November 1, 2017
By Jonathan Singer, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi
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 place
where 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
By Beth Singer, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi
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!”
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.
Emanu-El statement on the anti-Transgender Tweets by President Trump
July 26, 2017
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
Women in the Rabbinate
Clergy statement on immigration policy
January 28, 2017
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.
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.
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
April 1, 2017
“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!
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
March 1, 2017
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 (on page XX). 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 at TIME/PLACE 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.
WHAT IS A ZIONIST?
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
February 1, 2017
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer delivers Martin Luther King Jr. sermon at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco on January 15, 2017.
CHANUKAH: A Time to Help Those in Need
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
December 1, 2016
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.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO RECEIVE SHABBAT
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
November 1, 2016
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 ourdays 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 www.theshabbatcollection.com. 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!
JUDAISM AND SECOND CHANCES
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
October 1, 2016
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 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
TIME IS RELATIVE
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Jonathan Singer
September 1, 2016
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!
Happy Early New Year,
Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi
TEMPLES AND POLITICS
By Richard and Rhoda Goldman Senior Rabbi Beth Singer
August 1, 2016
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 rst election since some basic voter rights were stripped away in a Supreme Court decision, so nd 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.
Remembering Elie Wiesel
By Emanu-El Clergy
July 3, 2016
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.
Statement About the Devastating Act of Terror in Orlando
By Emanu-El Clergy
June 12, 2016
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
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@example.com.
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!
GET TO KNOW ME!
By 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.