Oneg Shabbat

Oneg Shabbat

Another question sent to my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly.

My husband is Jewish; I’m not. This is a second marriage for both of us, and we raised our kids within our own religions. My husband attended synagogue as he was raising his children, but I never had a religious community. I guess I was sort of Christian because everything around me was. Now I’m attracted to the community that Judaism has. I’m not saying I want to convert; I just want my husband to be part of the community and take me. Any suggestions to get him to go to synagogue?
— Missed Out on Community

Dear Missed Out: This is tough, because you feel like you want something that your husband “owns” and to which you have no access on your own. Frankly, it is probably impossible to sit at home with your husband and coax him into wanting to go to synagogue. I suggest that you explore Jewish community on your own. Carved into the walls of an Oakland synagogue are the words, “My house shall be a house of worship for all people.” You, all by yourself, are welcome to enter a synagogue.

First, I want you to make a list of the things you believe you’d get from participating in Jewish community. Get it clear in your own head so you can talk about it with confidence and ease.

I suggest you then make an appointment with a rabbi at a synagogue near you. Go in and explain your situation to her. Using your list, tell her what it is you’d like to get out of being in a Jewish communal setting. For example: a place to celebrate holidays, a class to learn more about Judaism, new friends, a place to act on your social responsibilities, a place to “belong,” a place to pray, people to turn to in times of trouble.

Everything I’ve just listed can be had as a non-Jew, even without joining the synagogue. A lovely Christian minister used to attend my synagogue’s services because she wanted a place to pray without being in charge. Another woman joined the synagogue’s young adults email group so that she could make friends, be invited for holidays and have a group of people who care about her. She has no intention of converting; she just likes being part of the community. You could do what these women have done and just hang out with the Jews.

What will happen next? You could find that you have been wearing rose-colored glasses and Jewish community isn’t what you really want. Then you could take your list and look into churches. Or you could find that you loved participating with your new circle of friends and get so involved with them that you don’t feel the need for your husband to be there, too. Or you could have such a good time that your husband gets curious and decides to give Judaism a second look.

It may be that your husband has always seen being Jewish as a responsibility — one that he had to uphold by going to services, sending his kids through Hebrew school and making monetary donations. He may have never really felt any personal satisfaction or joy from being Jewish and practicing Judaism. If you start having fun, enjoying holiday gatherings, meeting friends at services, joining the synagogue book group or classes, he may be drawn to your activities. If he isn’t, at least you won’t be depriving yourself of the benefits of communal life, the sense of belonging.

First steps: Make your list of expectations and desires. Look online at the synagogues in your area. Peruse their websites to get a feel for what they offer. Call synagogues and ask for an appointment with the rabbi. Also, mention to the person answering the phone that you’d like to receive their e-newsletter. Start combing through the newsletters you receive to see what you’d enjoy.

You may be feeling shy at the very thought of taking these steps. You can call me and I’ll match you with a member of one or more shuls near you. Also, when you meet with the rabbis, you can ask them if they have any goodwill ambassadors who would be willing to sit with you at services or Torah study or a class.

Once you are going to events and on the rabbi’s radar, the rabbi will steer you toward people who will help you in your exploration.

Posted by admin under Community, Finding a Synagogue, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
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Rabbi Larry Milder

Rabbi Larry Milder

I’ve been pleased and impressed by Rabbi Larry Milder‘s clear statements about acceptance within his synagogue, Beth Emek of Pleasanton. Here’s another good one that he sent to his congregation.

Are You Gay? Lesbian? Transgender? We Welcome You!

I am heterosexual. I expect my synagogue to be accepting of my gender identity. I was born this way.

And if I were gay, or transgender, or gender non-conforming, I would have exactly the same expectation of my synagogue.

The truth is, gender may not be as clear as many of us think it is. I know I first started thinking about the permeability of gender identity reading novels by Hermann Hesse.

Getting out of the simple dichotomies with which I grew up, however, is challenging. Judaism is filled with customs associated with traditional gender roles.

Even worse, a lot of prejudice about gender identity permeates the vocabulary of Jewish life.

We can do better than that.

That is why I am proud of the Reform movement’s public advocacy of the value of full inclusion in our synagogues and institutions for Jews regardless of gender identity. That ethical commitment extends to the public sphere, as well, continuing a legacy of advocacy for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and gender non-conforming people.

This past year, the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution to that effect, saying that the URJ:
1. Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
2. Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, schools, and other Reform affiliated organizations.
The resolution continues with additional commitments. You can read the entire text here:
Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People

The Reform movement’s seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, admits transgender rabbinical students. NFTY and the URJ summer camps have become places that are safe and inclusive of transgender participants.

I am certain that thoughtful congregants will find ways that we can be more inclusive as a synagogue, too. What must be said, though, is that LGBTQ Jews are welcome here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Finding a Synagogue, LGBT, Synagogues
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Rabbi Larry Milder

Rabbi Larry Milder

Another good email from Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton.

Are You a Person of Color? We Welcome You!
Here’s the punch line that doesn’t work anymore:
“Funny, you don’t look Jewish!”

There’s no such thing as looking Jewish, and there probably never was, unless you go back to the very origins of the Jewish people. Maybe, just maybe, when we were a collection of related tribes, we shared some ethnic characteristics. But not for long.
Moses? Married a Cushite (i.e. Ethiopian) woman.

The woman in Song of Songs says, “I am dark and beautiful.”

Jews of Mumbai look Indian. Jews from Kurdistan look Kurdish. And the Jews of Kaifeng, when there was still a pre-modern Jewish community there, looked Chinese.

Indeed, if you want to see a really diverse country, with more ethnic diversity than almost any other country, just go to Israel. It’s the Jews who are diverse!

Of course, there is a history to the idea of Jews looking a certain way, but it is a history told from a very particular point of view.

Most American Jews trace their lineage to Eastern Europe. They are not just Ashkenazic, they are Eastern European Ashkenazic, with a very large proportion of Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Rumanian and other Eastern bloc backgrounds. Until World War II, American Jewry was so overwhelmingly from these communities, that it seemed as though that’s who and what Jews were. Bagel-eating, Yiddish inflected children of immigrants with a New York sense of irony.

It’s not a bad heritage. I’m particularly proud of mine, and the journey that my family made.

But that is only part of the story, and a decreasingly accurate portrait of American Jews, let alone Jews world-wide.

We are Jews of all colors. Jews who came from lands outside of Eastern Europe, including Africa and Asia. Jews of different backgrounds who converted into Judaism. Jews who were adopted from many countries. Jews who are the children of diverse parents of different cultures.

The truth is, making jokes about people’s backgrounds, as though there were something funny about a Jew who doesn’t fit a certain stereotype, just isn’t that funny. It’s not “cute.”

As far as I am concerned, the more diverse we are as a congregation, the more “Jewish” we look. Not because anyone can look Jewish anymore. But rather, because diversity, inclusion of Jews of color, is a goal toward which we should aspire. That’s being made in God’s image!

Posted by admin under Finding a Synagogue, Jews of Color, Synagogues
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Larry Milder with torah

I wanted to share with you this message that Rabbi Larry Milder sent to his congregation earlier this month.

Are You Intermarried? We Welcome You!

We are an intermarried congregation. I haven’t counted; I don’t know what the numbers are. It’s just an impression. Honestly, I don’t always know who is a Jew and who is not.

Things used to be different. When I began my career as a rabbi, back in the Pleistocene Age, intermarrieds were a cohort of members. They were a group, distinct. Sadly, they were sometimes marginal members, whether by their own choice or as a result of the reactions they received from in-marrieds.

It’s just not that way anymore. I don’t pretend for a moment that an intermarried family doesn’t have discussions that may be different from in-married families, or unique questions around extended family relationships. But something more fundamental has changed.

Intermarriage has moved from the periphery to the center of Jewish life, and that transition has taken place during our lifetime. We are a place where any Jew and his/her partner are integrated into the life of the congregation.

So, here is a shout out to all the non-Jewish moms and dads who bring their children to religious school, participate in family education, go to our early childhood programs, and learn Hebrew and Jewish prayers along the way. Here’s to all the non-Jewish partners, young adult and empty-nesters, who take classes, do social action projects, volunteer on committees and behind the scenes. Many are deeply moved by Judaism, and, while not Jewish themselves, hold Judaism and our traditions in high regard. Many are fellow travelers, understanding of their partner’s faith, and devoted to raising Jewish children. I am grateful for every hour you have put into what is a sacred task for us as a congregation. We simply could not achieve the raising of Jewish children, or realize our congregation’s potential, without your help.

Which leads me to a statement of Reform Jewish principles which bears repeating: Unlike the traditional movements of Judaism, we regard the child of either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father as potentially Jewish. We do not consider it an automatic identity; the parents must choose what religion their child will be, and must act upon that choice. But we do not follow the matrilineal descent principle which is practiced by Conservative and Orthodox Jews. We are egalitarian. A child may inherit his/her Judaism from either parent.

Sometimes, we take the commitments of intermarried couples for granted. That should not be the case. Their presence here in our congregation is a blessing to all of us. I hope that more will join us, and know that they are welcome here, too.

Rabbi Larry Milder is the spiritual leader of Beth Emek in Pleasanton, CA.

Are you looking for a synagogue that will be comfortable for an interfaith family? Don’t hesitate to call and make an appointment to speak with the rabbi. Be honest, say what you are looking for. If it isn’t a match, fine, shake hands and keep looking. If it is a match — then it’s good to be home!

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New Years Day

Happy 2016! This is a great time to commit to increase your understanding of your spouse/partner, learn more yourself and get to know others on the same path. Now is the time to consider what role your non-Jewish spouse will have in Jewish life. Time to think about how to balance your love of Judaism and your love of someone who isn’t Jewish. Time to ask, if the Jewish parent is Dad, how will our child be perceived & what can we do to strengthen their confidence in their own authenticity. And, of course, it’s always a good time to cook up delicious food and EAT it! I hope to see you at one of these events!

Bnai Tikvah bema

The Non-Jew in the Synagogue
Our synagogue is blessed to have many interfaith couples as members, many of whom are very involved. That involvement has led to some common questions. How should I behave in services; should I do what the Jews are doing – bow, recite the Hebrew? How should I deal with lines like, ‘thank you God for making me a Jew’ when I’m not a Jew? I wonder if I’ll be offending anyone by ‘acting’ like a Jew or by saying Shabbat Shalom or Shana Tovah. Does that make me an impostor? I’m not sure whether I’m allowed to touch the Torah.
For better or worse, every synagogue has its own customs. Come learn about the customs and traditions at B’nai Tikvah. We can also touch on common practice at other shuls if you are anticipating visiting elsewhere for a family simcha.

Date: Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016
Time: 10am to 11:30am
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: Free to members of B’nai Tikvah, $5/public
Sign up here

chelsea Clinton smaller

Interlove Story: When Jews Love Non-Jews and Judaism
In 1994 Anne was a graduate student at Stanford University in the Film Department. For her Master’s Thesis she made a short film (9 minutes) about her parents’ intermarriage and titled it Interlove Story. In it she uses old family movies and current interviews with her parents to tell the story of their Catholic – Jewish marriage, the choices they made regarding religion in their home and the advice they gave her regarding her own relationship with a non-Jewish man. In her film, Anne does not propose any answers. She opens questions and relates choices, the choices that have brought her to be who she is.
There are some statements that jump off the screen – whether you agree or disagree, you’ll have an opinion.

Date: Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016
Time: 10am to 11:30am
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: Free to members of B’nai Tikvah, $5/public
Sign up here.

Jew dictionary definition

Patrilineal Descent, Reform Judaism & Those Other Jews
In 1983 the Reform movement officially recognized children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. But if you read the statement it says that every child of a mixed marriage, whether the mother or father is Jewish, must establish their identity as a Jew “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” What are those acts? Do we really expect all kids from interfaith marriages to do so? What role do non-Reform Jews play in our lives and those of our children? Join Dawn Kepler for an exploration of Patrilineal Jews today.

Date: Sunday, March 13, 2016
Time: 10am to 11:30am
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: Free to members of B’nai Tikvah, $5/public
Sign up here.

Challah by Margee

Cooking Jewish Whether You’re Jewish or Not: Shabbat!
Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the central observance or holy day of Judaism. Just about everything gives way before Shabbat – including Yom Kippur. Because it is the day that God gave us for rest and enjoyment, it should be a day of joy. It’s a great time to put something absolutely delicious on the table for Shabbat. How about warm bread, roasted chicken, a savory kugel, and a mouthwatering dessert. We won’t stop at the food. We’ll share lots of secrets for making Shabbat something worth staying home for, even if you have teenagers.

Date: May 1
Time: noon to 4pm
Place: Beth Am Congregation, in the kitchen
Cost: $35
Sign up here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Couples, Finding a Synagogue, Programs archive
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Oneg Shabbat

Oneg Shabbat

Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton sent out an email to his congregation last Friday reminding them of the importance of food – as a gesture of hospitality, as a social mixer, as a gesture of caring.

Here’s what he had to say:

Shabbat services don’t feel complete without Oneg Shabbat. It’s like dinner without dessert.

For many of us, Oneg Shabbat is where we sense belonging to our Jewish community. It is a Brigadoon kind of community, magically appearing each week, sometimes with new guests.

Oneg means joy, like a cookbook, “Joy of Shabbat.” The service is the meaty stuff, the deep thinking; the Oneg is the icing on the cake.

We need Oneg, the simple pleasure of being together with others in celebration of Shabbat. The schmooze, catching up on the past week, on where our kids went, on which relatives are visiting.

Of course, what makes it feel right to schmooze is that someone, very thoughtfully, put out a nosh, a snack. Maybe some nice cheese and crackers, whatever fruit is in season, perhaps a pie. They set out plates and napkins, made a pot of decaf, brought some lemonade. Maybe they made it pretty in some personal way.

We’ve gotten used to thinking that Oneg Shabbat just happens. Instead, it should be something that we do for one another, something that we each take pride in creating for our community.

Rabbi Milder continues and urges his congregants to take a hand in producing the oneg at their shul. Cooking, baking, or just buying food, is something each of us is able to do. Getting involved in a synagogue for the first time can feel hard. But we can all manage food. Join the Hospitality or Oneg committee at your shul. You’ll meet friendly people who like good food. You’ll share a favorite recipe or get a new one from a new acquaintance. I like to bring edible flowers from my garden to decorate the trays (pansies, calendula, roses). Food (and flowers) can start up a conversation with someone new. Give it a try. If you are already an old hand at your synagogue, make it your goal to chat with someone who looks new this coming Shabbat.

Then please email me and tell me how it went.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, Finding a Synagogue, symbolic foods
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One of the hardest things about getting assistance with your interfaith relationship is making the move to ask for that assistance. What the devil will it be LIKE to talk to someone? I thought it would be helpful for you to hear what other folks have said about the experience of working with me. One note, if you are not in the San Francisco Bay Area that’s OK, we can “meet” by Skype or phone. If you do live in the area, we can meet in person OR Skype or phone.

I find it helps to know what someone looks like, so I’m including a photo of myself.

Me with the President  (I thought you should know that I have a sense of humor.)

Me with the President (I thought you should know that I have a sense of humor.)

It is also nice to know what their voice sounds like. If you’d like to hear my voice you can listen to my podcast on finding a rabbi for your wedding. It’s short. Here’s the link.

And now people’s comments on working with me.


I sought out Dawn’s services after I got engaged because my fiancé, who was Catholic, and I were having trouble navigating what it meant to have a Jewish household and a Jewish wedding. While he had agreed to have a Jewish family, while planning the wedding it became clear that there was not a clear understanding of what that meant and we were having trouble communicating about it. Dawn created a safe space for us to be able to talk about our expectations for raising a family and what it meant to incorporate beliefs and customs that were important to each of us. She provided us with great resources, including books, events, and people to talk to. The experience was invaluable, and I can’t thank her enough for the clarity she brought to the relationship. I would recommend her services (which I have) in a heartbeat!
H, San Francisco

Thanks Dawn. You were such a big part of us growing in our relationship. I can’t say that the time before being engaged was easy. Ah, waiting and not knowing where we were headed and trying to figure out some major stuff. Phew, it was intense at times. But I know I speak for both me and Mike, you really helped us navigate some hard questions and know how to talk about them with each other. There were so many times we just didn’t even know what questions to be asking but wanted to be proactive in exploring deeper in our relationship. You really challenged us and allowed for more open honest discussion.
H & B, San Francisco

We wish we were closer to your classes and could have meet in person, but the phone calls did work great. We are so glad we found you via the web.
Now we are so excited to get married and glad we talked through so much early on. It really helped all the holiday drama and concerns we had. Not that this past year was all smooth sailing, but we were more equipped to talk it through and find a solution we both felt comfortable with!

K & M, Colorado

Dawn, I love how you challenge people to be their best selves. I am attending services more regularly – thanks for all you did to help me reach this point.
L, El Cerrito

We miss you so much, Dawn! We wish there were two of you so Denver could be blessed with your presence as well. If you do know of a counterpart to Building Jewish Bridges in Colorado, please send us the info. I have found a few things online but nothing as good as what we had with you.
Love, S & P – from Berkeley, now in CO.

I want to personally thank you for all that you do to make people like me feel welcome at the “Jewish table.” Words cannot describe what a difference it has made. In fact, part of why we wanted to have a child was to bring another Jew into the world. We’re excited to learn about Judaism ourselves, so that we may teach our kiddo.
I & S in San Francisco

Thank you for the meeting yesterday. You really provided us with incredibly helpful context and perspective. We have much to sort through but feel that we now have many more guideposts. We also appreciate your open style, from welcoming us into your home, to being direct and sharing personal stories.
B & N Oakland

Posted by admin under Current Programs, Finding a Synagogue, In their own words, Weddings
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Friendly faces

Friendly faces

Judaism is an ancient tradition with its roots in an agricultural society. That means that for the first thousands of years summertime found the Jews out tending the flocks and the crops. Not surprisingly then, summer lacks the plethora of holidays that we get the rest of the year. What to do in the summer? Well, it’s a great time to shul shop. Try going to services at the synagogues near you. Introduce yourself to the rabbi. Go to the oneg after services. See how you like the music, the chanting, the people. Services will be low key and at some point the rabbis will be on vacation. When they are typically lay leaders will step in. Get to know the place.

Student home from college sings on the bema

Student home from college sings on the bema

It was in June, so many years ago, that my daughter picked our synagogue. She was four years old and she picked it because she loved Tot Shabbat. If you have kids, take them to some of the summer services that are outdoors, or mostly musical, or just for kids.

This is a good time to take your non-Jewish sweetheart to synagogue. Services during the summer lean towards a more casual feel. If you feel shy you can always sit in the back and slip out before anyone slides up and greets you or invites you to the after services goodies. Then talk it over between the two of you and see what you each liked most.

A story
Years ago a woman I knew, not Jewish, was feeling very blue. Life was tough, she was young and her relationship was struggling. Because she knew me, she decided to go to services at her local synagogue. Later she called me and told me about it. She said, “I cried a lot. And after services a tiny old woman came up and hugged me. All she said was, it’s hard to be young.”

Why did she go to a synagogue? Why did the old woman speak to her? Why did it help? I don’t know. I just know there is something about community, something about a spiritual moment, something about Shabbat, that can heal.

Give it a try. You may want some succor or you may just want some smiles and music. Go see if it will work for you.

Feeling shy? Want to go with someone else to services? Then you need a Shabbos buddy – that’s a member of the synagogue who meets you at the door, sits with you, explains anything you don’t understand, and introduces you to others at the oneg. Want one? Call me and I’ll get you one.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Finding a Synagogue, Spirituality
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I was touched by a recent column my friend, Mark, wrote for his synagogue’s bulletin. He journey is worth sharing with you.

Mark Fickes

Mark Fickes

Jewish Live Evolves, “One Step at a Time”
By Mark Fickes, president of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland
If I were able to travel back in time to just 15 years ago, I would never have imagined that today I would belong to a Conservative shul, serve as its President and send my children to a Jewish Day School. I grew up in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My grandparents were secular Jews who could not embrace religion after losing their friends and families in the Holocaust. My family was not observant. Like many Jewish kids I know as a child, I attended an Episcopal grammar school and had a Christmas tree every December.

As a young adult, I avoided religious institutions believing them to be too fundamentalist. It was not until I was in my mid-30s that I became interested in Judaism. One day my partner Billy and I were in the doctor’s office when we learned that we would become the parents of twins. The moment I saw and heard two hearts beating during an ultrasound, I know that my children’s lives were a miraculous gift from G-d. Within a day or two, I told Billy that we had to raise our children in a Jewish home. Imagine his surprise as the topic of G-d had never come up in the fourteen years we had lived together.

Our family began our Jewish lives at a Reform synagogue. At the advice of one rabbi, we started with baby steps… lighting candles for Shabbat. At first, the ritual had no meaning. But soon, our babies loved looking at the lights and we saw the joy of Shabbat through their eyes. Next, we cut out pork and shellfish. Again, at first, there was no meaning. But, over time, we became more mindful about the food we eat and why we eat it. Each new mizvah we undertook was simple on its own, but over time, each added to the sense of fulfillment of being Jewish. After a few years I started studying Hebrew; I learned to chant Torah and Halftorah, and at the age of 40 I had an adult bar mitzvah. The experience was among the most meaningful of my adult life. After that I knew I wanted to join a Conservative congregation but felt that I could not support the Conservative movement through membership and financial assistance because of the ban against gays and lesbians serving in the rabbinate. At the urging of a friend I decided to come to Temple Beth Abraham one Saturday in December 2006. As chance would have it Rabbi Bloom gave a drash on the December 6, 2006 Responsum which effectively lifted the ban against gays and lesbians from serving as Rabbis, Cantors and educators. The reaffirmation of human dignity and the recognition that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim (in the image of G-d) paved the way for my family and so many others to join Conservative congregations.

As I write this column seven years after first walking through the doors of Beth Abraham, I see how much Judaism has changed me. Every day I try to live my life Jewishly. At the end of the work week I get to go home, sit with my family to light Shabbat candles and bless my children. And for 24 hours I experience the joy of being a father, a spouse, a friend and a Jew. Judaism has the inherent power to transform each of us if we let it. And all it really takes is one small step at a time.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Finding a Synagogue, In their own words
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Cilantro in bloom horizontal

I am like a kid out of school for the summer – I don’t want to sit quietly at my computer and compose a message to all of you. I want to be outdoors with the bees, chattering birds, my dog and my kids. I am betting you feel the same. Summer is a good time to take a few hours on a Friday evening to shul shop – check out synagogues in your area; go to a light-hearted Shabbat service with music or wine or both; invite friends over to have a home Shabbat filled with giggling kids, extra glasses of wine and lots of laughter.

Do me a favor – email me and tell me one thing you love to do in the summer that you find has Jewish content or a Jewish flavor.

From me to you – the best Challah recipe EVER!
And make it easy, use your breadmaker!

Shabbat Shalom,

Posted by admin under Finding a Synagogue, Shabbat, Synagogues
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