sukkah with lights on

Another letter from my Mixed and Matched column

Dear Dawn: My friends and family agree with you that the High Holy Days were not the right time to introduce my boyfriend to Judaism. So when is the right time? I don’t want to scare him, but being Jewish is very important to me. I am hoping that he will come to really love it, too, because I think he’s the one. He loves the outdoors. He isn’t into cooking as much as grilling. He has a very sweet dog that he treats very well. He’s a caring guy. We’ve been together for about six months and I’d like to start introducing him to Judaism. What do you suggest I do first? Or even second? — In Love

Dear In Love: What a delightful message to receive. You couldn’t have timed this better because Oct. 4-11 is the wonderful outdoor Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Tradition says that we are to build a sukkah and then live in it for a week. If your boyfriend enjoys making things — does he already own things like a saw, hammer and electric drill? — then you could consider making a sukkah together. It is “just” a three-walled hut with a partial roof. Many years ago, I got directions for construction from a woman at my shul, and my husband, who loves building, happily made us our first sukkah.

If you’re not ready for that, consider buying a kit online. No, it will not be cheap. Think of it like a Christmas tree; it’s at the center of the holiday, gets decorated and (good news) can be taken down and saved for next year. So the cost is one time, unlike a Christmas tree (well, the nonplastic kind, anyway). In recent years, I’ve assembled the kit and it’s pretty simple. Since I live where there’s a significant evening breeze, my husband bolts the sukkah frame to the ground. Yes, my sukkah has completely toppled over! We just put it back, and since then it has been bolted.

Have meals in the sukkah. Sleep in the sukkah; his dog will love it. Or just sit together in the sukkah and watch nature around you — butterflies, bees, birds. It’s better than meditating.

If the thought of building a sukkah is too much for you, then consider using the other parts of the holiday to delight your boyfriend.

This is a harvest festival. Make luscious meals all week; have your boyfriend do some grilling. Invite friends over. Eat outside. Tell your boyfriend the story and the symbolism of the holiday so that he can appreciate our funny little huts as much as any other holiday paraphernalia.

This is a great time to also make Sukkot more fun for you and your extended family. Did you know that the traditional foods of Sukkot (Askenazi or Sephardic) are stuffed foods? That could be zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, grape leaves or other things. You can stuff them with meat, rice, quinoa, textured vegetable protein. Think about what the two of you really love and invent your own special Sukkot dish. It can be the beginning of your own tradition.

Do you have a friend who has a sukkah? Or do you belong to a synagogue that has one? See if you can get over to someone else’s sukkah. If you are going to be a guest: Make a decoration to hang in the sukkah, be it temporary (like a paper chain) or permanent (like a decorative lantern); bring along a fruit-stuffed pie; bring some branches to add to the roof.

After Sukkot, there will be a quiet stretch in the Jewish calendar, but there is always weekly Shabbat. If you don’t currently do anything for Shabbat, why not start? Have some friends over for dinner or have a candlelit dinner the two of you.

Try doing one Jewish thing at each dinner and figure out which ones the two of you most enjoy. Having guests? Lighting candles? Having fresh challah? Reflecting on the past week?

If your boyfriend is feeling that you could be the one, start showing him what life with a Jewish woman is like. Don’t hit him over the head with it, but tell him that you want to share what you love most about being Jewish. Maybe see a Jewish-themed film or play. Play him some music; take him to the Contemporary Jewish Museum or to a local Judaica shop.

Let me know how it goes.

Posted by admin under Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Relationships, Sukkot
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9 11

Every 9/11 we remember that hellish morning when we learned that planes had hit in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. We know just where we were standing, what we were doing when we learned of the attack.

One young man, an Oakland firefighter who went to New York as part of the mobilization of firefighters emailed me a few weeks later. He told me that he had been dating a Jewish woman and the relationship was important to him. But he told me that in the smoke and debris of the Towers he had knelt with a priest and reaffirmed his Catholic beliefs. He told me that it was a time and place when God suddenly mattered to him a great deal. Over the following months we emailed as he healed mentally from the trauma and his relationship with Catholicism because stronger.

In the end the relationship did not survive. He couldn’t turn away from his faith, nor could his girlfriend accept the idea of a Catholic home. I realize that this is not the happy ending that we are programmed to want. But it is an honest ending, one with integrity. My Catholic friend found the religion of his upbringing. His girlfriend realized that being Jewish mattered to her.

Every year on this date, I email him both to thank him for his service and to say that I remember his personal sacrifice. Sadly, his email began bouncing just one month ago. So Jay, wherever you are out there, I’m thinking of you and wishing you a rich and fulfilling life.

Posted by admin under In the News, Relationships, Spirituality
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candy-canes-and-candles

Thinking ahead to the December holidays, here’s a question that was sent to my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly:

My boyfriend is Jewish and I’m not. I really love Christmas and he doesn’t want to have it in our apartment. I’m not religious; I just love all the fun things about Christmas. A friend of mine suggested that I just start small and gradually introduce Christmassy things each year until I wear him down. I feel awkward doing that on purpose. Is it a good idea or is it kind of sneaky?
— Loving Christmas

My reply.

Dear Loving: I’m with you; it’s not a good idea. You’d be surprised how many non-Jewish partners use that very phrase, “I’ll wear him/her down.” What that, in fact, involves is deception. It is an attempt to gradually change the dynamics of your home, so gradually that presumably your loved one won’t notice. For some people that could work. But for many, the change hits them one day, and they feel tricked.

What can add to the negative reaction at the moment of realization is that a part of them questions whether they have a right to reject Christmas practices when they know full well that last year they went along with the big tree and the year before that they went along with the party on Christmas Eve. They feel sort of guilty and ask themselves, when did I accept all this because clearly I did. The guilt leads to increased anger at themselves and at their partner.

Additionally, the Christian or secular person can feel like, hey, you were fine with this last year. You didn’t say anything about the tree and the caroling, why are you so upset about Christmas wrapping paper? Since the Christian spouse has gotten used to the evolving arrangement too, she may feel surprised and hurt by this sudden shift of emotions. Even worse, the Jewish partner may respond with silent anger and withdrawal. It can turn into a passive-aggressive reaction of, “I’m not mad. It’s just your thing; I’ll be working late.”

If extended family, parents and siblings have become a part of the expanding Christmas, it adds to the awkwardness. You may find yourself saying, “What am I supposed to do? Tell my parents you refuse to attend their Christmas celebration?” The Jewish partner feels trapped and betrayed and the non-Jewish partner feels hurt and misunderstood.

You say you love Christmas, so be honest with your boyfriend. Tell him you know he doesn’t want to have the holiday in your home. Discuss which aspects of the holiday are particularly meaningful to each of you. You may love being with your family, making your grandmother’s special gingerbread and trimming the tree. He may feel that he is drowning in a culture not his own and that the world really doesn’t understand what it means to be a Jew, especially at this time of year. Try to hear what each other is feeling and to understand how this holiday elicits these emotions.

At a workshop I ran, there were two non-Jewish wives. One told the group that she did “everything Jewish,” but she wanted Christmas to be the one concession to her upbringing. So she and her husband celebrated it in their home.

The other wife said that her husband felt overwhelmed by the Christmas season, which permeated everywhere. She said that her husband needed for their home to be a sanctuary where he could escape from the onslaught of Christmas, so they did not observe Christmas.

You and your boyfriend need to find your place in that continuum. There are so many options that I can’t list them all. But here are some things to consider:

• What are the strong feelings that each of you have — positive and negative?

• Who will be impacted by your decisions — extended family, your spiritual communities, children, whether current or future.

• Are there elements of Hanukkah that can meet your need to celebrate? A party, seeing friends, baking?

• Don’t let the commercialism of Christmas define your activities. Look for actions that hold deeper meaning than a mere material item.

• Ask your boyfriend what he is doing that is Jewish? He may need to get Jewishly active.

Posted by admin under Christmas, Relationships
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This common question for this time of year came to me via my Mixed and Matched column in the Jweekly.

Congregation Emanu-el, San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-el, San Francisco

I am getting serious about my boyfriend (who is not Jewish) and I want him to understand what’s important to me about being Jewish. I’m thinking that this year I should take him with me to High Holy Day services. Chabad has free services and I was always treated kindly by the Chabad rabbi on my college campus, so I thought about going there. I was raised Reform; do you think I’ll be able to follow the traditional service and explain it to my boyfriend?
Wondering

My reply:

Dear Wondering: I appreciate your growing awareness that your boyfriend deserves to know more about what Judaism is and especially what it means to you. However, starting with the High Holy Day services is really pushing him into the deep end of the pool. I don’t recommend it.

In the 20-plus years I’ve been working with interfaith couples, I’ve seen exactly two people, both practicing Christians, who liked High Holy Day services. Two!

If you have grown up going to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, you are acclimated to the length of the service, the language and the atmosphere. But for your boyfriend it is utterly unknown and probably uncomfortable. The liturgy is unique; so is the music. The intention is to jolt Jews into a heightened state of awareness. Additionally, the reference to sins is heard by most Jews as “missed the mark,” but to most people raised in American culture, it can sound like the precursor to a quick trip to hell.

I suggest you take your boyfriend to a regular Shabbat service. At this time of year, many synagogues have outdoor services or services that include a picnic dinner or lots of music. Since you were raised Reform, I suggest you help him get familiar with a Reform environment. That is going to be most comfortable for you, and your comfort level will significantly influence his.

I would not recommend a Chabad or Orthodox service as his first experience because, for one, you would be sitting on opposite sides of the mechitza, which would preclude you from sharing a prayerbook and explaining things. Additionally, there are parts of a traditional Shabbat service that the Reform movement has deleted, so you too would be a bit confused.

I understand the concern about the cost of High Holy Day tickets, and I have a few suggestions. Rosh Hashanah starts the evening of Oct. 2. A couple of weeks before the holidays, this newspaper will print a long list of free services in the area (last year’s list at http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/75582 could give you a lead). Additionally, look at websites of Reform synagogues near you; many have lower prices for students, military and young adults. Or feel free to call me at (510) 845-6420 ext. 11; I can help you find options near you.

I also want to reflect on this idea you’ve formed: wanting your boyfriend to understand what is important to you about being a Jew. This is very important and he deserves to know. And you are doing the right thing by making this effort.

I want to you to consider the best way to go about assisting him. First, it is best if you and he learn together. Don’t make this a job for him with you as boss. Look for a basic Judaism class that you could attend together. Since most adult Jews haven’t studied Judaism since their teens, you’ll find yourself able to take in more of the details and the subtleties of Jewish history, practice and theology.

Many synagogues offer basic courses, and certainly Lehrhaus Judaica offers classes throughout the Bay Area, including an online option if you are located far afield.

Should you take him to services? Yes! But go easy. Find a service that is a bit shorter and has a lot of music. And, if you can, go with friends. Also, prepare a Shabbat dinner at home for him. Explain the elements of Shabbat at home. Demonstrate how Judaism is, in fact, a home-based religion. It is likely that the Jewish activities you will want him to do with you are home-based: Shabbat, Hanukkah, Passover. Have fun and be prepared to do this together.

Posted by admin under Couples, High Holidays, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family, Relationships, Rosh Hashanah
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forgiveness

“The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.”
This statement, from Rabbi Ken Cohen, is truly worth considering

Apologize? I know people who can’t get the words, “I’m sorry” out of their mouths. They sometimes will say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” IFyou hurt me? Obviously you did or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. But “if” I hurt you is not an apology. Why can’t these folks just say it? Because they are afraid; afraid that admitting wrong doing will make them subject to derision. It does indeed take courage to make yourself vulnerable by admitting an error or wrong doing. I know families whose members remain fractured because one or more people are not brave enough to acknowledge that they are human, fallible and have done something wrong to another person.
Do be brave. Is there someone that you are uncomfortable seeing because you know you have wounded them? Don’t waste time trying to justify your self. Pray, talk to your clergy person, read about how to apologize even when it scares you.

Forgive? Being able to forgive someone is tremendously liberating. It means you are not waiting for someone else to act. If you can forgive and move on, you own your life. No, don’t keep deceivers or hurtful people in your life. But forgive those people you love for being imperfect – you probably are imperfect too.

Forget? This one is a bit trickier. Utterly forgetting what transpired is not a good idea. But we do get to chose what and how we remember. A year and a half ago my sister died after a brief struggle with cancer. While we had been very close when we were younger she had become a very angry adult. She requested, through our other sister, that I not attempt to see her. It was hard but I promised. In the last weeks of her life her son told me to come see her. I was so conflicted as I felt I had made a promise to her and wanted to honor it. But in the end I went. She was a shriveled scrap of her self; it was shocking. As soon as she saw me she started to cry. I went to her and hugged her gently, “I love you,” was all I could say. She wept and said, “I love you too.”

Now I could try to forget the down right dangerous things my beloved sister had done but that would have meant not seeing the real pain she had left behind in my other family members. It would have meant not learning anything from all the misery, including her illness. But I could choose to focus on the memories of good times. I could pull out photos of us swimming or playing or hugging. That is what I chose. I will remember what went wrong and hope to avoid and heal that. AND I can remember my beloved sister as she was when we were best friends.

If you are able, and I know that family members don’t always allow you to contact them, consider healing a relationship this coming week. You will be able to celebrate a true personal liberation.

May we all be blessed with many imperfect, but loving family members and friends.

EVENTS
Welcome Shabbat Outdoors (Los Altos)
Taqueria Sinai Shabbat! (Oakland)
Summer Shabbat Potlucks (Palo Alto)
Community Picnic with B’nai Shalom (Walnut Creek)
Grand Opening! At the Palo Alto JCC! (Palo Alto)
PTBE Book Club (San Mateo)
Prospective Members Open House (San Rafael)

Welcome Shabbat Outdoors
Summer worship outdoors is a tradition at Beth Am, giving congregants an opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of our campus. Everyone is welcome, feel free to bring friends and enjoy a picnic dinner before or after the service.

Date: July 8
Time: 6:15
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
www.betham.org

Taqueria Sinai Shabbat!
Join us for this Sinai summertime favorite: a casual Shabbat dinner catered by Taqueria El Paisa followed by Erev Shabbat services in the Albers Chapel. BYO Bottles of beer or wine.

You must register and pay for dinner by July 11. You can do that here.

Date: Friday, July 15
Time: Dinner 6:00pm followed by Shabbat Services at 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland, in the Sacred Garden
www.oaklandsinai.org

Summer Shabbat Potlucks
Join Kol Emeth for a potluck this summer. Want to meet new people? These potluck dinners are a perfect place. They begin with an outdoor evening service and are followed by the meal. They are held in members’ backyards. So call Elaine Sigal, executive director of Kol Emeth at 650.269.3058 so she can tell you where you’ll be going and talk to you about what to bring.

Elaine says: This is exciting. The dinners are so haimish and warm, and friendly. Kids are for sure welcome.

They begin with an outdoor evening service and are followed by the meal.
On three Fridays in July, join us for outdoor Shabbat Evening Services at 6:00pm, followed by a festive potluck dinner.

Dates: July 15 and 29
Time: 6pm
Place: Call Elaine for the address.
Hosted by Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave., Palo Alto
More info: Elaine Sigal, 650.269.3058, execdir@kolemeth.org

Community Picnic with B’nai Shalom
Want to check out a synagogue this summer before the High Holidays? Why not go to B’nai Shalom’s fabulous annual Community Picnic with games, swimming, hot dogs and more! All are welcome!

Sunday, July 17
Time: 12:00pm
Place: Cowell Park in Concord
Call Lisa at the synagogue office at 925-934-9446 x102 if you have any questions. She is incredibly kind and helpful.

Grand Opening! At the Palo Alto JCC!
The Palo Alto JCC is proud to announce the Grand Opening of four new destinations on our campus!

* The Oasis Play Space–a unique play experience for kids ages 1-10–with gentle hills, tunnels, slides, a climbing structure and benches on which to hang out
* Nourish, a Newish Jewish Cafe offering a savory and healthy menu
* Family Center–a cozy hangout for parents with little ones
* Outdoor Training Area–an al fresco workout space for our members (open to the community at the Grand Opening)

The free celebration, which is open to the community, will include:

* Music and entertainment
* Samples from our tasty cafe menu
* Goodies and giveaways
* Fitness Center tours and demos
* Demos at our Outdoor Training Area
* Coupons for future cafe treats and drink
* Face painting, bounce house and carnival games

Date: Sunday, July 17
Time: 1:00pm-4:00pm
Place: Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
650-223-8700
http://www.paloaltojcc.org

PTBE Book Club
Milton Steinberg’s As A Driven Leaf will be this summer’s reading. Also known as one of Rabbi Dennis’ favorite books, this masterpiece of modern fiction tells the gripping tale of renegade Talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah’s struggle to reconcile his faith with the allure of Hellenistic culture. Steinberg’s classic novel also transcends its historical setting with its depiction of a timeless, perennial feature of the Jewish experience: the inevitable conflict between the call of tradition and the glamour of the Modern world.
Please join Rabbi Lisa Kingston and Lisa Meltzer Penn for an exciting conversation based on the book.

Date: Thursday, August 18
Time: 7:00 – 8:30pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo
www.ptbe.org
Details here.

Community Shabbat Service and Dinner
You’re invited to Beth Am’s Shabbat service under the trees, followed by a special community Shabbat potluck dinner. We’ll have a chance to enjoy the delights of Shabbat together while savoring a beautiful summer evening. Please sign up here to bring a dish to share (enough for 10 people) according to your last name:
A-M main dish
N-Z salad or side dish
Beth Am will provide a delicious ice cream dessert!

Date: Friday, July 15
Time: Service at 6:15pm Potluck Dinner to Follow
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Service in the Outdoor Chapel; Dinner on the Patio
www.betham.org

Prospective Members Open House
Considering joining a synagogue in Marin? Want to learn more about Rodef Sholom?
Here’s the perfect opportunity! You will get to meet the clergy and other members of the Rodef Sholom community. RSVP to Molly at molly@rodefsholom.org.

Date: Friday, August 26
Time: 5:45 pm reception in Rabbi Stacy Friedman’s study; 6:15 pm Shabbat services
Place: Rodef Sholom, 170 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael
www.rodefsholom.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, Community Activities, Relationships
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Empathy

I don’t like the way emotions make me feel!

This classic teenage line was spoken by my own daughter during a teen *moment*. She knew what she was saying was silly but she also hated the roller coaster of emotion that teens are heir to. We all have feelings that we’d like to discard at times.

I thought of that line when a dear man I know, the Christian spouse in an interfaith family, said to me, “It’s so hard to worry about how the kids respond to various religious practices. Couldn’t we do what we want and hope it all turns out fine?” Of course he was joking, kind of. I had to give him a hug because it was clear that he didn’t relish the idea of digging down into feelings and all that murky stuff. Seriously though, there are far more parents who avoid that conversation than who make identity formation a conscious part of their parenting job. Why? Primarily two reasons – one, they really don’t have any idea how to even discuss identity with their spouse and kids. Two, it feels uncomfortable, to down right painful, to be out of sync with your partner.

I get it.

“Thank God, we’re not stuck anymore!” is the most common phrase I hear from couples after we’ll talked. It really doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. Think of it like cleaning out the hall closet. Everybody’s stuff is in there. You’re not sure what to do with the belongings of others. It will take time. What if your spouse wants to toss your favorite old sweater? So think of me as a professional organizer. We’ll sort through all that “stuff”, create some order and priorities. We’ll finish up with a plan to keep the closet neat in the future. Think of me as the Konmari of relationships.

You can even test drive the experience by coming to my Growing Up Interfaith Conference on May 22 and FOR FREE hearing lots of ideas on how to have a peaceful family relationship for everyone involved. Go ahead, sign up now. You’ll be glad + there are snacks.

EVENTS
Pirke Avot Study (San Mateo)
Friday Night Lights: The Lag b’Omer Virtual Bonfire Edition (Palo Alto)
Cab Shabbat (San Francisco)
Mizmor Shir! (Oakland)
Jewish Film Series Presents: Mamele (Los Altos Hills)
Preparing for Revelation (Berkeley)
Tikkun Leyl Shavuot – All Night Study (Berkeley)
Kol Truah (Alameda)

Pirke Avot Study
Come study this short and fun Talmud tractate full of pithy sayings and wisdom with Cantor Doron! It’s traditionally studied on Shabbat afternoons between Passover and Shavuot. Texts will be provided or bring your own from home if you have them.

Dates: May 14, 21, 28; June 4 and 11
Time: During Shabbat Kiddush lunch from 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Place: Peninsula Sinai, 499 Boothbay Ave, San Mateo
http://www.peninsulasinai.org

Achshav Yisrael Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration
All are invited to our community celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)! Join us to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

There will be fun, food, and activities for the whole family: Israeli musician Lior Ben-Hurand his band, Sol Tevel, will perform in Koret Hall — come ready to dance! There will also be a film screening (Dancing in Jaffa), a variety of activities for families and kids on Eva Gunther Plaza, tasty Israeli goodies and drinks, and opportunities for schmoozing and reflecting on Israel’s accomplishments and challenges in the last 68 years.

Date: Sunday, May 15
Time: 3 to 5:30pm
Place: Congregation Beth Sholom, 301 14th Ave, San Francisco
Tickets and info here

Friday Night Lights: The Lag b’Omer Virtual Bonfire Edition
This program for the six and under crowd and their families features Shabbat singing, a light dinner, activities for the children including our featured Friday Night Lights Scavenger Hunt, and wine, cheese and conversation (without the children) for the grown-ups. This program is free and open to all, but please let us know you’re coming so we can plan appropriately.

Date: Friday, May 20
Time: 5:45pm
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma, Palo Alto
www.etzchayim.org

Cab Shabbat
Yes, that’s ‘cab’ as in cabernet! Kabbalat Shabbat Service featuring melodies by Shlomo Carlebach, led by Jeff Dielle, and wine and cheese pairings, led by Ken Mitchell.

Date: Friday May 20
Time: 7:30pm
Place: B’nai Emunah, 3595 Taraval St., San Francisco
http://bnaiemunahsf.org

Mizmor Shir!
Mizmor Shir! is a popular phrase found in the Book of Psalms which means ‘Sing a Song,’ and was used during ancient times to direct the Levites, the musicians in the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 150 lists the many instruments the Levites played in the Temple as they sang the liturgy during worship. Some of these instruments include: cymbals, harp, lyre, drums, strings and shofar.
In the spirit of the Levites and our ancient heritage, we have created our own Mizmor Shir!Shabbat service featuring guitar, mandolin, percussion, piano, clarinet and flute.

Date: Friday, May 20
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
www.oaklandsinai.org

Jewish Film Series Presents: Mamele
A Sparkling Gem Starring Molly Picon
Molly Picon, “Queen of the Yiddish Musical,” shines in Mamele (little mother), as the dutiful daughter who keeps her family intact after the death of their mother. She’s so busy cooking, cleaning, and matchmaking for her brothers and sisters that she has little time for herself – until she discovers the violinist across the courtyard! The film is free and refreshments will be served.

Date: Saturday, May 21
Time: 3:30pm
Place: In the Beit Kehillah building of Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
More information here

Preparing for Revelation
Join Rabbi Shefa Gold in counting the days of the Omer, as we are preparing ourselves to become the vessels for God’s Presence and messengers for the Divine Word. God instructs Moses to tell us to make ourselves holy for the Day of Revelation, to wash our garments and get ready!
We will joyfully prepare for revelation with this evening of Hebrew Chant. The Chant will help us connect with our longing for Truth, clear our minds, open our hearts and strengthen our commitment to receive Torah anew.

Date: Thursday June 9
Time: 7-9:30pm
Place: Chochmat HaLev, 2215 Prince St, Berkeley
Cost: General Public: Advance $25 /at the door $30; Members: Advance $20 /at the door $25
Details here

Tikkun Leyl Shavuot – All Night Study
Get ready for a unique celebration and night of learning – a spiritual journey bringing together people from a variety of perspectives and affiliations. Come for an hour or stay all night, joined by teachers from our diverse Bay Area Jewish community.

Saturday, June 11 – Sunday, June 12 (6pm – 7am)
JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St in Berkeley
co-sponsored by Chochmat HaLev

For most updated info, please check www.jcceastbay.org/tikkun
Childcare provided – pre registration required by June 10
Volunteers Needed! Please contact the office.

Kol Truah
We don’t think great music should disappear, so we’ve put together a volume of what we hop will be many concerts. Come hear us reprise favorites from the past 12 years, and if you don’t hear your own favorite, let us know! The only theme is that we love this music and we know you will too.

Featured on the program will be Ladino, Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Sephardic, old, new, liturgical… well, a mishmash of music!

Date: June 23
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Temple Israel, 3183 Mecartney Rd, Alameda
Suggested donation: $15 general, $10 for students and seniors
For more information contact Cantor Pamela Sawyer at cantorpam@koltruah.org or go to their website.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Parenting, Relationships
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Pesach tart (horizontal)

Have you noticed that when we go without leavened foods we kind of freak out? Suddenly people need cups and cups of sugar to make it all up to them. These same people may eat very little leavened food as part of their regular diet but the forbidden-ness seems to do things to our brains.

A few thoughts on this desperation.

1. Embrace it! Give yourself a day, a couple days, a week, to actually think about this deprivation you are feeling and ask yourself, do I really care that much? Is going without a few food items for a few days SO terrible? Might I use this time to consider how refugees around the world are feeling? Or the poor people in this country who go to bed with very little food, and would happily have a box of matzah.

2. Can I be creative? What if I cook and eat “clean” for a week. That means no processed foods, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and stick to food you cooked yourself.

3. I want to be kosher for Passover and I WANT a rich dessert! OK, OK! Here’s a dessert that one friend has described as, very much like bread pudding. So you get your non-bread dessert and sort of get bread too! Best Passover Apple Cake

4. It isn’t just the food it’s the whole big deal; I just couldn’t pull it off this year. That’s OK. There’s always next year and you have 12 months to figure it out. First, ask for some help. See if you have friends with whom you could do a joint Seder. Look for a Community Seder, pay your money and let them do all the work. Talk to your rabbi. Talk to me.

5. It’s my spouse; he/she isn’t into it/doesn’t like it/won’t help. This is a bigger issue and my first question would be, how do you know? Have you asked your partner or just assumed it? Have you been guests at a Seder and was that OK? How much do you and your spouse know about Seder? If your spouse has experienced one horribly long and boring Seder you can’t blame them for now avoiding all Seders. But the good news is that there are lots of short, fun, delicious Seders out there and possibly your spouse would be willing to give it one more try. Let’s talk.

Posted by admin under Couples, Passover, Relationships
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Sunset

Sunset

In our 24/7 world, with constant electronic access there is little chance of powering down. I invite you to pause and reflect for a moment. Were there times in your childhood when you were out in nature, up a tree, by a lake, when you were completely out of touch with “the rest of the world”? You may have been on the floor of your bedroom or in the attic, but no one could reach you and your imagination was your companion. Do you recall your free ranging thoughts, your daydreams leaping from one amazing concept to another? Now I ask you, is there any time like that for you now? How about for your kids?

It can be extremely hard to put down your cell phone and gather your multi-tasking thoughts when you haven’t been doing that for… well, maybe for years. But the gift of Shabbat is that you can choose to be commanded to relinquish the jittery world for the calm of a different world, the world of Shabbat.

I invite you to take a short vacation Shabbat, whether you do it just for Friday night or choose to extend it into Saturday, give yourself and your family a little staycation. Let me know how it goes.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Relationships, Shabbat
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islam-christian symbols

I received an email from a Christian woman who told me this:
I am Christian and my ex-husband is Muslim. I have nowhere to turn for help so I’m writing to you even though neither of us is Jewish. While we were married we raised our ten year old girl to observe both religions. Now that we are divorced he is suddenly taking her to mosque and raising her Muslim. I don’t have any control over what he does with her and we never put anything in writing. How can I insist that he stick with our original plan? I take her to church whenever she is with me, which is most of the time, but she is still being told she is Muslim by my ex and his community.

Please help even though I’m not Jewish.

I am answering you because your situation is not religion specific and can happen to a family of any faith. Let me assure you that most of what you are talking about is not religion at all, it is the consequence of a divorce. Often couples when they split find that their children are the biggest conflict between them. There are one or both of these things happening: your ex-husband may be angry with you and using your daughter as a way to punish you. And/or he may be feeling that he compromised his attachment to his faith tradition when he married you and now he is returning with renewed vigor to his ‘true self’. If he is just acting out of anger, time will soon cool his enthusiasm and if he didn’t care to spend time devoted to religion previously, he probably will return to religious inertia. In which case your best bet is to ignore this and wait. If he is returning to what he has harbored as his true place that is within his spiritual community of Islam, you are faced with deciding whether you want to make this a fight or not. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Am I upset mostly because I feel like he is “winning”?
How strongly do I feel that my daughter should be a Christian? (You weren’t pushing that during your marriage.)
Are you “returning” to your true religious self? And will you feel this way for years to come?
Have you started going to church for YOU or for your daughter?

Finally, the most important question of all, what impact will a tug-of-war have on your daughter? If she feels that her parents are fighting for her loyalty she will be in a terrible position. She must ether choose between you, or pretend to be Christian with you and Muslim with her father. That is a lot for a child to take on.

I can suggest several steps. Go to church on your own when she is with her father. Pay attention to your surroundings and how you feel about them. Is there something about the church experience that you specifically want your daughter to have? If there is, put it in words. For example, I want her to feel like part of a spiritual community. I want her to believe in God and God’s goodness. See if a) there is something there, not just taking her away from Islam, and b) you can identify it. Now, is that special thing something that she will get through being a Muslim? If it is, I suggest you step back and process the idea of your daughter being a different religion that you have chosen. Do nothing, just think and by all means, call me to talk.

I want to remind you that the United States is culturally Christian. We get the Christian holidays off, we all know when Christmas and Easter are. We send chocolates on Valentine’s Day and so on. Your daughter will know about Christianity by default. How you comport yourself will greatly impact how your daughter perceives your religion through you. Can you step back, listen, be supportive and loving and include her in your holidays? See how she reacts. See what she asks you.

Your daughter may choose to be Christian based on your gentle expression of your Christian values. She is only ten and you have many years to work on this. I suggest that the first thing you try is to step back and see how things develop. Be true to your own spirituality and heritage. If you always had Christmas, have Christmas. In fact you could think about inviting your ex to come for dessert – if you are able to create a non-combative environment.

Posted by admin under In their own words, Intercultural, Relationships
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pollyanna-top-done1

I was delighted to receive this letter from an annoyed reader! They wrote:

Your column is always suggesting convoluted ways that interfaith couples can deal with more traditional Jewish views. Why bother? Why don’t you just tell them to join a Reform synagogue and be done with the people who don’t agree with their life choices or see their kids as Jewish? — Annoyed with Traditional Jews

So I answered —

Dear Annoyed: I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you asked this question! I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic since I started writing the column. Read on here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, Couples, Relationships
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