we have fallen short in some regard, I actually appreciate these messages because I cannot make amends if I’m unaware that I have upset someone.
I myself have occasionally run into a person whom I believed should have recognized exactly who I am, only to see them clearly confused about that. (For example, an elderly congregant once stopped me on the street near Laurel Village and asked, “Excuse me. Are you my doctor or my Rabbi?!”) So I understand how hurtful it can be. And on that note, I apologize to those of you who have experienced this from me. I hope you know it is never intentional. I WANT to know your name, your face, your story. If you make an appointment through my assistant Saundrah ([email protected]), as many of you have, and come to my office, I will take your photo and I will study it until I know you!
I believe I have a mild case of “prosopagnosia,” the medical term for the inability to distinguish faces. I have facial blindness. But each one of us has some type of “blindness” or another. September 1 coincides with the first day of Elul, a traditional time on the Jewish calendar of deep personal introspection as we prepare to ask forgiveness of others and of ourselves. Although Judaism teaches us to forgive those who have offended us on a nightly basis just before we fall asleep, the current calendar period offers us a special opportunity to focus on asking for and granting forgiveness.
I encourage you to give others the opportunity to say they are sorry, and I urge you to forgive those who offended you in this past year. Bitterness, anger, hurt, and offense are heavy burdens to lug from one year into the next. But our beloved tradition provides us with spiritual tools now (and year-round) to lighten those loads. May the month of Elul be, for you and for me, a deeply meaningful season of opening our eyes and forgiving.  


August 1, 2019
Supporting The Education of Our Youth
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Selah! This word, which appears 74 times in the book of Psalms spelled with the Hebrew letter Heh, can be translated as “praise” or “forever.” But when spelled with the Hebrew letter Ayin, Selah means “rock” — like the rock that Moses incorrectly struck when seeking water in
the wilderness after Miriam (whose name may have meant “water finder”) had died.
I assume that the parents of Selah Schneiter, who is now, at the age of ten, the youngest person to have ever climbed El Capitan, named her after the geological formation. This daughter of two mountain climbers has certainly lived up to that designation, but as a 10-year-old record holder doing something that I, with my fear of heights, could never imagine doing, she is also worthy of praise (as the alternative Hebrew meaning of her name implies). While some might question the wisdom of encouraging one’s young child to participate in such a sport, Selah’s achievement does serve as a reminder that our kids can do amazing things when given the opportunity.
This holds true when it comes to sports, secular school, and social justice opportunities, and must also apply to Jewish education, which includes our Emanu-El Youth and Family Education class offerings. While many parents tell us they are glad that Emanu-El’s school endeavors create such a fun and engaging learning environment, one that builds community, as your synagogue leadership we have been spending much time thinking about how we can do even better. What can we do to meet the needs of children who want to climb higher, to help our youth who want to explore Torah in more creative ways, or build an even stronger sense of youth engagement and community? How can we integrate the latest in Jewish educational advancement, utilize technology, and better engage parents to collaborate in our desire to improve?
As a clergy team, along with our new head of school Lom Friedman, we have been pondering these questions and have already instituted new opportunities in the form of increased Hebrew offerings, expanded family retreats, and at-home self-guided elective enrichment projects. Out of these conversations has come a desire to implement a new curriculum that will provide more opportunities to our children through track electives, more support to our teachers, and better tools for our parents to share with their children, creating opportunities for reinforcement at home. We are doing so in consultation with leading experts in Jewish education from the Hebrew Union College and the larger Reform movement. After having spent a first year getting to know our program, Lom is now working on some exciting projects and an educational vision that will unfold over the next few years.
We plan on introducing a new curriculum that supports more Hebrew and Torah learning while offering an experimental Hebrew-focused engagement track that will first be tested in this year’s 5th grade. We hope to provide more time for teacher meetings and training, to create a parent/ teacher association, and to form a professional educator support team that can help our teachers in the classroom. This fiscal year, we have added new support in our school, investing the precious dollars that you share with us as members and donors, to help build a better Emanu-El and a better Jewish future.
We believe that all children who participate in our school should emerge with a joyful connection to Judaism and the Jewish people and with a love of Torah that can help guide and support them in a challenging world. It is so important for our kids who are overtaxed with schoolwork and extracurricular activities to find value and meaning and joy in the time they spend at synagogue. With that in mind, we will continue to explore ways to grow our program, improve our physical teaching space, and make more resources available to our families.
There are always new heights to climb, and atop the highest rock, we are always trying to receive Torah. Educating our youth to fulfill their Jewish future is the job of the entire synagogue and it is our gift to our people. As your clergy, we welcome your support, engagement, and partnership in this holy work. Most importantly, we want you to encourage your children to come and study with us and to place Jewish education as a higher priority in their lives.
Amen Selah!


May 1, 2019
The Beauty of Shabbat
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
Ah…May! My favorite of all months, with its beautiful, light-filled, lengthy days and plethora of blossoms. The great flurry of culmination celebrations before the calm of summer: the end of the school year, graduations, Mother’s Day (a personal favorite), Memorial Day weekend, and major league baseball. We pack a lot into this month! My youngest offspring graduates college this May, and my daughter will be ordained as a Rabbi next May.
On Friday, May 17 at 6:00 pm, our Emanu-El 12th-graders will lead us in a beautiful graduation Shabbat ceremony. If you have not attended in the past, mark your calendar and join us! The fruits of our Jewish educational labors blossom in May, and this service gives us hope for the future of our people. Then on to summer when the goal is to slow everything down. Take time off, travel, go to the beach. While we never “close,” during the summer, Emanu-El does take a break from the relentless pace of our diverse and vibrant programming opportunities.
We continue to hold services throughout the summer — every Friday night at 6:00 pm and Shabbat mornings at 10:30 am — as well as offer Torah study every Shabbat morning at 9:15 am. When you’re in town, please join us. Our services are relatively short; filled with music, tradition, and innovation; and (usually!) include an inspiring message from the Torah. Our services are a perfect way to frame your weekend. Additionally, because we all tend to spend less time expressing our Jewish identity at Temple during the summer, it’s a great time to inventory what makes our homes Jewish homes.
Your home can be a mini-temple and a center for building Jewish expressiveness, and we are here to help with that. Please let us know if you need assistance in affixing a mezuzah or a recommendation for a few good books to build your Jewish library (for example, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker makes for a fun summer fiction read). There are endless variations on ways to experience Shabbat in your own home. Many of you already have your own Shabbat practice, but if not, start by simply having two Shabbat candles at the ready for Friday nights (pick them up at the local grocery store or online). Select your wine or non-alcoholic fruit of the vine. Make or buy a challah. Invite a friend, or several friends, to your home. Organize a Shabbat potluck at home, or in a park. Change your Friday night or Saturday routine. Why? Shabbat is a GIFT provided by our Jewish tradition, and there are a million ways to practice it that result in a deeper sense of wellbeing, connection, and spirituality.
Not religious? No problem. You can still celebrate a day of rest by including an intentional nap and some outdoor time on Saturdays. It’s always great to see you at Temple, but there is so much you can do at home. Our eight Rabbis, two Cantors, and three Jewish educators are all on call to support you in building a Jewish home. August will be here before we know it. On Friday, August 23, we want all of you to show up to help welcome the Interfaith community at our 6:00 pm service with very special guest, Yemenite refugee Mohammed Al-Samawi, who was rescued by a handful of Jewish and Christian individuals. But for now, it’s still May. So take a slow, deep breath. Smell the flowers. Celebrate your Mother. And plan to attend our Emanu-El graduation. It is all ahead of us…

April 22, 2019
Congregation Emanu-El deplores the violence committed this past Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka at various churches and hotels. In the wake of this terrible attack, we stand in solidarity against the perpetrators of hatred and violence. As the country recovers from this terrible incident, below are a couple of ways you can contribute to help the victims of these bombings.

March/April, 2019
Celebrate Yitziat Mitzrayim
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
The Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas has jumped on the Passover bandwagon! This year, rather than cleaning your house, you can opt for a Seder at a resort that has been kashered for Passover! Enjoy Passover meals as Matasiyahu entertains you, and experience freedom for the entire week of the holiday!
That is one way to celebrate Yitziat Mitzrayim — the going out from Egypt — which our tradition teaches us to do for the week of Passover. The tradition of this festival encompasses the celebration of freedom, the enjoyment of a sumptuous spring feast, the chance to relax (recline), and the remembrance both of our liberation from slavery in Egypt and of our people surviving on Lechem Oni (matzah, the bread of affliction) as we wandered the desert for 40 years.
While the observance of all of the above may seem contradictory, I believe the ancient rabbis wanted us to both recall and rejoice, zocher v’oneg! So at Seders, we drink fine wine while eating wonderful foods (some of which have “magically” conjured up with Passover Matzah meal), but also remember Avadim Hayunu by eating matzah — plain at first, then combined with bitter herbs, recalling both our liberation and our suffering, reconnecting to our people’s experience of oppression but ultimate redemption.
I am grateful that, in the diaspora, we have the opportunity to celebrate more than one Seder. While I love our congregational Seders, the chance to retell the story as a community, there is a formal reason for that gathering on the second night. The mitzvah of Passover commands you to “take a lamb and roast it, and eat it, with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and staff in your hand…it is a Passover Sacrifice to Adonai.” But note that it is our individual responsibility as Jews, in our own or our neighbor’s house, to observe and celebrate the Seder. The obligation is not upon the rabbis, but on each one of us, regardless of our level of knowledge or observance, to make a Seder — because each of us was redeemed from enslavement. Avadim HayenuV‘ata B’nai Horin!
The rabbinate here at Emanu-El encourage you, on that first or second night, to empower yourself by making a Seder, even if you have never done so before. We’re glad to share with you activities or discussion questions to make your Seder meaningful, and you can even download Haggadot from the internet! Your Seder can be adjusted to meet the needs of you and your guests, the children being engaged, and the topics of discussion and debate of the adults in attendance. Invite friends, Jewish or not, and set a beautiful table. It is your story to tell, your identity to affirm and celebrate.
The Atlantis Resort has it right: whether you’re in the Bahamas or the Himalayas or at home for Passover, make a Seder, bring matzah, and recall from whence we came… and with inspiration from the Holy, how we can keep going forward to bring redemption for all. Chag Pesach Sameach!


March 15, 2019
Grace Cathedral and Congregation Emanu-El Joint Statement on Christchurch shooting

Grace Cathedral and Congregation Emanu-El stand with the Christchurch Muslim community, our New Zealand friends and the Muslim community of San Francisco in their time of grief and mourning. This type of violence and the hate that motivates it is unacceptable in any country and people of all faiths worldwide have a responsibility to stand up and say no. No one should fear for their safety when attending their house of worship.
This tragedy occurred on Friday afternoon when the mosque was filled with people who gathered for Friday prayers, just as the Pittsburgh killer attacked Jews at their synagogue, and the Charleston killer attacked an African American Church. This type of violence is driven by racial, religious, and ethnic hatred. Every person of faith has a responsibility to denounce this in the strongest possible terms.
In the wake of this terrible attack, we call on our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters to commit themselves to oppose Islamophobia and to demonstrate acts of solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and others just as we stand against anti-Semitism and hatred against Christians or any person of faith.
We affirm our human solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers, inheritors with us of the Abrahamic faith and our belief that every individual on this planet, no matter their color, faith or sexual orientation, is a reflection of the Holy and deserves to live in safety and in freedom.Clergy & Leadership of Grace Cathedral and Congregation Emanu-El 

February 1, 2019
Journey With Me to Israel!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
This summer I will be leading a multi-generational, multi-faceted trip to Israel that will take us to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the north. We’ll drink kosher wine, raft on the Jordan, and stop in Safed for three of our youth to celebrate their bar/bat mitzvahs. The trip will also provide the opportunity to dialogue with settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank, discuss the tech revolution taking place there, and engage with Reform Jewish leaders working for an equal place at the Israeli table. Beginning the last week in June and running through the first week of July, this trip will mark my second foray to Israel this year (having just been there as part of a Reform/Conservative Bay Area Rabbi trip organized by the Consul General’s office.)
While such trips to Israel are filled with meaning, spiritual connection, and joy — because Israel is so beautiful and there is so much to do there — they are also important in terms of how we envision and work together for a stronger Jewish future. We live in a “bipolar” Jewish world, where two of the significant Jewish population clusters are equally dynamic and creative, not unlike Babylonia and Jerusalem of the ancient period, each of which produced a Talmud that has guided Jewish life for the past 2,000 years.
Our new reality also represents significant change that can be worrisome to some as influence shifts and we become equal forces in the Jewish journey, with Israel no longer the junior partner, either politically or economically. When shifts occur, people wonder whether we will continue to support each community going forward or whether we will turn inward and not consider the needs of the other. Certainly, there are those in both communities who assert that each should go its own way. From that Israeli perspective, the American diaspora is diminishing and Reform Judaism represents assimilation, while there are those in our community who so dislike certain Israeli political decisions that they want to pull away from a place that doesn’t seem to respect their expression of Judaism, or that could be abandoning the peace process.
What the trips do, whether it is a synagogue journey, a Birthright experience, a semester abroad, or a rabbinic mission, is build bridges of understanding and debunk myths about one another. When we as Reform Jews dialogue with Israelis in that beautiful land, they come to see that we are a vibrant engaged community, with hundreds of children learning in our school and families of all types embracing Jewish values.
Our version of Judaism is growing rather than disappearing. And while we are there in person, we see that, although the politics and conflicts are complex, there are Israelis working on the ground for peace, human rights, and intergroup understanding, and who are making progress. The trip becomes a myth buster for both sides and helps remind us that we are at an amazing point in Jewish history, where we have to figure out how a vibrant Diaspora and a vibrant State of Israel can move forward — not just in celebration of Jewish life, but as a light to the nations building a better future for all.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a great friend of Rabbi Heschel taught that meeting on the personal level provides the pathway to understanding and leads to solutions of blessing. Consider a trip to Israel, and contact me if you would like to know more about the one I am leading this summer. Know that when you go to Israel, you are not just touring, you are community building. And join with us in our work on the Israel Action Committee to keep the spirit of dialogue and engagement happening between two amazing Jewish communities that we are so blessed to be able to experience at this moment in history.


January 1, 2019
Partnering Against Hate
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
Saturday, October 27, 2018 is a date we will always remember. The day of the gun massacre during Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Killing eleven and wounding several others, this hate crime was the deadliest attack against American Jews in the history of the United States. All weekend long following the shooting in Pittsburgh, Emanu-El congregants streamed into our building. Most wore expressions of sadness and grim determination on their faces. Hugs lasted longer than usual. Then phone calls and text messages started coming in. The first voice message I heard on that Saturday was from Reverend Amos Brown, our beloved partner from Third Baptist Church. Reverend Brown expressed the deepest level of kinship in the wake of such a brutal anti-Semitic attack, and he asked how he could be here for us. Michael Pappas, head of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, also checked in immediately, offering all forms of support.
Among the many calls and texts I received throughout that weekend, the vast majority were from leaders of other faiths, and particularly from African-American members of our Black- Jewish Unity Group. Each one asked the same question: “How can I be there for you and for your community?”In the weeks that followed, we received letters from other local religious leaders, as well as from neighbors who simply wanted us to know that they share our sorrow. One woman wrote, “To my beloved friends and neighbors of the beautiful Congregation Emanu-El, I love you all very much. This San Francisco lady will always love you.” In the wake of the tragedy, these communications of support were such a comfort. But also a reminder of how important it is to not simply think about victims of racial injustice, but to actually reach out to them. Reaching out is a big part of what we do at Congregation Emanu-El. Community relationship and partnership building are a sacred part of our work.
To that end, in 1988, Congregation Emanu-El joined with Third Baptist Church in founding an interfaith tutorial program called “Back on Track” for underserved students in our community. The clergy who founded this program— Reverend Amos Brown and Rabbi Robert Kirschner — also started an annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pulpit exchange, which we proudly continue to this day.
Please be with us on Friday, January 18 for the MLK Commemoration Service, one of our most inspiring Shabbat gatherings of the year. Details on this service are providedin this issue of the Chronicle. Please contact me if you’d like to be a welcoming ambassador that evening. Join us also on January 20 for Sunday morning services at Third Baptist Church. Each year, a great number of Emanu-El congregants participate in this joyous event, and it means so much to the congregants at Third Baptist to see us there. See details inside this issue of the Chronicle.
Some of our dearest partnerships are with the Jewish Community Relations Council, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the American Jewish Committee, and our own Black-Jewish Unity Group. Members of San Francisco’s dwindling African-American community who show up to our meeting on the second Thursday of each month, at the African-American Arts and Culture Center on Fulton Street, feel a particular kinship with Jews. The meetings are so warm. We get to know each other better and we commit to acts of racial justice.When something as evil and tragic as a mass shooting occurs in a house of worship — whether at the Emanuel African-American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015; the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017; or the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh just a couple months ago — partnerships between our faiths are imperative.
With partnership, we realize what we have in common, learn about our differences, and most importantly, show up for each other when one group is targeted. Until we collectively figure out a way to reduce gun violence in communities around the country, in public places and houses of worship, it is almost a sure bet that our group (or another group) will be targeted again and again. Building strong partnerships that underscore our shared humanity is some of the holiest work we do here at Emanu-El.

November 1, 2018
It’s a Movement!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
Whenever I need a quick reminder of how modest my contributions to the rabbinate have been over the past 29 years, all I have to do is think of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. You may not recognize the name, but I assure you, the accomplishments and legacy of Rabbi Wise have significantly impacted your life. Like many German Jews, Rabbi Wise arrived in America in the mid-1800s. As he surveyed the American Jewish landscape at that time, with its hodge podge of disparate communities, he saw a need for two initiatives: (1) to reform and update Judaism, making it palatable to American Jews; and (2) to bring all American Jewry together under a single unified body. Clearly, he had never heard the joke about the shipwrecked Jew rescued from a desert island who, while marooned, had built two synagogues (one he wouldn’t set foot in!).
Be that as it may, Rabbi Wise did end up having a monumental role in shaping our lives by creating four very significant building blocks of new American Judaism:
  • The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism [URJ]), in 1873
  • The Hebrew Union College, in 1875
  • The Central Conference of American Rabbis, in 1889
  • The Union Prayerbook, in 1894

Take note of the names he chose for each of these elements; because he sought to unite ALL American Jews, none of them includes the word “Reform” in the title!While Rabbi Wise’s goal of creating ONE Judaism proved impossible — we now have many flourishing denominations (including Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative, Renewal, Humanist, anti-denominational “Indie” movements, and numerous distinctive Hasidic branches) — such a diversity ensures a healthy, robust Judaism. Although every Jew is united to the whole by Torah, we need choices in how Torah teachings and values are incorporated into our daily lives, and multiple interpretations of our civilizational religion are vital to its sustainability.

The movement that Rabbi Wise created has flourished, and with its hallmark of embracing both tradition and innovation, Reform Judaism is now the largest denomination in North America! For example, one Reform leader — Rabbi Alexander Schindler — was an early adopter of the value of welcoming interfaith families into our congregations. Rabbi Schindler was a visionary who recognized that many families with parents from two different backgrounds want to raise a Jewish family and pass Torah along to the next generation.
Additionally, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the current leader of the URJ (and my boss for four years in my early years in the rabbinate) is an unapologetic Zionist who believes that Reform Judaism deserves full recognition in Israel.Rabbi Jacobs will be speaking at our One Shabbat Service on Friday, November 9. He will also be in attendance to witness our Young Adult Late Shabbat that same evening, as recognizing Jewish millennials as the future of Judaism is another one of his passions. Please plan to be with us on November 9 for both services!
Mark your calendar also for December 11–14, 2019 (yes, a whole year from now) to join a delegation of Emanu-El members in attending the URJ Biennial in Chicago. This conference will provide a great opportunity to communicate with other Reform Jews about current issues, and to experience the thrill of a communal Shabbat along with 5,000 other Reform Jews all singing and experiencing Torah together!As Judaism evolves, I believe that Reform Judaism will continue to serve the needs of a large segment of American Jews more effectively than any other denomination. Again, I invite you to join us at the November 9 One Shabbat Service so you can hear directly from the current leader of the Reform Jewish movement!


October 1, 2018
Deepen Your Knowledge of Torah
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Just a few days ago on Simchat Torah, we unfurled the entire Torah scroll as we chanted the last verses of Deuteronomy and began the cycle of study again by chanting the first verses of Genesis. I love that moment of seeing the community gathered in a circle around the open scroll. It symbolizes the never-ending process, not just of a community engaging Torah, but also of one giving and receiving the Torah. The mystical scholar Daniel Matt famously translated a section of Kabbalah that teaches a different perspective on the words Olam ha Bah — that we should not be thinking of the world to come, but rather see that the world is always coming at us! 
To me, this translation epitomizes the process of giving and receiving Torah, for our belief is that the holiness of wisdom is always coming to us. The question is, will we be receptors and then transmitters ourselves? In a Reform community like ours, many people — who either are in a Jewish community for the first time, have returned to Judaism after a time away, or did not grow up with deep Jewish learning — might feel intimidated or unqualified to be such a receiver and transmitter. Often they tell me, “I don’t know the Hebrew, Rabbi” or “I didn’t grow up learning the prayers; that kind of engagement is for the next generation.” But the Torah teaches that this wisdom was first transmitted to our people at Sinai, to those recently freed slaves who also did not grow up with deep Jewish knowledge. Perhaps the Torah is trying to teach us that, at any point in our lives, we can be receivers and transmitters of holiness and wonder. The Talmud holds up Rabbi Akiva as one of the greatest examples of a person learning Torah as an adult, as he transforms from an ignorant shepherd into the leading scholar of his day.
Of course, you may not aspire to be the next Rabbi Akiva. But we invite you to see how you can be a transmitter and receiver, and how your life experience can be enriched by participating in any aspect of our adult learning program. At Emanu-El we hold the deep belief that learning Torah is not meant solely for our children, but for all B’nei Yisrael. The people Israel should keep learning! You can learn to decode the alef bet with Cantor Attie or decide to join our Anshei (adult) B’nei Mitzvah program. Either way, you will learn with our cantors and rabbis in a deep, joyful way that will lead to you teaching and sharing Torah in a beautiful ceremony.
On Tuesdays, our weekly Torah adult education series is also beginning, offering to show you how Torah applies to not only the intellectual, but also the cultural (with Broadway lyricism) and the spiritual (with yoga). On Saturdays, we offer two wonderful Torah study groups, and you are welcome to drop in and try out this participatory learning program (no prior knowledge required). We also have our Sunday morning Beit Midrash, with the first quarter taught by Rabbi Pearce.
On the first Wednesday of the month, look for our brown bag drop-in study here at the temple or at “Limonata and Learning” in Marin. And don’t forget our Emanu-El Reads group, which will begin with Philip Roth’s American Pastoral on October 23 (see Adult Education section for more information). We are practicing a living Judaism, with Torah that is always being given and received. You have a role in making it even more vibrant and joyful!
Annual Kristallnacht (Pogromnacht) Commemoration
Special Afternoon with renowned educator, Rachel Korazim
Sunday, November 11, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Martin Meyer Sanctuary
Rachel Korazim is a freelance Jewish education consultant in curriculum development for Israel and Holocaust education. She engages audiences worldwide through innovative presentations built around the stories, poems, and songs of Israel’s best writers. Rachel’s thought-provoking talks open a window onto Israeli society, inviting listeners to engage with the country and its history in new ways. This program is designed to engage intergenerational conversation around the Holocaust. Children 11+ are welcome (younger kids may participate at parental discretion).
This program is in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Koret Foundation.

September 1, 2018
Join Us to Celebrate The New Year

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
According to Rabbi Eleazar, one of the great teachers of the Talmud, our world was created during the month of Tishrei. Eleazar connected the beginning of existence with the sixth day (or unit, as I prefer) of the creation narrative because the human story began at that moment. The mystics, however, teach that the world is always being recreated; existence is always upon us! The Jewish New Year is a moment of demarcation that reminds us of our potential to move beyond the static and unite with the holy in the process of renewing our creation.
Within this Gregorian calendar month, our congregation will fully celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. Also this month, our religious and Hebrew schools and adult learning programs will be opening for the season, and our social justice offerings will be seeking to engage you. It may feel as if the Jewish world is in a sense coming at you, but each holiday and each offering at the temple beckons you to connect and find a gateway to your personal renewal.
We, of course, hope that you will take advantage of what these holidays have to offer. At a time when we conduct so much of our lives virtually — where the pressure of personal achievement diminishes our sense of meaning, where the noise of hate speech and the flashing lights of celebrity culture exhaust your senses — these days of holiness offer an alternative path to renewal. They express optimism that we can grow and change, and that each in his or her own way make a difference.
In our Jewish tradition, each holiday builds upon the other, and that is especially true this month. It’s time to take off from your routine. Bring your children and friends along as we celebrate the convergence of four holidays:
  • Rosh Hashanah, which welcomes the new year with sweetness and a call to personal growth. Join us in prayer and then gather at the beach to cast off the weight of pain or numbness that has been holding you back.
  • Yom Kippur, which invites you to embrace a day of deep personal introspection supported by a community renewing itself in prayer, meditation, learning, and the nurturing of hope! Stay the day and participate in this form of Jewish communal therapy as you seek forgiveness and look to a better future.
  • Sukkot, which beckons you to reconnect with the life-giving presence of the earth by celebrating the harvest and dwelling under a canopy of hope. Sukkot is the real conclusion of Yom Kippur as we transition from turning inward to focusing outward on the joy of life’s harvest. This year, you might even build your own sukkah! But also spend some time in our beautiful communal sukkah, greeting others, drinking in the stars above, and allowing your senses to fill with wonder.
  • Simchat Torah, which asks you to participate in the dance of learning as we unfurl the sacred scroll and turn the year over again, concluding with the beginning as the Jewish dance continues. There will be live music and the blessing of new students, and you will raise the scroll of hope.

This is a month of wonder, and the world is indeed coming at you. Allow yourself to receive the blessing by joining in community here at Emanu-El!

June 14, 2018
We, as your clergy, endorse the following statement drafted by the Reform Movement and joined by 26 national Jewish organizations expressing strong opposition to the cruel practice of separating children from their migrants parents when they cross the border.
Read the full letter here.


May 18, 2018
Clergy statement on the violence in Gaza
שאלו שלום ירושלם ישליו אהביך
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
May those who love you be at peace. 
(Psalm 122:6)
These are words from the heart. This is not a political statement or call for any policy, but rather, this is a prayer for the future. As your rabbis and cantors, we hold a diversity of views on what can feel like an unending and hopeless conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in a land that we, as a community, have such deep love for. We know that this diversity is reflected in our big Emanu-El tent and that it is part of what makes us a vibrant and strong community.
As our tradition teaches, we mourn the loss of all life, Palestinian and Israeli, in this tragic conflict. We recall that the book of Genesis teaches that each person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Each human life is worthy of mourning and memory. We cry out to the heavens for a different future for Zion who weeps, and at the same time, call upon leadership in the region and around the globe, to help bring about a just and lasting peace that upholds the rights of all peoples to live in safety and dignity.
We ask that God grant each of us the patience and openness to hear the many ideas, hopes, fears and perspectives among our own community, and that each of us does so with respect and care, trusting that the passion in each of us is rooted in a desire for a brighter future.
We pray for Israel. May we soon see the time when the vision of our people is fulfilled, that it will be a land of peace; flowing with the milk and honey of kindness, love, joy, and justice. We pray that it will be a place where, as the prophet Isaiah teaches, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
With love, we leave you with this beautiful song for peace written by Cantor Attie. We also encourage our community to experience Israel on the ground. We offer annual trips led by our clergy and we hope that you will join us on one in the future.

May 1, 2018
Reflections on Shavuot
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
At the end of the Jewish conversion process, we convene a beit din (religious court) to interview the candidate. Often, the beit din is composed of a tribunal of rabbis, and the experience for both clergy and convert is extraordinarily moving and meaningful. Last month, standing on China Beach, Rabbis Bauer and Fenves and I interviewed a member wishing to convert, and then witnessed him immerse himself in the coastal waters as he became part of the Jewish people. It was a beautiful moment and a highlight of our rabbinic work.
This month, we celebrate Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai as well as honoring the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. It is customary to read the Book of Ruth, found in the Tanach, during Shavuot — possibly because it describes the spring harvest. But it is also thought that we read Ruth’s text on Shavuot because her act of accepting the God of the Israelites exemplifies a person receiving Torah today. Ruth is the quintessential convert, and her name is invoked whenever we perform a conversion ceremony. To the person wishing to convert, we ask: “Will you uphold Ruth’s example who said, ‘Wherever you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.’”
If the latter justification for invoking the Book of Ruth on Shavuot is the correct one, it echoes the notion that, whenever someone embraces Judaism, it is as if their soul were at Sinai. From that perspective, the Torah is always being given as long as there are people with open hearts and minds to receive it. Judaism is not only transmitted by genes; one can embrace Jewish life and be a deliverer of Torah to the entire community. The tradition teaches that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, so that means the messianic line begins with a convert; it does not date back to Moses! Further, the journey of conversion was HER journey — with no rabbi present, no male authority figure validating it — just a woman in front of her mother-in-law declaring her new identity.
A Midrash teaches that the burning bush was always a flame, and that what distinguished Moses is that he stepped aside to really observe it and absorb its meaning. Perhaps that is another way of understanding the notion that Torah is always being given. Ruth looked deeply into the tree of Jewish life and then embraced Torah. That day at the beach, I was so moved as I watched Torah being given in the moment.
I hope you will join us this month with our communal partners for a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot celebration at the JCC. Our challenge, born Jewish or not, is to be open to observing and discerning and then to receiving. Sinai is always around us, the bush is still aflame, and we can choose to receive and embrace a living Judaism!

April 1, 2018
Reimagining End of Life
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
I am terrible at remembering jokes, but for some reason, this one always stays with me:
Jakey has lived a very long, wonderful life, but he lies on his deathbed upstairs at home, mostly unconscious. One morning, as his beloved of 60+ years sits at his side, his eyes suddenly flutter open. “Jakey! My Jakey, what is it?” She asks. Jakey, who doctors predicted might have died days ago, pulls himself upright for a moment and with a beatific smile asks, “Darling, is that your kugel I smell? Oh, that kugel! Yours is the best. Before I die, may I just have a few bites of your wonderful kugel?” She strokes his head and whispers, “I’m so sorry darling. It’s for the shiva!”
We Jews love our rituals and perhaps none are quite so helpful as the Jewish rituals that carry us through the choppy waters of grief and loss. Prior to the practices of contemporary medicine that save so many lives and increase our longevity, people experienced the death of loved ones on a much more regular basis. And before there were hospitals, nursing homes, hospice services, and funeral chapels, the families dealt with those deaths directly. The tradeoff, both for longer lives and for memorial chapels handling most of the details, is that it becomes difficult for us to regard death as a natural part of life.
That is why I am delighted that Congregation Emanu-El is helping sponsor and host Reimagine End of Life. As you will read inside this month’s Chronicle, the Reimagine End of Life event explores death, dying, and bereavement, and celebrates life through the arts, spirituality, health care, and innovation. We are grateful to our own Rabbi Sydney Mintz for making Congregation Emanu-El one of the hubs for conversation on this challenging yet vital topic.
Throughout my years as a rabbi, I have noticed that even some Reform Jews who observe few Jewish ritual commandments often feel so bereft in the immediate period following the death of a loved one thatthe litany of Jewish burial and mourning rituals becomes an indispensable road map for walking through those first painful days, weeks, and months.
The Jewish tradition’s preference for implementing the burial (or these days, cremation) as soon as possible, the several nights of shiva, the burning of the seven-day (yahrzeit) candle, the practice of reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, and the indispensable gathering of the community all provide essential guideposts. It’s worth knowing the Jewish laws even if you choose to improvise. Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning is a practical guide to all of these traditions. Another of my favorite books to recommend to congregants struggling with grief is Naomy Levy’s To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times.
And, of course, every clergy person at Emanu- El is here for you when you need to talk. We will listen. But don’t wait until loss is upon you. Please join the Reimagine End of Life conversation this April 16 through 22.


March 1, 2018
The Meaning of Matzah
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
March 2018 is unusual in that Purim and Passover both fall within the same Gregorian calendar month. Each of these two holidays has its own specific text. As well, each calls for a “feast,” encouraging us to drink fruit of the vine while enjoying symbolic foods. It is customary for Jews to engage in the “latke vs. hamantaschen” debate, humorously showing off our intellectual pugilism with regard to savory and sweet flavors (for me, the latke always wins).
But when it comes to a matchup between the traditional foods of Purim and Passover — that is, matzah vs. hamantaschen — you would, of course, expect the sweet pastry to easily beat the rather bland cracker-like item as the desired culinary choice. Especially when it comes to someone like me who doesn’t particularly enjoy matzah in any of its many forms (egg, shmora, whole wheat, or gluten free).
However, because the consumption of matzah for one week is commanded in the Torah, matzah remains the foodstuff we eat more of. We are instructed to eat lechem oni (“bread of poverty” or “bread of affliction”) for seven days, to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt and that now we are free. In other words, while noshing on hamantaschen — whether strawberry, poppy seed, or date filled — is fun, eating matzah is essential. The consumption of our ritual unleavened bread is not just an act of culinary memory about our redemption, however. It is also a tangible reminder that we should embrace humility and gratitude, that we should honor our descendants from slavery and appreciate the freedom we now enjoy as a precious gift from God that should be protected and shared with others.
Many of us are accustomed to eating matzah only at seders, or perhaps at a matzah-brei brunch. But our tradition bids us to eat it in place of bread throughout the entire seven days of Passover. Therefore, we should eat matzah throughout the day — in the morning with our eggs, with our lunches at work or school, and as an accompaniment to our dinners.
I ask you, as Jews of San Francisco, to consider publicly embracing this mitzvah. To proudly eat matzah in the dining area of your workplace or even as you sit at a fabulous restaurant downtown. I ask you to do this as an act of resistance against conformity, against just blending in. Let us say hineyni (here I am), a proud Jewish San Franciscan, who celebrates the freedom to be who I am! I’m going to eat avocado and matzah for breakfast and matzah pizza for lunch, and I plan to carry extra matzah with me to hand out to people wherever I go. In addition, we hope to have pop-up Passover tables at various grocery stores in the days before the holiday. No, I still don’t particularly like the taste of matzah, but I love what it represents.
So please join me in this act of culinary memory and identity affirmation!I hope you enjoy Purim…but get ready for Passover!


February 1, 2018
The Generational Importance of Jewish Culture
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
When I arrived at Congregation Emanu-El in 2013, the first thing I did was study up on the Giants. The second thing I did was read Visions of Reform, Fred Rosenbaum’s history of Congregation Emanu-El. My former congregation in Seattle was soon to celebrate its 60th anniversary; Congregation Emanu-El, on the other hand, had been here for well over 160 years!
As I read the book, I realized that Jonathan and I represent a mere chapter in the ever-unfolding story that is our beloved Congregation Emanu-El. At nearly five years in, I  now recognize that one of our most important challenges is preserving Emanu-El’s traditional essence, while also changing with the needs of the times. The experience of being a San Francisco Jew, of any age, is very different now than it was back in the mid-1800s, or at any point in the 20th century.
For example, 50 years ago, in 1968, a Jewish family moving into a new town would likely join the local congregation as a matter of course. By contrast, in 2018, a Jewish family moving to San Francisco is likely to ask: Do we really need a temple? Will we use the temple enough to justify the cost of membership? If we just want our child to have a bar or bat mitzvah, wouldn’t it be easier (and cheaper) to simply hire a tutor and conduct the ceremony in the backyard? In our current reality, if a congregation is to thrive, it has to offer a wide variety of compelling opportunities and experiences that draw people and respond to life’s big question: “Why?”
Not everyone wants to come to weekly services, so we have worked over the past four years to reinvigorate adult learning, social justice, educational and cultural opportunities, and of course a vibrant, soulful Friday night experience that gets people out the door by 7:10 p.m. With our talented team of clergy and staff, we are currently working to upgrade our preschool and religious education experiences, develop a teen leadership track, and create more opportunities for temple “boomers.”
So I was taken by surprise recently when I met with a deeply thoughtful congregant who shared her sense that, based on recent studies, we shouldn’t count on another 168 years of Congregation Emanu-El. “This new generation of millennials don’t join things,” she noted and “people in the future might have no use for synagogues.” Well, as Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”; however, I’m placing a heavy wager on the future of Judaism and of Congregation Emanu-El.
For one thing, I think millennials are not given enough credit. While it is true that people in their 20s and 30s don’t join congregations as much as people in their 40s and 50s, a surprising percentage of our membership are millennials! So, although the conventional wisdom is that the iPhone generation will go through their entire lives getting everything they need from the worldwide web, the internet is no substitute for the true human connection that people crave. Judaism has been offering time-tested varieties of connectedness via authentic rituals, wrestling with the idea of something greater, and an injunction to come together as a people to repair the world. I believe that, if anything, as the iGeneration heads into their 40s and 50s, they will realize an even more urgent need to seek out authentic community to supplement virtual community.
So the onus is on our synagogue to respond to those religious, spiritual, and human needs, as Judaism has done so well for thousands of years. We will need to listen harder and be both flexible and intent on maintaining the integrity of our practices. I place my bet on the future of Judaism because of our people’s solid track record for surviving one crisis after another. And because Judaism provide a powerful response to our question of “why?”
One of my favorite books – which I share with all of my bat and bar mitzvah students – is a timeline of Jewish history that unfolds across the length of my office. That and the 534 pages of Visions of Reform remind us of the enduring nature of Judaism. We have the power to create the future of Judaism that will be a gift and a blessing to our great-great-grandchildren and to their great-great-grandchildren. Who’s in?


January 1, 2018
Calling Out Abuse and Harassment
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
When we read the news and come across a disturbing story about someone acting immorally, we tend to hope that the people connected to that event are not Jews. We dearly want those in our little tribe to be associated only with righteous actions rather than unethical or criminal behavior; we don’t want to see Jews standing in the way of progress toward racial and gender equality and a leveling of the economic playing field.
We must be careful, however, of engaging in wishful thinking, for denial is antithetical to a tradition that requires us to face our shortcomings and engage in the process of teshuva (repentance). We must accept that some members of our community do not live up to our standards of morality, because only when such deep societal problems are brought out into the open can they be addressed and corrected. Yes, for the most part, Jews believe in and practice justice.
But there are some among us who lie and steal, who engage in sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. We cannot embrace the achievements of our people without also acknowledging our faults, despite the communal embarrassment we might feel when confronted by the world at large. If we are to fulfill our purpose as a prophetic people, we must speak our truth to power. For example, men in our culture – Jewish men – must take ownership of an overly sexualized dynamic in which people in power are allowed to exploit and assault those over which they wield that power.
We must call it for what it is: abuse! And we must proclaim that it is unacceptable. Certainly, there is no correlation between Judaism and such offensive actions; however, because we are Jewish, we must examine the behavior of our own and scrutinize how we are communicating and implementing Jewish values within our community. Judaism teaches that another person’s body is inviolate, and that women and men are reflections of God. Our faith encourages us to experience love and wonder and to see our bodies as gifts from God, but also mandates that physical interaction between two people must be consensual. Judaism argues for seeing beauty in personal humility. It deeply opposes the idolatry of self in which successful, powerful people believe that such standing affords them the right to be abusive or destructive. There is no such right, our Torah teaches, and those who behave in such a way must be called out. It is good that idols in our popular culture who have engaged in predatory behavior are now falling from grace as women are bravely speaking out against the sexual violations they have experienced.
We will work this year on teaching our children about the Jewish perspective on the blessing of human sexuality, and that sexual harassment is never okay. We will do the same as well throughout the congregation, ensuring that our synagogue is not just a safe place to work or to participate in, but also a place that promotes equal rights and a balance of power between men and women. Each of us is a reflection of the holy, and when guided by the wisdom of Judaism, we can bring more blessings and hope into a world that is deeply in need.

December 1, 2017 
Tzedek Gift Ideas!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
“Chanukah is really a minor holiday without a history of gift-giving,” we often hear told.  But the truth is that Chanukah in America has become a season of shopping and giving wrapped gifts to family and friends.Not all gifts need to come wrapped with a bow!  Let us commemorate the eight days of miracle by taking upon ourselves the practice of doing mitzvot for the sake of others on each night of Chanukah. Below is a list of eight different ways to make a difference in the world this Chanukah. You can do these as an individual, as a family or with a group of friends. Some of these cannot be done on the actual night, but between December 12th through 19th let us commit ourselves to as many of these opportunities to increase the light.
1)  December Collection Drive: Toiletries for the homeless men in San Francisco
Next time you go to the dentist or you stay in a hotel, please ask for a donation of supplies to give to the homeless men staying in the Winter Interfaith Shelters this winter and bring to Emanu-El during the full month of December. Learn more here.
2)  Jewish Family Children’s Services Chanukah Toy Drive
Jewish Family and Children’s Services is hosting a holiday toy drive to benefit families in Sonoma County displaced by the fires as well as low-income families and those who have experienced domestic violence and homelessness in San Francisco. Please drop off new, unwrapped, toys for children of all ages or gift cards (often great for teens – iTunes,, etc…) by December 8, from Mon. – Fri., 8:30 am – 5:30 pm. For more information contact [email protected] or 415-449-3824. Items must be received no later than December 8th!
3)  Beach Cleanup and Environmental Awareness
Earlier this fall, a beloved congregant, 27-year old Jeremy Dossetter, died when his helicopter fell into the ocean in Hawaii. Jeremy loved the beach and always picked up trash each time he went to the beach to surf. Take a day of Chanukah with yourself or with your family or with your friends to carry forward Jeremy’s work by cleaning up a local beach for one hour. Learn 8 new facts, one every night of Chanukah, about an environmental problem, like climate change, via internet research.
4)  Light Chanukah Candles with the Black-Jewish Unity Group on Thursday, December 14th
We meet from 6:00 – 7:30 pm at the African American Arts and Culture Complex at 762 Fulton Street to strengthen African-American-Jewish relationships and to fight racial injustice in our community. You are always welcome to join us the second Thursday of each month.
5)  Cooking for Congregants
Help your fellow congregants during a time of need. Register online to join this mitzvah of cooking meals for our congregants who are in need either facing a recent illness, death, or birth, happening on select Thursday mornings in the Temple kitchen. Learn more here. 
6)  Winter Interfaith Shelter Dinner: Congregant night, January 22, 2018
Join Emanu-El in the mitzvah of feeding the hungry by providing volunteers to shop, cook and serve dinner to over 100 homeless men for eight consecutive nights at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Join your constituent group at Emanu-El or volunteer on open congregant night on Monday, January 22, 2018. Learn more here. 
7)  January Collection Drive: Multi-cultural books for the Jewish Coalition for Literacy
Many Bay Area public schools lack well-stocked libraries or the funds to buy new books. Help provide our local schools with multicultural picture books for grades Pre-K through 3rd (ages 4–9). Donate anytime during the month of January 2018, and look for this collection drive to be featured at our Annual MLK Shabbat Service with Third Baptist Church on January 12. Learn more here.

8)  Tu’Bshvat with Hamilton Families
This Tu B’Shevat, join your fellow congregants as we beautify Hamilton’s Transitional Housing garden with new plants, trees, and flowers on Sunday, January 28, 2018. Learn more here.


November 1, 2017
A Discussion with Natan Sharansky
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
At Rosh Hashanah, I spoke to you about returning to the Stone of Losses, about finding our Jewish voice and speaking out for religious pluralism in the State of Israel, something I believe we Bay Area Jews are uniquely positioned to accomplish. Israel, the Jewish miracle of our time, must be a home for the entirety of the Jewish people – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Secular, and non-denominational. Unfortunately, we have allowed a small group to dominate religious life in Israel, and ultimately to discriminate against everyone else.
However, you will have the opportunity to begin shifting that tide on Thursday night, November 16, by welcoming and engaging with Natan Sharansky – Israeli politician, former refusenik, human rights activist, and the current Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency For Israel – when he speaks from the Emanu-El bimah.
A hero is someone who acts courageously in the face of challenge. Natan Sharansky – as the prisoner of Zion, the most famous of the refusniks – clearly is a heroic figure. A Jewish hero is one who also questions whether or not his actions are just. Sharansky did and continues to do just that. He courageously stood against the oppressive Soviet Regime, which used anti-Semitism as a tool to support its monopoly on power, and his nonviolent resistance lent added inspiration to the Save Soviet Jewry movement. Following his release from Soviet prison in 1986, Sharansky’s work on behalf of the Jewish people continued in earnest. He found himself in Israel, fighting for the rights of Soviet Jewish emigres and their families.
I had demonstrated for Sharansky’s release from Soviet prison while in college in Claremont, California, and I remember his wife Avital speaking poignantly about the need for us to stand together for Jewish freedom. A decade later, I sat at a table near Sharansky when I was part of an emergency delegation standing up for Reform Jewish rights in the midst of an attempt to change the law of return. My hero was sitting with the government group prepared to make that change. It was strange to be there, but it was especially surreal to have to challenge such a hero. But because heroic personalities continuously seek to do justice, Sharansky did listen to us and to many others, and he went on to change his position! He ultimately became an advocate for non-orthodox rights and now heads the Jewish Agency where he tirelessly speaks out for Israel as a home for ALL Jewish people.
It is important that Sharansky be able to return to Israel with a strong message from Bay Area Jews: that we care deeply about Jewish status in the homeland. We want Israel to be a placewhere our children are accepted and our rabbis are treated with the dignity that is the right of all free people living in a western democratic state. An Israel that rejects such values will lose its sense of purpose and certainly its connection to American Jewry. I hope that, with the help of our Israel Action Committee and our synagogue partnership with Arza, we will begin to change the attitude of many Israelis who do not understand who we are. Natan Sharansky is our partner in this endeavor. So come and meet him and be part of the change for the health and wellbeing of Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish people!


October 1, 2017
Talmudic Thoughts
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
The Talmud is an extraordinary body of work that consists of over 40 volumes of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend. The Talmud is not just read; it is STUDIED. The volumes of the Talmud include the Gemara, a rabbinical commentary on the Mishna and related Tannaitic writings, of different periods throughout Jewish history. What is remarkable about the Talmud is that it is not exclusively written law, but rather an ongoing conversation between rabbis throughout the ages.
And why is the Talmud so voluminous? Because its compilers made an editorial decision to preserve ALL of the arguments—not just those that became law, but also the ones that were rejected. One example is the decision that one candle should be lit on the first night of Chanukah, and then another candle added on each successive night until the entire menorah is illuminated. Another first-century rabbi had made a powerful argument for lighting all eight candles on the first night of Chanukah, then diminishing by one each successive night (although that argument was lost, we study the unpopular opinion to this day).
Talmudic scholar Rabbi Benay Lappe will be at Congregation Emanu-El next February (2/23 through 2/25/18). Rabbi Lappe—who “installed” Cantor Attie—is a remarkable scholar and teacher, so mark your calendar now!I mention the Talmud with its fierce arguments and disagreements to remind us that the Jewish people—since day one—have represented manifold viewpoints about everything under the sun. “Two Jews, three opinions,” goes the saying. So, it is no surprise that, periodically, we invite speakers to Congregation Emanu-El that leave some congregants either scratching their heads or furious at us.
“How could the temple possibly invite so and so!,” we hear. We have congregants who would like us to ban AIPAC and others who wish we would prohibit J Street. Some of our congregants feel our speakers are too liberal while others believe our speakers are not progressive enough. We receive letters from all sides saying that we should not have allowed a particular speaker into our building. Occasionally, some even smear Emanu-El over our choice of speakers in public posts on Facebook. And we sometimes even have speakers that unnerve our clergy!
Here are a few things you should know about our speaker selections:
1) We do have parameters. For example, we do not invite speakers who are white supremacists, Nazis, or members of any group that disavows the right of Israel to exist. There is no place for hate-based thinking within the walls of this congregation.
2) Over the course of a year, we strive to bring in speakers from left, right, and center. Your friends mostly agree with you. Why not hear a viewpoint that makes you uncomfortable?
3) Congregant committees are largely responsible for our speakers. Rarely does a rabbi single-handedly procure a speaker without validation from a group. More often, our Israel Action Group, Tzedek Council, and Adult Salon congregants propose the speakers who come to Emanu-El.
There are times when we will get it wrong. We will invite someone who, in retrospect, should not have been invited; or, vice versa, we will decide not to invite someone whose differing opinion would have been worth hearing. And of course no one is forced to attend any of our lectures or conversations. But I do encourage you to attend the events with speakers that are in opposition to your beliefs, just as the rabbis of the Talmud engaged in vigorous debate and disagreement, all in the name of Jewish vitality.I once gave a Friday night talk that I knew would be unpopular. So I reminded the congregants, “If you don’t like what the rabbi says on one Friday night, just come back next week!”

August 12, 2017
Emanu-El Clergy Statement on the Violence in Virginia and Minnesota
The clergy of Congregation Emanu-El condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the ongoing horrific display of white supremacist violence in our country. Last week a mosque was bombed in Minnesota. Today a young woman was killed and at least 19 others injured in Virginia in what can only be called an act of domestic terrorism amidst the largest gathering of white supremacists in recent American history. This is the same ideology that inspired a young man to enter a church in South Carolina and murder nine African Americans as they studied Bible.

The ideologies that motivate these movements are abhorrent to Judaism. White supremacy is real and it is absolutely critical that we identify it as such and never engage in any type of moral subjectivism. 
White supremacist movements put Jews, people of color, LGBTQ people and ultimately all people at risk of violence. Jewish history demands that we speak out and that we work for a nation that fully rejects hatred in all forms. 
Every morning Jews all around the world recite sim shalom, a blessing for peace that includes the words, “through the light of Your Presence You have given us, Adonai our God, a Torah of life–the love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace.”
This is our purpose in this world: To be people who bring this vision of a true and just peace into reality for all of us–for all of our lives. May we all be blessed as we continue this struggle for a land of milk and honey for all people, and may those who plot evil and close their ears to God’s call for love and justice find their hearts turned and their eyes opened that they may see this truth that our people has carried with us from Sinai. Kein y’hi ratzon, may this be God’s will.

July 26, 2017
Emanu-El Statement on the Anti-Transgender Tweets by President Trump

We are deeply indebted to all who choose to serve this great country in our armed forces.

Our people know too well what happens when the arsenal of democracy is diminished and the forces of hate fill the void.

We also know what it means to be asked not to serve – to be discriminated against because of our faith, our ethnic background, and gender identity and the implication then that we are not good enough Americans.

Instead, let this country be a great beacon of acceptance made stronger because we are empowered by our beautifully diverse population.

We ask all people of faith, people who believe in America to encourage our President to soften his heart, reverse his stand on transgender rights and take his places as a leader of the Free World because this is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave!

– The Emanu-El Clergy

May 1, 2017 
Women in the Rabbinate

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

It was a Friday night in August 1973 and the cantor was just concluding the Aleinu prayer. My bat mitzvah. My father and I sat together on the bimah (no moms allowed). My dad whispered, “How are you doing?” I whispered back, “Kinda sad. I feel like I spent so much time preparing for this bat mitzvah, and now it is nearly over.” My dad smiled and whispered back, “Who knows? Maybe someday you will become a rabbi, Beth, and then you can do bat mitzvahs all the time!”

And that is exactly how the idea took hold. From that moment on, I could not imagine myself doing anything else but becoming a rabbi. I loved services. I loved the Jewish people. The first American-ordained woman rabbi, Rabbi Sally Priesand, had been ordained one year before my bat mitzvah and was the assistant rabbi in my grandparents’ temple, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, in New York City.  I wrote to Rabbi Priesand shortly after my bat mitzvah and told her of my dream to become a rabbi like her. She must have been having a bad day. Her response, which now resides in the American Jewish Archives, simply said, “Beth, you’re young.  Think about considering other careers!” Ouch.

But think about it. It cannot have been easy to be the only woman among male students and faculty throughout five years of rabbinical seminary. When women were first ordained, senior rabbis, boards of directors and congregants were skeptical of a woman’s ability to serve in this leadership capacity. As increasing numbers of women were ordained as rabbis, sociologists decried the fact and warned of the “feminization of the rabbinate,” which, to them, equaled a diminution of the stature of the (male) rabbi.

Our country has now ordained women rabbis for forty-five years. After Rabbi Priesand’s ordination, the Reconstructionist Movement quickly followed suit and eventually the Conservative movement. A well-regarded Orthodox rabbi in New York started ordaining Orthodox women in 2009. In 2016, Rabbi Daniel Landes began ordaining Orthodox women in Israel. The history of women rabbis, dating back to Rabbi Regina Jonas’ ordination in Germany in 1935, is fascinating. It is all chronicled in a new book that I highly recommend for your home library, The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate. There are no rabbis in the Torah.

In the Talmud, we read of a transformation from prophets to rabbinical sages and scholars. In the Middle Ages, rabbis took upon themselves the role of judges, acting as legal decisors and arbiters. The point is that transformations in spiritual leadership within Judaism have occurred since day one. What is new is the way that many women have transformed the contemporary rabbinate. The Reform rabbi of my childhood entered the rooms in his black robe and we all stood as he ascended the bimah. Women rabbis ushered in innovations such as the idea that rabbis are just people with a sacred calling.

We strive to be in relationship with our congregants and not removed from them. We have taught all rabbis the value of work-life balance. These are just a few of the powerful transformations brought to Judaism by women rabbis.

On May 16th, Cantor Attie and I will be at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles to honor professional Jewish women’s leadership. Think about Cantor Roslyn Barak. Rabbi Sydney Mintz. Cantor Marsha Attie. Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz, Rabbi Michal Bourne, Rabbi Helen Cohn. Rabbi Carla Fenves. And me.  As your rabbis and cantors, we are grateful to live in this time, and we hope that you are, too.

February 23, 2017
Emanu-El Clergy Address Recent Anti-Semitic Acts

Congregation Emanu-El is proud of our Jewish identity and the fact that we American Jews are an important strand in the fabric that makes up this great nation. We stand together with all people who embrace the peaceful, democratic and just values of this nation and speak out in opposition to hateful acts, whether anti-Semitic like the bomb threats at JCC’s or the attack on the cemetery in St. Louis or any act that is racist, sexist, Islamophobic or homophobic.

Those values reflect the Torah’s call to do justice, love mercy and act humbly in our lives while also always acting from the foundational teaching of the book of Genesis, that every person is made in the image of the Divine. They are the values that make up the foundation of this great nation – with all people being created equal and in possession of the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
We will not tire in our defense of these rights for ourselves and for all those who dwell in our country. Let those who are filled with hate hear our call to turn from such ways and know that we remain committed to an America that lives up to vision of the prophet Micah, that all people “shall sit under vine and under fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid.”
We invite you to join us in one or both of these two important community conversations that address the current political climate in our country:
If Not Now, When: A Tzedek Council Town Hall Conversation
We know that not all but many people in our congregation share a sense of concern about our current political and social climate. If this speaks to you, we hope you will join our Tzedek Council and clergy for a Town Hall forum on Sunday, March 5 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm. Together we will imagine how Emanu-El will continue our proud tradition of Tikkun Olam to bring healing and justice to our broken world. Click here to register.
Jewish Community Relations Council Jewish Community Forum
The JCRC is convening community leaders, policy experts, political pollsters, academics and journalists for a full-day of education and training. This Jewish Community Forum is intended to provide community members with an opportunity to learn effective strategies for advocacy and the powers of government in our participatory democracy. Click here to register.


February 9, 2017
Turning Jewish Values Into Action
Dear Friends,
 As clergy of this sacred and diverse congregation, we listen to you. We hear those that are deeply troubled and even frightened by our political climate and the decisions of the new administration. We hear those who are hopeful that positive change is on the horizon. We hear those who struggle with how to explain all of this to your children. We are privileged to hear these many voices as we strive to create a place of respectful, loving and open conversation, rooted in our Jewish values. Our role as the spiritual leaders of this community is to both listen and to bring the moral voice of Torah to our lives today.
Over the past several weeks we have witnessed an outright attack on many of the values that our Reform Jewish movement holds dear and we feel an imperative to speak out. We are obligated to carry the values that shape our Jewish lives out into the public square now and in the future. As individuals, we will not always agree on the solutions to the problems we share, and we trust that despite this we will remain in sacred relationship with one another, even as we speak publicly about issues that we feel differently about. 
We stand behind the words we shared with you on the day that the executive order regarding refugee and immigration policy was issued: 
The rabbis and cantors of Congregation Emanu-El condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the executive order banning refugees from entering our country. The Torah teaches us that saving a life is the most sacred mitzvah one can perform. It is part of the core of our beliefs as Jews to welcome the stranger, to repair the world, and defend life. It is incumbent upon us as Jews, as Americans, to speak out against anything that could lead to the death of innocents. In making this statement we echo the positions of our partners including the JCRC of San Francisco, HIAS, and the Religious Action Center.  
As we have always done throughout our 160-year history, we will continue to “pray with our feet” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did when he marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Join us in turning our Jewish values into action at these upcoming events: 

It is so important to participate in tikun olam, (repairing our world) and it is equally vital that we take good spiritual care of ourselves. Join us for prayer and study to ground your soul in our tradition and remember that you are part of something bigger; that you are not alone. Be strong and resolute; do not be terrified or dismayed, Adonai is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Beth Singer
Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Rabbi Sydney Mintz
Rabbi Ryan Bauer
Rabbi Carla Fenves 
Rabbi Jason Rodich 
Cantor Marsha Attie
Cantor Arik Luck 



January 28, 2017
Clergy Statement on Immigration Policy

The rabbis and cantors of Congregation Emanu-El condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the executive order banning immigrants from 7 predominantly Muslim nations and all refugees from entering our country. 

The Torah teaches us that saving a life is the most sacred mitzvah one can perform.  It is in that spirit that we release this message as an emergency measure on Shabbat. 
Right now, there is a refugee family at SFO airport being blocked by a new executive order on refugee policy.  Let us never forget the Jews who were turned away from this country, only to be returned to Europe. 
It is part of the core of our beliefs as Jews to welcome the stranger, to repair the world, and defend life.  It is incumbent upon us as Jews, as Americans, to speak out against anything that could lead to the death of innocents.  
Rabbis Jonathan Singer and Ryan Bauer attended the 3:00 pm rally at SFO in defense of this detained refugee family, on behalf of our whole clergy team. 
In making this statement we echo the positions of our partners including the San Francisco JCRCHIAS, and the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center. For ways you can take action please click here.
We will continue to seek out other ways to help and keep you informed of ways we can act on our Jewish values.

April 1, 2017
Passover Message

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer


Avadim Hayenu” – we will soon be saying these words as we gather around our Passover tables resplendently set with the symbols of the seder. The words – we were slaves – will be emphasized by the horseradish, charoset, and shank bone on the seder plate as well as the matzah, crumbs and all, the bread of affliction, set on a plate of honor. “V- atah bnai chorin (and now we are free)…,” we will continue, and the four cups filled to the brim with wine or juice, and the wonderful holiday foods we will consume will attest to that status. Slavery in Egypt is etched in our communal memory, but so is our miraculous redemption. Now we are free. This year, those words will carry new import as we American Jews, who have felt so blessed to live freely in this great land, are reminded of the midrash that teaches, “we are always leaving Egypt.” With the advent of a new public anti-Semitism in which Jewish cemeteries are attacked and Jewish institutions disrupted by bomb scares, we cannot help being afraid and concerned about our status as Jewish Americans. Some of us may have naively assumed that hatred diminishes over time, that, with progress, anti-Semitism as a force in the west would ultimately disappear.

But our tradition did understand that we are always leaving of freedom does not mean one has reached a messianic age in which hate is eliminated. No, one has to always work to maintain that free status, standing up to Amalek – those who act maliciously as Amalek did while we were making our way through the wilderness. We can and will continue to speak out against all acts of hatred. We can and will continue to assert our right as equal citizens to enjoy the blessings of this country. We can and will demand that the authorities do their job and protect us, while we also join in coalition with others who believe that to be American means to respect the freedom and dignity of all the colors, ethnic groups, genders and sexual orientations that make up the beautiful fabric of this country. Freedom requires focus and protection and commitment and we have all those. In addition, we have many partners who understand this is what America is about and so are also speaking out. But freedom must also be celebrated. So, prepare your Passover tables and purchase matzah to eat while at work. Let your colleagues know that they work in diverse workplaces and we Jews are proud of from whence we came and who we are today. Avadim Hayenu, Atah B’nai Chorin!

March 1, 2017
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
There is a moment in an old episode of Larry David’s TV show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, that stays with me for the sheer darkness of its humor. Larry learns that his rabbi is bringing a Survivor with him to Larry’s home for dinner and decides to invite a friend of his father’s who is also a Survivor. Larry’s dad brings his friend, Solly, a Holocaust survivor. When the rabbi shows up with a young man, Larry is crest fallen. “Where is the survivor?” It turns out that the rabbi’s guest is from the TV show Survivor and the hapless rabbi thought it would be nice for the two celebrities to meet. If you have ever watched “Curb,”  you can only imagine the embarrassing scenes that ensue between the two Survivors.
Saturday, March 11th, we will observe one of our many Survivor-themed holidays, Purim.  See the details inside the Chronicle. Join us Saturday afternoon, March 11th for our fabulous Purim carnival, at 4 pm; for our all congregation Megillah reading and spiel at 6 pm, and Sunday morning for a full Megillah reading.  
Why Purim? The Megillah concludes the tale of the near-miss destruction of the Jewish people of Persia with the injunction that we should always observe this day forevermore with feasting and gladness, and of “sending choice portions,” shelach manot, to one another, and gifts to the poor. The writers of the Megillah wish us to use this time to remember the days on which “the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to holiday.” (Esther 9:22). Yes, Purim and not Chanukah was our original gift-giving holiday. It is a lovely tradition for families to bake hamentaschen and deliver them on plates with other sweets to the homes of friends. It is always important to give thanks for our survival by giving tzedakah to agencies that benefit those who are poor.
Larry David’s crude and clever Survivor episode makes us think about what it means to be a Survivor and what it takes to survive. In our congregation we have Holocaust survivors, abuse survivors, cancer survivors and many others who have come out the other side of a terrible personal event. One of the great gifts that Judaism keeps on giving to civilization is the gift of knowledge for a person or people living in the darkest time and place imaginable, survival remains a possibility and a hope. The other gift of Judaism is the concept of how a Survivor acknowledges survival by making his or her life a life of purpose to do good for others. This gift alone should compel us to double down on our own efforts to be sure that Judaism continues to thrive and to survive.
Rabbi Rodich and I have the honor and pleasure of teaching our 8th graders. In a recent class on the question of whether or not Judaism will survive assimilation and secularization, one of our 8th graders put it best when he answered the question by saying, “I believe that whether or not Judaism will survive depends completely on us and what we will do with our Judaism, going forward.” Amen.

February 1, 2017
What is a Zionist?

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

In the last hours of the Obama administration, Israel and the peace process, or lack thereof, surprisingly came to the fore with the administration’s decision not to veto a UN vote condemning the spread of the settlements, followed by Secretary of State Kerry’s speech that presented the decision as an effort to save the two-state solution. For some, in a world that is torn by violence, with hundreds of thousands of refugees forced to leave the failed states of Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, having lost everything, in search of home and safety in the West, it is hard to understand why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would yet again be headline news.

And yet, that conflict and its lack of resolution should be of the utmost concern to our community since nearly 85% of world Jewry lives either in Israel or here in North America. Whatever your position concerning President Obama’s last actions in office, or President Trump’s perspective on Israel, if you care about the health and well-being of the Jewish land for peace? Are you only a Zionist if you believe that Israel has to decide what is best for itself, and want AIPAC to lobby in Washington to support the policies of a freely elected Israeli government, the only freely elected government in the Middle East? What if you have no intention of making aliyah to the promised land? Can you remain comfortably here in San Francisco and truly be a Zionist?

From the very first World Zionist Congress led by Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, to the Knesset that governs Israel today, there is not one way to be a Zionist. Zionism, from its foundation, embraced multiple expressions. In a world of complexity, especially when it comes to navigating the labyrinth of the Middle East, divergent opinions need to be shared before essential decisions are made and the Zionist movement embraced competing for political and cultural expressions. Just as Judaism has always encouraged the voicing of different opinions without then accusing the one you disagree with as being an outlier, the vibrant Israel expression of Zionism has nurtured and made room for respectful disagreement and dialogue in which the minority opinion is heard. We believe that it is in dialogue and respectful debate that the new visions of peace, hope and meaning are engendered.

This is why we created the Israel Action Committee at Emanu-El, a synagogue that famously at one point opposed Zionism. The purpose of the committee is to engender in our congregants a feeling of connection with the adventure of Israel, to bring teachers and leaders to share their perspectives, to support Reform Judaism and the embrace of religious pluralism in the Jewish state, and to be enriched as well by Israeli Jewish religious and cultural creativity. We don’t just want to be a big tent that welcomes frontal speakers to share their various perspectives; we also want to be an intellectual center that fosters deeper thought about and connection to both our Zionist (if that is what you are) and Jewish identities. I am grateful that we have had the chance in the past year to learn from Yossi Klein Ha-Levi of the Hartman Institute, Daniel Sokatch of New

Israel Fund, the artist Achinoam Nini and the Hamas rejector, Mosab Hassan Yousef, the Green Prince. This month and the rest of the year will include more opportunities to learn and engage as we welcome Dore Gold, Likud member and former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and study Talmud with Ruth Calderon, the founder of Israel’s first secular yeshiva. Rabbi Bauer will be leading our annual b’nai mitzvah/family trip to Israel, and we will  host, with Federation and Jewish National Fund sponsorship, the city-wide Yom Haatzmaut celebration.

Your Israel Action Committee will continue to work on opportunities for communal dialogue, engagement with artists and Israeli culture, and specialty Israel opportunities for the year to come, and will partner with our Reform Movement’s Zionist organization, ARZA, which has a goal of “taking back the Z”, as they write on their website:, “Zionism should not be divisive. And no one faction should be allowed to dictate ownership and definition of that ’Z word.’ So ARZA is ’TAKING BACK THE Z‘: unapologetic love for Israel, the land, the people and the State, is at the core of our beliefs. Modern Zionism encompasses our values of democracy, pluralism and equality. That love of Israel demands honesty and a commitment to the continuation of building a morally exceptional society.”

If Israel is your interest, whatever your Zionist perspective, I invite you to join our committee. Please send me an email at [email protected] and I will add you to our mailing list. We need people from diverse Zionist views to participate. As an Israeli leader told me, if you don’t engage the people who are on the ground in Israel, you won’t be an influence and people that you might write off because of your disagreements may be the people who are open to coming around to supporting Reform Jewish life in Israel, or offering new creative ways to bring peace to the region. So join us for an event, a speaker, or take the time, whether you are right, left or center, to help guide the Israel connection at this important time for this essential synagogue

January 15, 2017

Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer delivers Martin Luther King Jr. sermon at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. 

December 1, 2016
CHANUKAH: A Time to Help Those in Need

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

If you have ever been in Jerusalem during Chanukah, you may recall two great traditions. In certain neighborhoods when you walk through them at just the right time of evening, every single window has a Chanukiah with candles blazing in the window. It’s such a beautiful sight to see them in all the different apartment windows at once. The other is the tradition of street food vendors walking down the street pushing a cart with a deep vat of hot oil. If you order a sufganiah, they will plop a blob of dough into the vat of oil, pull it out at the exact right moment, inject it with a shot of raspberry jam, roll it in powdered sugar, and hand you the hot, gooey mess to pop into your mouth.

One of the wonderful elements of all Jewish holidays are the ways in which we layer new rituals upon old rituals. The core ritual involves adding an extra light each night of Chanukah. It is traditional to set your Chanukiah up in a window in order to “proclaim the miracle.” Each night, add a new candle from right to left, say or chant the blessings, and then light the newest candle to the left first. It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil, to remember the miracle of the oil. In the United States it became a tradition to give children gifts throughout Chanukah or for all family members to exchange gifts. Each household develops its own tradition around gift-giving.

Before gift giving became popular in the US, parents used to give their children gelt or coins at Chanukah. In some cases, the children got to keep the gelt, but one reason for giving children gelt was to teach them how to give tzedakah donations to others. In that spirit, I encourage our congregants to re-embrace the concept of giving to others and “using” Chanukah to teach our children how to give to others. I specifically encourage all of us to participate in our own Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) opportunities for giving. JFCS is a remarkable organization that “walks the talk” of caring for the widow, the stranger and the orphan, as we are commanded throughout the Torah. JFCS makes it easy for each of us to be great Jews by partnering with them to take care of those in our own community who are in greatest need.

#1. Let’s all give to the JFCS Chanukah Food Drive. Bring nutritional food to share each time you come to Temple and look for the JFCS bins. Please shop for the food drive the way you would shop for your own household. Donate the best and not the dented cans of pineapple that have been sitting at the back of your pantry! Too many Emanu-El food donation bins are filled with food you would never serve your own family. The Torah instructs us to bring our best for this purpose.

#2. On Friday, December 16th from 4-7 help assemble holiday food bags full of festive foods that will be delivered to new emigres and people with disabilities.

#3. On Sunday, December 18th help deliver Chanukah bags to seniors, people with disabilities and families in need. Don’t you love that idea that Chanukah can provide an opportunity for each one of us, at any age, to remember how to give to others? I do!

Our synagogue is so proud to support both the JFCS food pantry as well as the SF-Marin Food Bank. Each serves a different clientele. There are homeless and low-income Jews in this community whose needs are cared for by our donations to JFCS. We take seriously our commitment to feeding hungry Jews and everyone else who needs good food to eat. I’m always interested to know about the traditions you add to your own Chanukah observance. If you participate in any or all of the three JFCS initiatives, let me know how it goes.

Happy Chanukah!

November 1, 2016
Allow Yourself To Receive Shabbat
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Whew…. By the time this drops on your doorstep, they will be over! Not the contentious elections but the High Holy Days. Yes, we as a community do look forward to those days of awe and coming together as a reunion of the tribe, and the opportunity to focus on renewing our lives paths. But they were late this year, so to speak, and now that it is November, we can focus on being in the new year and the day-to-day and week-to-week wonderful challenge of living the better lives we envisioned during those days of repentance.

In all of November and most of December, we have no holidays on which to focus except that which our tradition teaches is actually the most important of all…. Shabbat. Now that you are done planning break the fasts, Sukkot celebrations, and dancing with the Torah, and you have two months till Chanukah, you can focus on giving yourself the gift of Shabbat. We know that Shabbat is something that you, as busy Bay Area residents trying to re-imagine the world, plan your children’s ultimate success from the moment they get out of the cradle, or jump from event to event as empty nesters, really need. So let’s get started!

One of the best things you can do to help your life, and bring in Shabbat is to plan ahead, purchasing Shabbat candles at any local store, a challah, and a favorite wine of your choice (I have to make kiddush over Manischewitz, but then switch to a nice cab or zin). Set the table Thursday night with a white cloth and dress it with your nicest dinnerware and kiddush cups. When you come home after services, undo that tie, and be in Shabbat by resting and engaging your loved ones and friends over a nice Shabbat dinner.

Daylight Savings Time ends on November 6th and so our days grow shorter. Lighting Shabbat candles brings the light of joy and hope into your home, as we live more in darkness. Saying the prayer, l’hdalik Ner Shel Shabbat, declares that this moment, with this light of peace, is now your moment of rest and blessing. At the very least, start this Shabbat practice – kibbel Shabbat– Receive Shabbat, and do so wherever you may be — at home, on a trip, in a restaurant with friends. Don’t be shy, and don’t think it is weird, but start a Shabbat ritual practice!

Last month, in the midst of a clergy meeting, a younger member came in and gave all of the clergy a beautiful gift, a beautiful Traveling Shabbat Kit. You can find it on He told us that whenever he is traveling, and brings out the kit, people are so grateful to have those moments of sanctifying time, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, with a short ritual acknowledging that life is filled with wonder, with holiness, and that the Shabbat pause helps us to stop and just be aware of the many blessings this life gives us.

Yes, the High Holy Days are over, now be renewed in this year. Help yourself to receive Shabbat!

October 1, 2016
Judaism and Second Chances

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

If you are holding this October Chronicle in your hand, then the High Holy Days are upon us! Perhaps you are new to Judaism, going through the cycle of holy days for the first time.

Welcome. Or maybe you just joined Congregation Emanu-El and this is your first time experiencing the multitude of opportunities for communal spiritual gathering here under the dome.
I hope you enjoy the excitement of all of us coming together, the exuberant clergy, the diverse musical experience, the Tzedek Social Justice Expo where you can sign up to do good and important social justice work in our community this coming year, and all the opportunities for self-reflection and spiritual growth that are available to you as we ring in the Jewish year 5777.

If you just celebrated your Bat or Bar Mitzvah, this may be your first time fasting. You can do it! If you are a middle or high school student, this might be your first time sitting through services and not going to child care. We are proud of you. One of the beautiful things about the synagogue is that new people are always coming in the doors and our small children of yesterday become our newest full community participants of today and tomorrow.
For many of us, we have been around this block before. Year after year, we renew our annual commitment to Congregation Emanu-El. We receive the tickets and the lists of services. We figure out the service styles and times that work for us. Choose some nice clothes. Maybe white for Yom Kippur, perhaps even some white sneakers to honor the tradition of no leather or ostentatiousness on the holiest day of our year. Figure out the parking strategy. Plan a nice meal before or after. What will the rabbi speak about this time?
It can be easy to fall into a comfortable routine around these holidays. It can even be an annual “feel good” moment of reconnecting with the congregation, and the people you only see this time of year. We want you see this time of year. We want you to feel good, but the High Holy Days truly offer a deeper opportunity for second chances. Is there a person you have fallen out of touch with this past year or years? Is there a relationship you once cherished that needs mending?Do you harbor ambivalence about God, Israel or organized religion? If yes, then the High Holy Days are perfect for you! But don’t approach them in any kind of rote manner. Use them as they are meant to be used, as an opportunity for second chances and new beginnings. We turn a page on the calendar. You, too, can turn a page in your own life story.
We want you to come to services and delve into our brand new Reform High Holy Day machzor/prayer book. It’s fabulous. But we also hope that the music, the readings and the sermons will inspire you to make some necessary tweaks and changes in your life this coming year. Use some of your time in the sanctuary to make a list of the repairs you need to make. Pick one or two or three broken parts of your life you can strive to fix. Use the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or even all the way to Simchat Torah, to decide how you will redirect your life this coming year. Who do you need to talk to? Where has your own ego gotten in the way of your best self? What can and cannot be repaired in terms of your relationships? Judaism teaches that when we transgress against God, the Day of Atonement atones, but when we transgress against people in our lives, the Day of Atonement does not atone until we have made every effort to make those repairs directly with the people in our lives. Judaism, and especially the High Holy Days are designed to give us second chances. Optimize your experience of these Holy Days and you will feel the reward year after year.
Shana tova. A sweet, healthy new year to you and to our community.

September 1, 2016
Time is Relative

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

Time is relative. The New Year – Rosh Hashanah – is late this year! We have this month of September to prepare ourselves for the Days of Awe, which begin on October 2. Jewish tradition provides a special means to get ready by making this Hebrew month of Elul, a month of preparation, through contemplation, study and prayer. It is customary during this time to hear the sound of the shofar each morning, and then spend part of your day considering how this next year may be better. What changes will you make in your life, who will you help, how will you grow?

One change we would like you to consider as you bring in the New Year is to make this year the year of Shabbat in your life and in the life of your family. One thing we have noticed as we have engaged with you here at Emanu-El, is how busy, overscheduled, and at times frazzled San Franciscans are. Between trying to change the world through advances in technology, educate your children, engage in all the amazing activities the Bay Area has to offer, heal the world, or just hang in there, depending how you choose to live your life, you are left little time for contemplation, for connection with community, for renewal of the self, and to become aware of the miracles around you.

We have reached one conclusion – Emanu-El members need one day a week to rest, to connect, to turn off work, to contemplate, and to share the joy of a meal with loved ones. You need Shabbat! The Torah teaches us that even God had to take a break.

As your clergy team, we want to spend this year exploring what Shabbat can mean for you. We know that the meaning of Shabbat will be different for different people – a Shabbat meal together with family and friends, coming to synagogue for some, scheduling a Shabbat hike, turning off all email for others. What we want is help you explore how Shabbat can be impactful for the twenty-first century San Franciscan.

Our first step is to make sure that there is a Kabbalat Shabbat service that you can get to. Kabbalat in this form, means receiving – bringing in Shabbat – so you can breathe deep and begin to renew your soul. We know services are not for everyone, but we are trying to have a one-hour service time that will speak to many of you. We have added a “late” One Shabbat on the first Friday of the month at 7:30pm for those of you who work late. Like other One Shabbats, the service will be very musical with contemporary flair and contemplative melodies of the tradition, a dvar Torah, and oneg. We will also have a Classic Service on the same evening at 6:00 pm in the Main Sanctuary, which is beautiful, contemplative and moving, and still designed to get you out just after 7:00 pm so you can enjoy the city or relax at home.

And we are now offering a 5:30 First Friday Under Five for families with young children followed by a dinner on the first Friday night of the month.The rest of the month we will have beautiful One Shabbat services as well as the Late Shabbat, which attracts hundreds of young people, on the second Friday of the month.

Throughout the year, we will offer classes on how to make Shabbat dinner, introduction to prayer, an Emanu-El shares Shabbat dinner program, Shabbat retreats and hikes — many different ways for you to connect to this most beautiful Jewish gift to the world. We would love some of you to be Shabbat Captains, inviting others to join you for one or two Shabbats a month. Stay tuned for many Shabbat learning and engagement opportunities, but begin by noting in your Fall calendars – the one on your phone and the one you keep for your family –some way that you will set aside time for Shabbat. You and we will be the better for it!

August 1, 2016
Temples and Politics
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

Many people do not know this about me, but I was born into a family of staunch conservative Republicans. It was like our family was part of some endangered species at our Temple in southern California, where virtually everyone else was a registered Democrat. Speaking purely anecdotally, Reform temples provide a Jewish, spiritual home to a large number of Democrats, a handful of Republicans, a sprinkling of Independents, Green Party members, and Libertarians. Even here at Emanu-El, some of our congregants are with Hillary, others want to make America great again with Trump, still others will never cease feeling the Bern and many are terrified of what will be, come this November.

Congregation Emanu-El strives to be a Jewish spiritual home for anyone who wants a Jewish spiritual home, regardless of one’s party affiliation. We are too small a people to exclude anyone based on their political party affiliation.As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, it is against our tax exempt status for us to support one party over another, one candidate over another or to endorse any one individual for of ceo. We do take positions on issues which are consistent with fundamental Jewish values and teachings. Judaism teaches that we are all created in the Divine Image, so we are sensitive to bigotry and discrimination against any of God’s creations. These days, we focus on racial equality, LGBTQ equality and combating anti-Semitism. Judaism teaches that we were strangers in Egypt and so we have a special affinity for immigrants and refugees. We have partnered with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Welcome Campaign to advocate for refugees who are seeing unspeakable, life- threatening conditions. The most vulnerable in the Torah were the orphan, the widow and the stranger.
Today, we stand up for homeless people, impoverished individuals, and underfed children. Depending on the orientation of our political affiliations, we may not always agree on the best way to remedy these social issues, but we agree that we are a strong, powerful community who will not stand idly by in the face of injustice or bigotry.As you are aware, our Tzedek Social Justice Council sponsors a wide variety of initiatives and programs so that our congregation will be a voice, locally and nationally, and so that we can work together as a synagogue community in areas of human rights, education, economic justice, mental health and the environment. We want members of every political party to work collectively on these issues.
The upcoming election feels fraught. There is tremendous uncertainty about which way the election will go. I have heard numerous people express a sense of dread and helplessness. Even though the synagogue will not be campaigning for any particular candidate, you can! Be sure you are registered to vote and that everyone you know is properly registered. This is our first election since some basic voter rights were stripped away in a Supreme Court decision, so find out how you can engage in ways to make sure everyone in our country who can vote is able to vote. Educate yourself on the November ballot issues. Join us here at Emanu-El on September 7th for a JCRC-sponsored educational forum with the candidates for the public school board. Connect yourself to a Tzedek Council initiative. Find opportunities on our website and at the social justice expo that will take place on Yom Kippur.
Most importantly, just as your synagogue is radically welcoming of those who believe in God and those who do not, and of Jews and non-Jews, we ask you to make space at the Temple for diverse congregant political viewpoints other than your own. Do not assume that the person next
to you plans to vote as you plan to vote or agrees with you on every issue. If a rabbi gives a sermon with which you disagree, make time to share your perspective with the rabbi. I told you that my parents were Republicans. So, what does that make me? Your rabbi.

July 3, 2016
Remembering Elie Wiesel

Congregation Emanu-El mourns the tremendous loss of a shining star, Elie Wiesel. His survival was a gift to all humanity. At Congregation Emanu-El we dedicate ourselves to carrying forward his prophetic message of hope. The man is gone, but his light shines on in our sacred synagogue work.

In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:  “Elie Wiesel gave voice to the voiceless victims of the Holocaust and bore witness in the name of humanity to one of the greatest crimes against it. He was the voice of memory when others sought to forget, and of defiant hope in the face of despair. He spoke for an entire murdered generation, and did so with dignity, humanity and grace. He was a great survivor, a great Jew, and a great humanitarian. His work was a blessing, so may his memory be.”

Zecher tzadik livracha. Let us always remember this righteous man.

June 12, 2016
Statement About the Devastating Act of Terror in Orlando

We, your rabbis and cantors of Congregation Emanu-El, join you in expressing grief, outrage, shock and horror at this morning’s devastating act of terror and hate in Orlando, Florida.

We join in the chorus of voices from around our nation calling for so much: the transformation of our culture of violence into a culture of love and justice, a renewed effort to pass gun control laws that would have prevented this terrorist from accessing tools of destruction, a firm and unapologetic stance against all fundamentalist religious violence, and a reaffirmation of our love for our Muslim sisters and brothers, the vast majority of whom reject this violence along with us.

During this month of pride, this violence, targeted at LGBT people, feels particularly frightening for the LGBT and allied communities, many of whom call Emanu-El a place of home, safety and refuge.
As a Jewish community with so many strong ties to Israel, we know this fear and pain all too well. Our hearts also go out to the families who lost loved ones in the terror attack in Tel Aviv. In an instant, innocent people out for an evening with families and friends were killed by those who wrongly believe force will help their views hold sway. Instead we become more determined to stand up for our rights as Jews and promote peace and freedom for all.
Today is Shavuot, the festival during which we celebrate Matan Torah, the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. This was a moment when truth sparked for all to see. It sparks for us, again, here and now. Today we cling tightly to our Torah; our Torah that paints a vibrant, bright and beautiful picture of what community can and should be. We cling tightly to our Torah that cries out to each of us now, tzedek, tzedek tirdof, be in bold and relentless pursuit of justice!
The prophet Micah imagines a future in which “they shall sit under vine and under fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid” We refuse to accept a reality of fear and violence. We share our tradition’s prophetic vision for our future, and in our grief and heartache commit ourselves to the hard work of making it a reality.
Rabbi Beth Singer
Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Rabbi Sydney Mintz
Rabbi Ryan Bauer
Rabbi Carla Fenves
Rabbi Jason Rodich
Cantor Marsha Attie
Cantor Arik Luck

May/June/July, 2016
Matisyahu This Month, Noa This Fall!

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer

As a rabbi, I am thrilled with the diversity of artists, thinkers and political perspectives about Israel that we as the Emanu-El community have had a chance to learn from and engage with this past year. Our Israel Action Committee, Adult Learning Salon, along with your clergy have worked hard to insure that people like Stav Shafir, Knesset member and rising star in the Labor party and Ron Dermer, current Israeli Ambassador to the United States and leader in the Likud Party, have been given a forum to share their perspectives on Israel and hear back from our community in return. This month we will have an opportunity on Israel Independence Day to just celebrate Israel and be entertained by the formerly Hassidic reggae and beatbox star Matisyahu. In the fall the leading Israeli folk star Noa will perform here as well!

Unfortunately, besides being Jewish the one thing the two artists above have in common is that they have been boycotted because of their identity and connection to Israel. Matisyahu was disinvited from performing at a Spanish music festival in response to pressure from the BDS movement, only to finally later be re-invited when the uproar that this was an act of anti-Semitism – boycotting an American Jew because he would not side with BDS, became overwhelming. Achinoam Noa had the awful experience of having the Jewish National Fund in Canada withdraw their sponsorship of her performance at an Israel gathering because they incorrectly accused her of supporting the BDS movement only to have the Israeli government step in and replace their funding.

Both actions reflect an illness in our world – one that we at Emanu-El have and will continue to stand up against- the desire when it comes to Israel to isolate ideas and people you disagree with, shutting down respectful conversation and refusing to see the presence of God – that reflection of the holy in the one in front of you. We, your clergy, acknowledge that our members have different perspectives about how Israel might achieve peace in that difficult region. It is essential to us that under our beautiful dome we, as a diverse community, be able to share different visions of how the hard questions about Israel’s future may be answered. It is an essential value of both Jewish tradition and American freedom, that people be able to share ideas respectfully, learn from speakers with different points of view and then reach their own conclusions.

At Congregation Emanu-El we will continue to welcome and encourage our members to engage a wide range of Zionist organizations and Jewish leaders as long as they support the right of the Jewish state to flourish in peace. I for one, am grateful for AIPAC and its work to support Israel in congress, JStreet and its efforts to actively engage the peace process, Friends of the IDF, who support Israeli soldiers on the front lines of the conflict, The New Israel Fund as it tries to build bridges to peace, Rabbis for Human Rights and their work of conscience, The San Francisco JCRC and their tireless efforts to stop the isolation of Israel and anyone who is willing serve in the Knesset!

If we are going to remain a leading synagogue in the country, then we have to model true Jewish dialogue and interaction. A living Judaism is an engaged and open Judaism that respects other opinions. An honest Judaism whether it comes to prayer, belief in God, or how to vision the future of the promised land knows that no one group has a monopoly on truth or the right way forward. We as a center of Bay Area Judaism can show that there is strength in diversity – it is something to be embraced and not feared!

So let us engage, learn from each other, at times agree to disagree, but then let us also celebrate. We live in amazing times – there is a state of Israel thriving like a beautiful Joshua tree shooting up from the desert floor. Its existence is an amazing thing to behold. There is much to rejoice in its democracy, vibrancy and determination to thrive in a world that is not always welcoming. So, come this month and join us as we partner with multiple Jewish organizations and celebrate Israel Independence Day on Wednesday, May 11. Hear a reading from the independence scroll and be entertained by Matisyahu. If there is a protester or two give them a flower and invite them to join us in prayers for peace. Additionally, stay tuned for Noa coming to share her artistry with us in November.

And let us, in the words of Matisyahu, keep praying for peace:

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
They’ll be no more wars
And our children will play
One day (one day), One day (one day)
One day (one day), One day (one day)
One day (one day), One day (one day)

Let me know how we are doing and even though your perspective may be different from mine, let me know how we could do it better! I welcome your responses by email to [email protected].

April, 2016
Community Building

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Rabbi Beth Singer

I thought it a genuine possibility that I might get stabbed. Whenever I travel to Israel, I always have this moment as the plane is landing at Ben Gurion Airport where I calmly consider my fate. Random stabbings have been the terrorist tactic of choice recently in Israel. We hear about them on the news and usually it is a lone person striking out against a civilian or a soldier on the street. I refuse to stop coming to Israel out of fear. I have too many dear friends and family who refuse to visit Israel, and that means the terrorists have scored some points. 

When I catch my taxi into Tel Aviv from the airport, I instantly remember how life goes on every day for Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs and everyone else. I take a long walk along the tayellet – the boardwalk that hugs the Mediterranean coast. I see Jews dressed in religious garb strolling along. I see Israeli surfer dudes carrying their boards, two men holding hands, scores of ridiculously fit and healthy Jewish Israelis, Palestinian women, Arab families. I never see these images in any media.

There are terrible problems in Israel, both in regard to the Palestinian-Israel conflict as well as more internal Israeli problems than I could list in one Chronicle essay. I had accepted a gracious invitation to join the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation on a special trip to Israel in March. Our congregant, Danny Grossman, CEO of the Federation, teamed up with the remarkable Varda Rabin to bring a group of Bay Area Jewish professional and lay leaders on the Irving Rabin Community Building Trip. Every day was filled with powerful opportunities to learn about some of the work that our community funds in Israel.

One day in particular stands out because of three individuals we met. In the Negev desert, we visited the town of Yerucham and took a guided tour of the town with the charismatic, energetic mayor, Michael Biton. Rabbi Jonathan and I had visited this development town when we were juniors in college and, at that time, it was a depressing place. Now, however, the mayor has implemented his grand vision and the town has developed in ways we never could have imagined when we visited in the 1980s. He has put his major focus into education for the community and worked hard to secure funding to support this. He is investing in the young adults of his community so that they don’t leave, and he is encouraging community gardens, recycling and greening the city. This man is so passionate, I can’t wait to bring our congregants to Yerucham in the next 10 years to see what develops there. We next visited a Bedouin village’s experimental farm. Yusuf, a Bedouin farmer, shared his compelling story. He sat the village elders at the same table with young tech people and, together, they created a project which combined thousands of years of proven farming techniques with the latest knowledge in high tech farming, and the result is promising. Yusuf devotes his life to improving the quality of life for the Bedouin community in his area.

Finally, we went on the visit that was the most uncomfortable for the majority of the group, including me. We drove to a Jewish community that exists right on the border with Gaza. There was not just one security fence, but multiple fences for multiple security reasons. The first thing our guide did was have the bus pull up to the edge of the community. We could clearly see a Hamas outpost with green Hamas flags flying, that had been erected just five days ago. It was impossible to sit on that bus at that moment and not feel like an easy target. We met with one resident of the community. He showed us that there are bomb shelters every few feet and at every school bus stop. Raz, the Israeli resident of the town, explained that when Israel negotiated land for peace with Egypt, his entire village was relocated here, securely inside the undisputed part of Israel, near Gaza. He talked about the psychological terror of raising a family in this place. But, he noted, it is legitimately part of the State of Israel and there is no reason not to live there ̶ except that Hamas’s goal is to rid Israel of all its Jewish citizens. But they continue to live and raise their children in Moshave Netiv Ha-Asarah. It was actually totally peaceful during our visit, but Raz did mention that they can feel the vibrations of the tunnels that Hamas is building right now for the next round of terror.

On our final night in Tel Aviv, a wave of stabbings occurred in three different cities, including where our group has spent the majority of our time. It was devastating to be so close and to hear the news of more terrorism against innocent people. But the point of the terrorism is to shut down the State of Israel, and so, like all the Israelis, we recited Kaddish, sang for peace and continued our community building journey. One highlight of this trip for me (besides just being in Israel which is always magical), was the opportunity to connect with so many great synagogues and organizations that are our communal partners in building Jewish life here in the Bay Area. Congregation Emanu-El board member, Dale Boutiette, was also on the trip, along with congregant Ben Tulchin, representing Jewish Vocational Services, and Abby Porth, representing the Jewish Community Relations Council. Rabbi Jonathan and I came to Emanu-El for the express purpose of Jewish community building. Let’s roll up our sleeves, we’ve got work to do!

March, 2016
Get to Know Me!

By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer

My favorite words in the entire Torah are spoken between Jacob and his brother Esau during their highly emotional reunion. Jacob gazes at his brother and exclaims, “To see your face is to see the face of God.” (Genesis 33:10) Isn’t that such a powerful idea? I try to let it guide my every interaction with another person. When we take time to look at another person we can discover the Divine Image within each person we meet. As a rabbi, I meet an astonishing number of people. At Rabbi Jonathan’s and my previous synagogue, the membership grew steadily during our years there, so we met new people along the way. By the time we finished our 18 year-tenure, we knew the vast majority of our members.We had performed countless numbers of baby namings, b’nei mitzvah, weddings, funerals and unveiling services so we really knew them.There were already about 2,100 families here at Emanu-El when we arrived. I will always remember my first High Holy Days, looking out at the filled main sanctuary, recognizing perhaps twenty or thirty people at most. The staff at Emanu-El set up weekly opportunities for us to meet congregants in groups of 30 or 40 during our first year and a half here.

Each Friday night when we are here, Rabbi Jonathan stands at the front entrance greeting each person who shows up for services. Each Sunday morning when I am here, I greet each religious school family as they arrive for school. We have met so many people. I love gazing at each face because I really do “see the face of God” in each person I meet. But I joke to myself, “To see your face is to see the face of God, but (comic pause) could you remind me of your name?!” Every day I work to learn not just the names of each of you, but your stories as well. All of our clergy make ourselves available to any and all congregants who want us to know them better. We all have congregants who come to our offices to share their stories. Your stories of who you are increase our ability to see the face of God in you.

I have been on both sides in the “what’s your name again?” scenario. I have had the experience of continuously reintroducing myself to a person only to have them greet me each time as if we had never before met. Because I know I have unfortunately done the same to others, maybe even to you, I try to have compassion on such seemingly absent minded people. I am not absent-minded. It simply takes me time to put together so many names and faces. Although it is especially frustrating when your rabbi does not seem to recognize you, I think that al the members of our very large congregation face the challenge of coming to Emanu-El services and programs where we all see people we do not recognize. We don’t know whether they are guests or new members or long-time members whom we simply do not recognize. Many of us possess a natural reserve. When we arrive at the Temple, we seek out the one familiar face and only engage with that person.

Most Friday nights toward the end of the oneg, I meet an individual or couple who shares with me that not one single person spoke to them the whole night. I think that we all have work to do to see –ourselves – not just our clergy – as ambassadors who help each person, couple, and family feel more welcome. If you have ideas how we might do this more intentionally, or if you are willing to come occasionally just to facilitate introductions at onegs, please contact me. If you want me or another rabbi or cantor to know you better, come to services or programs and make an appointment with any or all of us. Emanu-El is a sacred community. Whenever we enter the building, may we look into the faces of those we know and those we do not know or recognize and see the face of God.