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.

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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!

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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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Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman sent out this hopeful message to her congregation, B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. It made me think of my Jewish – Muslim couples who are going through tough times now with all the brutal, prejudice words flying around. I will us all peace and sanity.

It is a hallmark of Jewish experience that wherever we have lived, we have both contributed and adapted to the different cultures surrounding us. Indeed, over the years we have folded a variety of ideas, rituals and flavors into our own traditions, melodies and recipes. Judaism’s ability to stretch in these was means that our stories have also gone through different incarnations, with different points of emphasis depending on the needs of the times.

Chanukah is a good example… maybe one of the best. Whenever Jewish communities were persecuted, remembering the military victory Chanukah celebrates – that of the few against the many – supplied us with much needed pride and hope. At other times when our concerns have centered on assimilation and related issues we face as a religious minority, we have emphasized the Maccabees’ fight for religious freedom. Meanwhile, as winter approaches and the nights grow longer, we derive comfort and peace from the holiday’s symbols of miracles and light.

The holiday is significant in another way. After the Maccabees’ victory, lighting of the Chanukiah and re-dedication of the Temple, they went on to create their own rule. The Hasmonean dynasty that followed opposed anyone who did not go along with Temple ritual, and used force to create uniform Jewish practice. When we pick up the weapons of those who have hurt us, it is all too easy to become like them, no matter how noble we believe our cause to be. Difficult though this message of the Chanukah story may be, it only grows timelier with the years.

And speaking of timely. It’s not at all unusual to offer and receive Chanukah greetings expressing the hope that the light of our candles pierce the dark forces of hatred and ignorance surrounding us. That is especially true today. We are beset by all too familiar horrors of polarization, anger, distortion and fear. Chanukah, and the Jewish values for which it speaks, has always urged us towards resisting such forces, and connecting to the belief – sometimes against staggering odds – in all that is life affirming and good.

May we take all of Chanukah’s legacies to heart, even those that cast a shadow. And let us summon our courage and raise our voices to speak out against this present darkness. We know all too well how it has enveloped us. May it envelop no other people.

Though the night can be dark indeed, may the candles reflected in our windows and the gifts in our lives combine to lighten our hearts.


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Rosh Hashanah 2015 begins

Rabbi Fox just emailed me to be sure I knew that Beth Jacob in Oakland is again doing Greatest Hits of the High Holy Days. Anyone can drop in for a little bit of soul refreshing. If you have to dash out to work afterwards you’ll do it with more energy.

The Greatest Hits of The High Holy Days

Rosh HaShanah
All are invited to join Rabbi Fox for the Greatest Hits of Rosh HaShanah on the first day of Rosh HaShanah.
If you’re looking for an authentic and enjoyable Rosh HaShanah experience, but won’t make it to the morning services (or even if you will), this is the right place for you! The service will include Shofar blowing.

Please feel free to invite family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues!
Anyone and everyone is invited!

Date: Monday, September 14
Time: 7:00-8:00pm
Place: Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd, Oakland

Yom Kippur
Join Rabbi Gershon Albert for a short discussion of the meaning of the day. You don’t have to be fasting to join us! Everyone is welcome.

Date: Sept. 23
Time: 8am
Place: Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd, Oakland

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Jewish Wedding with Conservative Rabbi

Jewish Wedding with Conservative Rabbi

What great timing! Last night I received the last email from my list of San Francisco bay area non-Orthodox rabbis replying to my question, “Do you officiate at same sex weddings for two Jews?” It was my belief that they all did. But I was challenged by a colleague who said that just wasn’t true. Well, guess what? I was right. Everyone of them (I only asked congregational rabbis) said, yes.

Religious marriages have been available to same sex couples for some years — if you could find a clergy person willing to perform the ceremony. Bay area rabbis will.

Civil marriage means that all those religious weddings are now recognized in every state in the United States.


If you are looking for a rabbi to perform your Jewish wedding in the San Francisco bay area, give me a call. 510-845-6420 x11.

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It is common in Jewish parlance to say that someone is “having” or “getting” a bar mitzvah. But it doesn’t really work that way.

I love Rabbi Milder’s article on this topic. He covers it while talking about celebrating bar/bat mitzvah as adults. Here’s what he has to say.

Rabbi Milder

Rabbi Milder

Let’s talk about Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

No one really “has a Bar Mitzvah.” No one gets “Bat Mitzvahed.”

When a Jew turns 13, s/he becomes Bar (son) or Bat (daughter) Mitzvah (of the Commandment.) A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is one who has reached the age of majority in Judaism, the age at which the obligations of Jewish life kick in. No ceremony is required, and there is no transitive verb, “to Bar Mitzvah” someone.

On the other hand, being prepared to fulfill one’s Jewish responsibilities, and having the skills to execute one’s prerogatives as a Jewish adult, is a function of learning. At the age of 13, a Jew counts in the Minyan, the quorum required for Jewish prayer. That doesn’t make him/her competent to lead prayer. You don’t need to be a rabbi to lead prayer, but you do need to know how.

Similarly, the privilege of reading from the Torah is an honor that we grant those who have mastered a certain level of Hebrew, and trained in the art of cantillation. Chanting Torah is a beautiful skill, acquired through significant learning and practice.

That’s why we ask our children to study for years before they turn 13, so that they will be prepared to do what any adult Jew ought to be able to do: lead their congregation in worship, read from the Torah, and teach the meaning of Torah.

Of course, not all Jewish adults have those skills. Many of us never went to religious school, or never trained to be a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or were not Jewish when we were teenagers.

But it is never too late to learn.

You can continue reading about adult b’nai mitzvot here.

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Joo definition

What are the challenges that patralineal Jews face regarding their identity as Jews? Here are some of the things they have to say:

My dad is Jewish, my mom is not.
I was adopted and raised Jewish.
My mom had a Reform conversion.

Why do people tell us we aren’t Jewish?

Are you annoyed, hurt, confused by challenges to your Jewish identity? Let’s talk about patralineal Jews, halachic Jews, Judaism, and how to handle other people’s opinions.

Date: Thursday, Feb. 26
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Place: Lehrhaus, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $5
Register here.

Curious? Just call or email for more info. Contact Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11 or email dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Jews of Color, Parenting, Programs archive, Synagogues
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cousins on bema

Planning a b’nai mitzvah is stressful enough if you had one yourself, but if you weren’t raised Jewish it can be truly nerve wracking. There are the questions of how the study process works, timing, sessions, amount to be learned, how to help your child succeed. Then there’s the non-Jewish partner and extended family. How do you include them, make them comfortable, and explain what is going on.
How does a non-Jewish parent participate? What part of the planning do they want to share? What if it’s all on you alone? What role does each parent play during the bar or bat mitzvah? Is this a service or a celebration of one child? Join other wondering parents of all backgrounds as we decipher this life cycle event!

Sunday, February 22, 2015
9:30 – 11:00 am
Temple Sinai

You can call Dawn for more details at 510-845-6420.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Non-Jewish family, Parenting, Past Programs, Programs archive, Synagogues
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One of the best things about belonging to a community is that there are other people to create fun activities FOR you and to support the ones you create. A friend of mine is entranced with the music of Tin Pan Alley. He has become quite the expert on the musicians, politics and social upheaval of the 1920’s. I have benefited from his passion in that I’ve learned a LOT from him and had many a delightful evening at one of his Sing Alongs. Chances are quite good that you are familiar with some of the songs — Button Up Your Overcoat, I’m Just Wild About Harry, Singin’ in the Rain, Ain’t Misbehavin’. While laughing and singing you might just learn something about the history of Jewish & Black music.

1920 flappers in Paris

You can join in some of this childish fun, raucous singing and absurdly delicious food (of course there’s food!) on February 7th.

What makes this Jewish? Just the community!

Ain’t We Got Fun: Songs of the Twenties
A Sing Along Concert
“Ain’t We Got Fun: songs of the twenties” is the fourteenth in a series of sing-along concerts produced by Temple Sinai’s Tin Pan Alley Singers. All the songs—“Button Up Your Overcoat,” “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and many more—were written between 1920 and 1929. The words are projected on a screen so the audience can both sing along and appreciate the clever lyrics that earned their creators the moniker “Poets of Tin Pan Alley.”
The program includes dozens of songs, song leaders, and a skilled piano player to keep everyone on key. “It’s more fun than karaoke because everybody gets to sing,” says impresario Phil Rubin, “and it’s better than singing in the shower because we provide musical accompaniment and all the words!” Twenties attire encouraged!

Date: Saturday, February 7, 2015
Time: 7:30 PM
Place: Temple Sinai Sanctuary, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost: $15.00 at the door (under 30 or over 80 $10.00)
For more information contact the Temple Sinai office at 510-451-3263.
Proceeds from this concert support bringing sing-along events to retirement homes in the Bay Area including Rhoda Goldman Plaza, The Reutlinger, the Jewish Home in SF, Lake Park, Baywood Court, Piedmont Gardens, etc.

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