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I wrote the opinion piece for the J-Weekly because so many Jews told me they felt pressured to embrace Christmas. Please expand your idea of what other people “should” like.

Growing up without a formal religion in the United States can lead many people to insist, “I have no religion. I’m certainly not a Christian.” They define “real” Christians as people who go to church, believe in Jesus as savior and observe Christmas and Easter as religious holidays.

But the reality is more nuanced. Despite the diversity we value and enjoy in this country, America’s culture is shaped by the Christian people who settled it. As a result, Christmas and Easter are federal holidays when government offices close. And the holidays are populated by figures like Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty and the Easter Bunny. All of this is so ingrained in the culture that most Americans don’t see it as unique. But for those who come from a different culture or nation, American culture is indeed quite distinct.

I like to call these Americans who claim no religious identity but follow the customs “folkloric Christian Americans.” They have Christmas trees, give gifts, leave out cookies for Santa and truly love the holiday and all its trappings. To a lesser extent, they also love Easter, with its emphasis on chocolate, bunnies, Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts. They make no reference to the resurrection of Christ and don’t go to an early morning Easter service. But they love the food and decorations that accompany the holiday. They enjoy getting together with family over a big meal — very much like Thanksgiving.

They observe these Christian holidays as folkloric, cultural practices.

Now, here’s the rub: folkloric Christian Americans believe the holidays are about fun, and that no one should have to go through life without them. I’ve heard people say quite sincerely, “It would be cruel to deprive a child of the magic of Christmas.” This kind of statement implies that their cultural norms hold some ultimate truth that every human being should follow.

For Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American and others, this perspective can feel like a frontal attack on their own cultural norms and practices. Members of minority communities who grew up surrounded by American norms may feel uncomfortable when they are put on the spot with such statements. And the less able they are to articulate why a particular holiday or practice is not for them, the more upset it makes them feel. They are defending themselves on a primal level but without the vocabulary to express their concerns.

To the Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Sufis, my fellow Jews and others, I want to say that each of us has the human right to be who we are and to decline to adopt the cultural holidays of mainstream Christian America. While some minority folks are happy to get on board and have Easter baskets and Christmas trees, know that you don’t have to. Do not be defensive or angry. Express your sense of self in a soft voice. Graciously decline invitations that would make you feel inauthentic. Let others have their fun. You have your own.

And to the folkloric Christian Americans, I want to say, please wake up to the reality that most of the people on this planet do not have a Christmas tree or Easter basket, and they are doing just fine. Children who don’t practice your cultural holidays won’t feel deprived unless you make a point of trying to make them feel deprived. If you truly welcome diversity, then show it with your actions. Allow others to be different from you. And we should all enjoy and celebrate these differences in one another.

Posted by admin under Christmas, Community, Couples, In the News
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A holiday season email from a non-Jewish guy came to my Mixed and Matched column:

I love Christmas but my Jewish girlfriend won’t participate with me, and this is our first holiday season together. I’ve told her that Christmas isn’t really religious for me. The tree and Yule log are pagan originally; they have nothing to do with Jesus. Santa and Rudolph are just American holiday symbols like a turkey for Thanksgiving. Christmas is just what we do in America! How can I get through to her so we can have fun together? — Festive Guy

Dear Festive: Let me be frank with you. You are experiencing the myopic understanding of folkloric-Christian America. I don’t fault you for understanding the world through your own cultural upbringing. But I want you to reflect on what you’ve said, and try to see it through Jewish eyes.

Christmas means “Christ Mass” — that is, a religious service for the Christ. This is the origin and the core meaning of this holiday. Even if you don’t believe in what it expresses, it still represents the birth of the Christ. Its meaning remains intact. It’s like how Yom Kippur retains its meaning even though millions of non-Jews don’t observe Yom Kippur.

You mention that the tree and the Yule log are pagan in origin. True. However, Judaism has opposed paganism from the beginning — take a look at the stories in Genesis and Exodus.

Being pagan doesn’t make it OK. Christianity altered and integrated innumerable practices of the cultures it absorbed. Every country, every culture that has been rendered Christian has leftover traditions that have been adapted to a Christian understanding. That assimilation of indigenous peoples’ heritages is not seen as a plus by many Jews.

Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman (and even the Grinch), and so on, are indeed American symbols of stories that derive from Christmas and have little or no religious meaning or connection to Jesus. However, everyone knows that they are a part of this specific holiday and displaying them is a reference to Christmas.

You are right. All these symbols, stories and practices are “what we do in America.” Professionally, I refer to your view as American folkloric Christianity. You engage with Christianity more as folklore, like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed.

However, unlike those American myths, Christmas is huge. It arrives in September and doesn’t exit until after New Year’s Day. It alters the entire American landscape. It infiltrates sports, government, commerce, media and daily social interaction. It is seen as sacred by many, which supercharges its role.

For you, and most Americans, Christmas is so much a part of the fabric of our culture that it is hard to see. Remember the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees”? That’s what you are experiencing. It is just so darn hard to see a lifelong practice through the lens another.

For your Jewish girlfriend, Christmas may be the epitome of her otherness. As a Jew, she doesn’t observe this massive holiday. She has different holidays and they are the signposts on her calendar, for her life.

I don’t want to put words into your girlfriend’s mouth, so sit down with her and ask her to explain to you how she feels about Christmas and why. She may not dislike it, but simply does not want to participate in it.

The two of you need to understand one another’s viewpoints. Living in America, she assuredly is familiar with Christmas, but personalize it for her. Are there things you do with your family that are particularly meaningful to you? I have a friend who always chops down his own tree and another who has a Christmas cookie exchange. There will be things that your girlfriend refuses to do, but there may be activities that feel neutral to her.

I don’t know how serious you two are, but this conflict is a signal that if you are thinking about a permanent relationship, you should do some serious talking about what you each want in a partner and in the home you will make with that person. You don’t want to be expecting your first child and realize that you want the baby baptized and she wants a bris.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Intercultural, Mixed & Matched
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Hanukkah and Christmas – the “December dilemma”. I never liked that term “dilemma”. Not that there isn’t an element of difficulty for an interfaith household, but the word made it seem so dire. I think I would prefer, December Questions, because it all boils down to a lot of questions. The core one being, how will we handle these two holidays, one of which is the Mother of All Holidays.

Let me say emphatically, this is not a one-answer-fits-all question. There are a few do’s and don’ts, but no template that everyone can squeeze into.

The first issue is that people often don’t want to talk about it until they are smack up against it – like now, December is here. But it’s much easier to contemplate in February, with the next occasion being months away.

Here are some questions to discuss:
1. Do one or both of us have strong feelings about this? This is usually Christmas.
2. Do we have a plan for this year or do we need some help sorting it out – right away?
3. Is December a cloud that floats through our lives with us – one we’d like to be rid of?
4. Are we stuck and just don’t know what to do or say at this point? Are we feeling overwhelmed?

Bonus question: How is this impacting our children? Do we really know?

If after reading this you’d like some help, please contact me. (dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org). You are not alone. You haven’t done anything “wrong”. You may need some new ideas.

As for the Bonus Question, how this is affecting your kids matters. But you must take care of yourselves before you can focus on the children.

Shabbat Shalom & have a peaceful weekend,
Dawn

EVENTS
Learn About the Shabbat Evening Service (Los Altos Hills)
Library Shabbat (Lafayette)
Tot Shabbat (San Mateo)
Latkes and Vodka! (Walnut Creek)
Family Connections (San Rafael)
Pop ‘n Latkes (Berkeley)
Bring Your Own Menorah! (Foster City)
Sha’ar Zahav’s Third Annual Hanukkah in the Castro (San Francisco)
Oy Chanikah (Palo Alto)
Night at the Jewseum: Light, Analog Edition (San Francisco)
Hanukkah comes to Stanford Shopping Center! (Palo Alto)
Sinai Community Hanukkah Celebration (Oakland)
Hey Hey It’s Mushu and a Movie! (Lafayette)
New Year’s Eve Stand-Up Comedy Show & After Party (San Rafael)

Learn About the Shabbat Evening Service
at Beth Am’s Pre-Service Learning and Discussion
Do you wish you had a better understanding of the Shabbat evening service? Would you like to find more meaning in the worship experience? Join Beth Am clergy for learning and discussion of the structure and meaning of our Friday night prayers, along with practical suggestions for connecting these ancient words to our own lives. No question is too elementary! Led by Beth Am clergy.

Date: Friday, December 8
Time: 5:30 PM
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Details here.

Library Shabbat
The Library Committee presents Temple Isaiah member and best-selling author Alan Jacobson discussing The Lost Codex, an exciting thriller with a biblical connection. The service will be followed by a festive oneg with book-signing and a pop-up library.

Date: Friday, December 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: Temple Isaiah, 945 Risa Rd., Lafayette
www.temple-isaiah.org

Tot Shabbat
Join Rabbi Sara for a fun, interactive, and musical service. Rabbi Sara will tell a special story for young kids. Sing and dance with stuffed Torahs and experience a joyful Shabbat with friends. Followed by snacks, playtime, and a special Chanukah project!

Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 9:00 am
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El, 1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo
Details here.

Latkes and Vodka!
Did you know that vodka can be made from fermented corn, rice, wheat, potatoes,
fruit or even just sugar? Start the Hanukkah celebration early with a class on the history of this distilled beverage given by a national vodka expert. Plus enjoy delicious latkes and tastings of four different international vodkas, all followed by a pianist. Lemon Dreidel Drops available for purchase.

Date: Sat., Dec. 9
Time: 7 to 9pm
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Cost: Pre-admission: $20; At-the-door: $23. RSVP is recommended by December 5 here.
Support Shalom Bayit and those fleeing domestic abuse by donating a supermarket or Target gift card to a family in need at this event.
Sponsored be Under One Tent, the Contra Costa JCC and B’nai Tikvah.

Family Connections
Connect with other families with young children! Learn about the Jewish holidays and traditions through music, art, cooking and parent education. Come nosh and schmooze with new friends!

Date: Sunday, Dec. 10
Time: 9:30 – 11:30am
Place: Marin JCC, 200 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael
Cost: Free for families with children birth to 3years of age. Siblings and extended family are welcome.
Please RSVP to Melody Horowitz: mhorowitz@marinjcc.org
www.marinjcc.org

Pop ‘n Latkes
A Festival of Giving, Dancing, and Light
Community Holiday Hanukkah Celebration
Already dreaming about latkes? This year, they’ll be paired with breakdancing! Mark your calendar for our annual community celebration, where we’ll light the candles together at our all-ages extravaganza.

Enjoy a pop-up breakdance workshop with our resident dancer, Marcus; craft-making with Be’chol Lashon; storytelling with Diana Shmiana featuring the Mystery of the Missing Candle (for ages 3-7); singalongs with Isaac Zones; and a child-friendly screening with BimBam. Learn more about Hanukkah with our new Shamash Resident, Rachel Brodie. Visit the gift-wrapping station to beautifully package your donated gifts of brand-new children’s toys, and assemble a homemade note to go with gift cards to be donated.

Cozy up in the book nook, pop a move in the theater, and celebrate the season in our warm, inclusive environment.

Date: Sunday, December 10
Time: 2pm
Place: East Bay JCC, 1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley
Cost: In advance : $6 for children, $8 for adults. At the door: $8 for children, $10 for adults; Children 2 and under are free of charge
Details here.

Bring Your Own Menorah!
Join us for the first night of Chanukah and BYOM (bring your own menorah). It will be a beautiful way to celebrate the holiday, as we eat latkes, spin dreidels, and light the candles as a community. Happy Chanukah!

Date: Wednesday night, December 13
Time: 6:00 pm
Place: Peninsula Sinai, 499 Boothbay Ave., Foster City
www.peninsulasinai.org

Sha’ar Zahav’s Third Annual Hanukkah in the Castro
Light candles, sing, spin the giant dreidl, eat sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and dance! We are teaming up with Castro Merchants again to host this fun-filled evening to celebrate light and community. Bring your own Menorah (BYOM)!

Date: Wednesday, Dec 13 (2nd night of Hanukkah)
Time: 6:00pm
Place: Jane Warner Plaza at Castro & Market Street, San Francisco
Details here.

Oy Chanikah
Hadassah welcomes back the wonderful Mark Levy, who will lead us in his program called “Oy Chanikah.” It includes songs from the Old World and the new, sung in Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew, English and Russian.

Date: Thursday, December 14: Concert from 10:30am to 12:00pm; Socializing & Desserts from 12:00 to 12:30pm
Time: 10:30am to 12:30pm
Place: Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave., Palo Alto
RSVP required to Leah at SequoiaChapterRSVP@Hadassah.org
Cost: $18 Donation to Hadassah for Youth Aliyah program. Hadassah’s ‘Youth Aliyah’ assists young immigrants and at-risk children in Israel.
Sponsored by Hadassah Sequoia

Night at the Jewseum: Light, Analog Edition
The party for the after-work crowd celebrates Hanukkah through a Museum-wide party exploring the exquisite charm of art and culture before digital. Engage with tube amp craft, create tape loops, old-school liquid light show, typewriter petting zoo, Ask A Maven, and more.

Date: Thursday, December 14
Time: 6:00pm-9:00pm
Place: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco
Cost: FREE with Museum admission; $5 after 5pm.
More info here.

Hanukkah comes to Stanford Shopping Center!
Celebrate the Jewish festival of lights with a musical performance by Isaac Zones of Shamati, arts and crafts for the kids, dreidel games and a special candle lighting ceremony.

Date: Thursday, December 14
Time: 5:30pm-7:30pm
Place: Stanford Shopping Center, Macy’s Plaza, 660 Stanford Shopping Ctr, Palo Alto
Free
Hosted by the Palo Alto JCC. Details here.

Sinai Community Hanukkah Celebration
Join our community Hanukkah celebration including music, latkes, arts and crafts, and menorah lighting (bring your menorah to light). This is a child-friendly celebration for people of all ages.
Stay through the evening for a festive Hanukkah service and holiday oneg.

Date: Friday, December 15
Time: 6:00pm Dinner, Arts & Crafts, Music and Menorah Lighting, 7:30pm, Special Erev Shabbat Service “Friday Night Live!” with the Adult Choir and Mizmor Shir! band.
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost: Dinner, including holiday treats; cost is $10/person.
Please click here to RSVP for the dinner by December 13. Dinner will be Mac & Cheese from Homeroom.

Hey Hey It’s Mushu and a Movie!
According to recent American Jewish tradition, we gather on our friends’ holiday eve —December 24th — for delicious meals at Chinese restaurants, and good films at the cinema. At Temple Isaiah, our community enjoys the feast and film together, in our adult lounge, and calls it “MuShu and a Movie.”
Join us at 6:00 pm on Sunday, December 24, for a very plentiful Chinese food buffet and a sweetly comic coming-of-age movie that’s a favorite at festivals everywhere: Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger.
The film is a smart, quirky portrait of a feisty Jewish teen’s quest to “fit in” by breaking out. Esther Blueburger is a nerdy misfit at a posh girls’ school. Her quest begins when she escapes from her Bat Mitzvah party and is befriended by Sunni, a spunky, independent “cool girl” who is everything Esther thinks she wants to be. When Sunni discovers how unhappy Esther is, the girls hatch a plan: Esther will leave behind her dysfunctional family to hang out with Sunni’s super-hip single mom and attend a taboo public school, all while disguised as a Swedish exchange student.
Everyone is welcome!

Date: Sunday, Dec. 24
Time: 6pm
Place: Temple Isaiah, 945 Risa Rd., Lafayette
Cost for Temple members is $20 for adults/teens, $15 for kids under 13; $25/17 for non-members. Movie snacks, beverages and dessert are included. Adults may bring their own beer and wine. Send a check (payable to Anshei Isaiah) to the Temple office.
Details here


New Year’s Eve Stand-Up Comedy Show & After Party

The Osher Marin JCC joins the Other Cafe Comedy Showcase to present their 8th Annual New Year’s Eve Comedy Show of smart, clean and funny humor. Known as one of the top comedy shows of the year and always a sell-out, the evening is timed so attendees can enjoy an early dinner at a favorite restaurant, be elsewhere for the stroke of midnight, or stay for the festive After Party with the Comics including complimentary bubbly toast at midnight! The event also offers a chance to use the evening as New Year’s celebration with friends at a reserved lantern-lit table for Four OR Eight.
Smart, funny and clean stand-up comedy from 5 comics in ONE hilarious show.

Date: Dec. 31
Time: 7:30pm to 12:45am
7:30pm: Pre-event No-Host Full Bar
8:00: Theater Doors Open
9:00pm: Comedy Showcase
11:15pm-12:45am: After Party & Countdown with the Comics
Place: Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael
Cost: Start as low as $39.50 with General Admission, Reserved Seats and Candle-Lit Group Tables.
Register here.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Community Activities, Couples, Jewish home celebrations
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(Pixabay, Natan)

(Pixabay, Natan)

Here come the holidays!

I love warm colors. I prefer gold to silver, red to blue. So you can imagine how much I want to change up the “traditional” colors of Hanukkah. Years ago I bought some gorgeous gold and red Hanukkah wrapping paper at my synagogue’s gift shop. It hit me – I don’t HAVE to have a blue and silver Hanukkah. Gold, red, green, silver, blue, purple are just colors, not religious symbols. I began to decorate my holiday with the warmth that I desired.

This year I was thrilled to find a craft blog that I follow, Chai and Home, has a Pinterest page called Hanukkah: Gold. Another resource for creating my personal home decoration style!

One of the things that Christianity has been really good at is absorbing the cultures of the countries and societies that it flows into. Christmas, aided by the American marketplace mentality, has been masterful at blending with just about anything. At Christmas time, a sale becomes a Christmas sale, a car becomes a Christmas gift, a dog gets a red bow, a train gets a wreath, trees get lights and bulbs, scarves get red & white candy stripes. One of the difficult things about reducing or giving up Christmas is that it is massive and everywhere. Some Jews react by downplaying Hanukkah. This can add to the feeling of loss for the non-Jewish partner. I don’t suggest that you try to make Hanukkah match Christmas – that’s truly not possible. But you can certainly borrow from American culture to spice up your Hanukkah. You can even look at your past Christmas practices and see what can be absorbed into Hanukkah celebration. What do you particularly love about Christmas? For some it is all the baking. There’s no law that says you can’t bake your heart out anyway. You can even look for themes that mesh with Judaism while using your already existing tools. Got a bunch of animal cookie cutters? Make a centerpiece of edible Noah’s Ark critters. Love to make gorgeous cakes? There are so many options. During the Gulf War one of my sisters had a friend who deployed as a nurse. For Christmas my sister and I baked a dozen different kinds of cookies to send to her.

Have you got ideas and suggestions for keeping a favorite non-Jewish tradition in a Jewish way? Please share it! Let’s get creative!
Email your ideas to me at dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org.

EVENTS
Ganeinu Jewish Playgroup (Lafayette)
Thanksgiving Shabbat (Palo Alto)
Tot Shabbat Morning (Lafayette)
Kol Neshama Minyan (Tiburon)
Shabbat in a Bag (Berkeley)
Patralineal Jews: Navigating the Jewish World (Oakland)
Folktales from Around the World (San Francisco)
Community Kristallnacht Commemoration (Walnut Creek)
Let’s Go to the Theater: Imaginary Comforts (Oakland)
Peninsula Sinai & Ramah Community Shabbat Dinner (Foster City)
November Community Shabbat Dinner (Pleasanton)
Glitter Kabbalat Shabbat and Trans Day (Piedmont)
A Benefit Performance for North Bay Fire Storm Victims (Richmond)
Is Judaism a Religion? (Palo Alto)
Shabbat Hallelu Service (San Mateo)
Making Shabbat Your Own: Shabbat Candlesticks (Berkeley)
Chanukah Shabbat w/Mizmor Band (Lafayette)
Hanukkah Celebration (Oakland)
Mizmor Shir! Service Friday Night Live! (Oakland)
Jews of Color: Taking Charge of Your Jewish Identity (Oakland)

Ganeinu Jewish Playgroup
Temple Isaiah is proud to offer a free, weekly, Jewish, drop-in playgroup for parents and caregivers, and their infants and toddlers (0-30 months). All are welcome.

Date: Every Friday, next one is Nov 10
Time: 9:15am
Place: Temple Isaiah, 925 Risa Rd., Lafayette; in the Adult Lounge.
www.temple-isaiah.org

Thanksgiving Shabbat
Come join us for this special Thanksgiving themed Shabbat! We’ll give thanks by renewing the ancient Jewish ritual of Bikkurim, where we’ll share our achievements and news for the year and celebrate our successes together as a community.

Please bring a dish to share with the group.
We are also collecting canned food which will be donated to the needy.

Date: Friday, November 10
Time: 5:30–8:00 pm
Place: Palo Alto JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, in Room E-104
Cost: $10 per Family
Register here.
Contact: Tova Birnbaum | (650) 223-8694 | tbirnbaum@paloaltojcc.org

Tot Shabbat Morning
Geared toward families with children 0 to 5 years old, Tot Shabbat is an interactive and friendly Shabbat experience. Enjoy a free bagel brunch, activities and prayer with other young families.

Date: Saturday, November 11
Time: 9:30am
Place: Temple Isaiah, 925 Risa Rd., Lafayette, in the Adult Lounge
RSVP here.
www.temple-isaiah.org

Kol Neshama Minyan
with Rabbi Chai Levy
This musical, meditative, and participatory prayer experience is a chance to open your heart through song, to sink into the peace and joy of Shabbat, and to find a meaningful personal connection to the Torah portion and to others in our community. “Kol Neshama” means “voice of the soul/breath.” No Hebrew knowledge required.

Dates: Saturdays on Nov. 11, Dec 9, Jan 13, Feb 10, Mar 10
Time: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Place: Kol Shofar, 215 Blackfield Dr, Tiburon
http://kolshofar.org

Shabbat in a Bag
Celebrate Shabbat together with other families with young children!
We’ll enjoy song, dance, and instruments, led by Rabbi Bridget and beloved Jewish songleader Isaac Zones, plus challah, juice, and other Shabbat treats.
Each family will also decorate your own “Shabbat in a Bag” to bring home, including candleholders, challah cover, and Shabbat kiddush cup, along with blessings, songs, and family-friendly Shabbat ideas to create your own traditions.
This event is part of Jewish Gateways’ HandsOn Holidays series for children 1-5 and their grownups. Older siblings and babies are welcome, too.

Date: Saturday, November 11
Time: 10:30am-12:00pm
Place: Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley
Cost: $30 per family
Register here.

Patralineal Jews: Navigating the Jewish World & Keeping Your Identity Strong
Are you the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother? At some point in life patrilineal Jews usually are told, “You know you’re not really Jewish, right?” Let’s talk about how to be a confident Jew even if others don’t affirm your identity. Share your stories and ideas with others. Join us for coffee at We’ll offer you an array of approaches for dealing to unwanted comments.

Date: Sunday, Nov. 12
Time: 10:30am to noon
Place: Café Dejena 3939 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland
Free, but preregistration is requested.
Sign up here.

Folktales from Around the World
Join us for a magical storytelling experience with Muriel Johnson, telling folktales related to themes from the current exhibition Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid.

Date: Sunday, November 12
Time: 11:30am-12:00pm
Place: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco
Cost: FREE with regular admission as follows: Members and youth 18 and under, Free; General Admission, $14; Students with a valid ID and Seniors, $12.
http://www.thecjm.org

Community Kristallnacht Commemoration
If you are a bystander and witness a crime, should intervention to prevent that crime be a legal obligation? Or is moral responsibility enough? Law professor Amos Guiora, the former Commander of Israel’s School of Military Law, examines these profound questions from a deeply personal and legal perspective, focusing on the Holocaust and then exploring cases in contemporary society.

Date: Sunday, November 12
Time: 3pm
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Admission is free. Open to the public.
www.bshalom.org
Co-sponsored by the Israel and World Jewry Committee.

Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit
Join us this fall for Berkeley Rep’s new play by Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snicket, that “celebrates ordinary people trying to make sense out of life in the midst of endless, comedic chaos.” The play is described this way,

The genius behind Lemony Snicket brings his relentlessly mischievous style to a new play for adults. Sarah’s father is dead, her mother is in hysterics, and the new rabbi totally bungled the funeral. To further the absurdity, the ghost of a rabbit hops into her life, pushing her to confront her deepest issues. Fantastical and wise, hilarious and sobering.

Jews have often felt that life is chaotic, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. Join Rabbi Chester to reflect on how Judaism makes sense of life that often feels nonsensical.

Date: Thursday, Nov. 16
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost: Free to Temple Sinai members; $10 to the public
Register here.

Peninsula Sinai & Ramah Community Shabbat Dinner
Celebrating Jewish camps!
Join us for a delicious community Shabbat dinner at 6:15 pm co-hosted by Peninula Sinai Congregation and Camp Ramah. This is a great opportunity to learn about and connect with the Ramah community! After dinner, stay for a spirited and music-filled Shabbat Sovev led by our clergy.

Date: Friday, November 17
Time: 6:15pm
Place: Peninsula Sinai Congregation, 499 Boothbay Ave., Foster City
Cost: $5 for non-members, free for members
Please RSVP here
https://www.peninsulasinai.org

November Community Shabbat Dinner
Come celebrate Shabbat!
Prior to Shabbat services, we invite you to come for a potluck dinner. This is a wonderful opportunity to eat great food and connect with the Beth Emek community.
As with many of Beth Emek’s best events, the Community Shabbat Dinner relies on community volunteers for its success. We appreciate all participants helping at the end of the meal by putting away tables and chairs and assisting in kitchen clean-up.
Please RSVP by 3:00 pm on Friday, November 17.
Feel free to bring your own bottle of wine to go with dinner.
Please contact the CBE office if you have any questions at 931-1055.

Date: Friday, November 17
Time: 6:15pm
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Court, Pleasanton
Here is the sign-up sheet for what folks are invited to bring.

Glitter Kabbalat Shabbat and Trans Day of Remembrance & Resistance
Glitter Kehilla invites the community to join us for our annual Shabbat observance that centers and honors the resilience of the trans community and remembers lives lost to anti-trans violence. We will be collecting tzedakah for the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGI Justice Project).

Date: Friday, November 17
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Kehilla Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont
Details here.

A Benefit Performance for North Bay Fire Storm Victims
An Evening of Wine and Music with Award-winning Singer and Songwriter Steve Seskin
Steve Seskin, singer-songwriter and acoustical guitar player, will perform and all proceeds from the evening will go to the Jewish Federation of East Bay North Bay Wildfire Emergency Relief Fund.
“Steve Seskin is an electrifying performer. His voice has a natural lilt that can’t be learned,” writes Joel Selvin in the San Francisco Chronicle; he is “a really exceptional talent,” says Alan Lewis in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. His “presentation is simple, affective, and effective,” writes Jim Carnes in the Sacramento Bee.

Our neighbors in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and other counties in the North Bay, suffered from devastating wildfires with loss of residences and lives. Temple Beth Hillel provides its support to fire victims by donating all the proceeds from the Steve Seskin Benefit concert to the North Bay Wildfire EmergencyRelief Fund. Please join us for an evening of wine and music. Details here.

Date: Saturday, November 18
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Temple Beth Hillel, 801 Park Central (Hilltop exit off I-80), Richmond
Cost: Admission is $18 and any extra amount you would like to donate at the door.
To make your reservations: call 510-223-2560 or email alisby@tbhrichmond.org.

Is Judaism a Religion?
Is Judaism a religion, and if so, how is it similar to, and different from, other religions? Join UCSC Professor Nathaniel Deutsch as he explores when and why Jews, themselves, began to adopt the category of “Judaism” to describe the basis of their collective identity.

Date: Sunday, November 19
Time: 10:00 am
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma, Palo Alto
www.etzchayim.org

Shabbat Hallelu Service
Welcome in Shabbat with joyous singing and music with Elana Jagoda Kaye and the Hallelu Band. Elana Jagoda Kaye is a local star; people love her music. This is a great way to experience Peninsula Temple Beth El.

Date: Fri, December 1
Time: 7:15pm – 8:15pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El, 1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo
http://www.ptbe.org

Making Shabbat Your Own: Shabbat Candlesticks
Come make Shabbat candlesticks from metal foil, discuss how to make the celebration of Shabbat work for yourself or your family, and learn the “Secret of Shabbat!” While discussing Shabbat we will explore lots of options for decorating our candlesticks: emboss lines, attach beads, add color, and cut decorative holes for the light to shine through. No artistic talent or prior knowledge required to create incredible candlesticks. Appropriate for age 8 and up. Join Claire Sherman, artist and mensch for this fun filled workshop.

Date: Dec. 3
Time: 10am to noon
Place: Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley
Cost: $20
Register here

Interfaith Shabbat
with the Islamic Center of North Marin and Mill Valley with keynote speaker Imam Fasih
Last year Rodef Sholom hosted the Islamic Centers of North Marin and Mill Valley for a wonderful service of sharing stories and getting to know our neighbors’ faith. Since then we have joined in each other’s homes for conversations and learning. Imam Fasih serves as Imam for the Islamic Center of North Marin community. He is an active member of the Marin Interfaith Council and travels extensively as a visiting scholar to Muslim communities throughout the United States.

Potluck dinner to follow. Please bring a vegetarian dish for approximately eight to share.

Date: Friday, December 8
Time: 6:15 pm
Place: Rodef Sholom, 170 North San Pedro Rd., San Rafael
https://rodefsholom.org

Chanukah Shabbat w/Mizmor Band
Join us for a special Shabbat service with Chanukah celebration and sing along with our Mizmor Band. Remember to bring your chanukiyah to light!

Date: Friday, December 15
Time: 6pm Oneg and 6:30pm Service
Place: Temple Isaiah, 925 Risa Rd., Lafayette
www.temple-isaiah.org

Hanukkah Celebration
Join our community Hanukkah celebration including music, latkes, arts and crafts, and menorah lighting. This is a child-friendly celebration for people of all ages.

Date: Dec. 15
Time: 6 to 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free
www.oaklandsinai.org

Mizmor Shir! Service Friday Night Live!
A musical Shabbat service featuring Cantor Keys and the Mizmor Shir! musicians which include: piano, guitar, mandolin, flute, saxophone, clarinet, drums and other percussive instruments. This service features congregational melodies and eclectic, contemporary music which compliment the creative service booklet compiled by Rabbi Mates-Muchin specifically for this service.

Date: Dec. 15
Time: 7:30 to 8:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free
www.oaklandsinai.org

Jews of Color: Taking Charge of Your Jewish Identity
It is not unusual for a Jew of color to be asked, “How did you get to be Jewish?” Quite simply the question stems from their appearance, “You don’t look Jewish.”
There are a number of ways that an adult from a biracial Jewish or interfaith family can arm themselves for these micro-aggressions. Join Kim Carter Martinez, the biracial daughter of an African American father and a white Ashkenazi mother. Kim has spent years honing her skills and is pleased to teach others how to own your identity in spite of the doubts of others.

Date: Sunday, Dec. 17
Time: 10am to 11:30am
Place: Temple Beth Abraham, 327 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland
Free, but preregistration is required.
Sign up here.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Community Activities, Holidays, Jewish holidays at home
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Faith Kramer's Cheesecake

Faith Kramer’s Cheesecake

I have a friend who is a food writer and chef. She blogs about food and she writes a food column for the J-weekly (the San Francisco bay area Jewish newspaper). She called me a couple months ago as she was writing her December column to ask, “Is having Christmas and Hanukkah overlap fantastic for interfaith families?” For some families, I told her, it’s fine. But a lot of families have the December dumps and some have told me that they ‘run away to Hawaii’ during the school break so that they won’t have to face the (pick your poison) conflict/sadness/stress/sufit of the December holidays.

“Well, what food would be good for interfaith families this time of year?” Faith asked. She took my feedback and came up with a Mint Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust! You can read her recipe in her December column of the J.

If nothing else studies have shown that chocolate increases serotonin levels in the brain. So you’ll feel better just having a slice!

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas
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blue-balls

Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton shared the following thoughts with his congregation on the overlap of Christmas and Hanukkah this year. He doesn’t just explain how it is that the two holidays can overlap one year but not the next, he explains the different calendars. It’s some pretty useful information. As Americans we often forget that the calendar we use is not really a secular calendar, but rather a Christian calendar that is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582.

When Hanukkah and Christmas Coincide

Okay, this doesn’t happen very often. The first night of Hanukkah happens to fall on Christmas eve this year, December 24.

How unusual? It won’t happen again until 2027, and then it won’t come up again until 2073!

Of course, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap every few years, but the confluence of the beginning of the Jewish and Christian holiday is fairly rare.

Why is that? The holidays operate on two different calendars, and there is no relationship between the two. Even though Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev, and Christmas on the 25th of December, the months of Kislev and December have nothing to do with one another.

The calendar that we commonly think of as the secular calendar (on which today happens to be December 23, 2016) is actually a Christian calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar. It is based on the solar cycle, i.e. it has 365 days a year, plus a correction every four years to make up for the actual solar cycle. If there are 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight today, next year on December 23 there will also be 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight.

The Jewish calendar, however, is a lunar-solar calendar. Every month is a lunar month, with the first day being the new moon. Hanukkah will always begin on a waning crescent moon, near the end of the month of Kislev. Gregorian months, by contrast, have nothing to do with the moon.

Since a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long, while the Gregorian months are 30 or 31 days long, twelve Jewish months wind up being about 12 days shorter than the Gregorian year. The Jewish calendar, therefore, has a correction to get it back in sync with the solar year. That correction is an extra month (Adar I), which gets inserted every two or three years.

For the next couple of years, Hanukkah will move earlier and earlier in December, until we add a leap month, which will push Hanukkah into late December again. The pattern keeps repeating, but the exact days of the respective months don’t sync up very often.

Wondrous? Fascinating? Yes, particularly if you like math and astronomy.

There is a lot to admire and appreciate about the holidays celebrated by other faiths. That Christmas and Hanukkah begin at the same time this year gives us pause to consider what we have to learn from one another. We may not believe the same things, but like the sun and the moon, we are in a kind of dance that goes round and round, shining light each in our own way.

Here’s to the alignment of our cosmic lights!

Happy Hanukkah,

Rabbi Larry Milder

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Christmas, Holidays, Jewish Culture, Jewish Learning
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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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jewsandchristmas

You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
Cost: Free to Beth Emek members, $8 public. No one turned away!
Sign up here or just show up.
www.bethemek.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Christmas, Holidays, Parenting
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emanu-els-dome-horizontal

Here’s autumn! Time to consider what we want to do in the upcoming Jewish year of 5777. Here are all the workshops and classes scheduled from Building Jewish Bridges. I hope you’ll find something you like. As always, feel free to email me (dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org) if you have a topic that you’d like to see offered.

Dawn

The High Holidays…
Do I Want to or Do I Have to?

What is it about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that pulls Jews into the synagogue by the droves? Obligation? Faith? Remembrance? What do these holidays mean? What part do they play in our lives? Should our children miss school to observe these holidays? Join us in a discussion of history and meaning.

Date: Sunday, September 18
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here

Adults from Interfaith Families: A Roundtable Discussion
Join other adults who grew up in an interfaith family to discuss how that went for you and to consider challenges and desires. Do you think of yourself as Jewish? Half Jewish? Jew-ish? Does it annoy you that other Jews want to put their own label on you? Do you have a comfortable relationship with your Jewish community or not? Come share your insights and suggestions with others who have dealt with similar life situations.

Thursday, September 22
7:30 – 9:00 pm
Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Free, please sign up here as we have limited space.

Kim Carter Martinez

Kim Carter Martinez

Being Black, Asian, Danish…and Jewish: Taking Charge of Your Jewish Identity
Adults from interfaith families often have their Jewish identity challenged by both Jews and non-Jews. Having a name that is not perceived as Jewish, like Anderson, Christiansen, O’Toole, or Wong, can lead to questions like, “How did you get to be Jewish?” For biracial Jews the question stems from their appearance, “You don’t look Jewish.”
There are a number of ways that an adult from a biracial or interfaith family can arm themselves for these micro-aggressions. Join Kim Carter Martinez, the biracial daughter of an African American father and a white Ashkenazi mother. Kim has spent years honing her skills and is pleased to teach others how to own your identity in spite of the doubts of others.

Date: Sunday, October 9
Time: 3:00 – 4:30 pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free, but space is limited so reserve your spot here.

Making Shabbat Your Own
Would you like to start doing Shabbat? Do you need an easy way to start or do you want to take your current observance up a notch? Come learn easy steps to create “your” Shabbat. We’ll tell you how to have warm, homemade challah even if you work until 6pm. How to engage children of all ages. Ways to approach teens or other skeptics in your family. As a bonus, we’ll tell you how one simple ritual can improve your child’s and your health, happiness and wellbeing. No kidding!

Date: Sunday, October 30
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here.

2gens-cropped

Raising a Confident Child in an Interfaith Family
A child needs happy, loving parents more than anything else. They also deserve to feel comfortable with their own identity. We’ll come together to discuss what parents are currently doing, what they may want to alter and to talk about planning for your child’s religious traditions.

Date: Thursday, November 10
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12 per couple, $8 per person
Register here.

Double Roots: A Film and Discussion
A young woman with a Jewish mother and a Christian father was raised religiously “nothing.” She was told that “if the Nazis were here, they’d kill you” and that was the extent of her Jewish education. Decades later she went out to learn what others with one Jewish parent had been taught and how their lives were similar or different from her own. When asked, “Why did you make this film of interviews with adults from interfaith families she replied, “I wanted our voices to be heard.”
Please join us to hear these voices as they were interviewed and to hear from some of the interviewees about their lives today.

Date: Thursday, December 1
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Place: Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont
Free, please sign up here.

To Tree or Not to Tree: What Will We do for the Holidays?
You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
www.bethemek.org
Register here

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Chanukah, Children, Christmas, High Holidays, Jewish holidays at home, Jews of Color, Parenting, Programs archive, Shabbat
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Christmakah

You may have heard me tell this story because it had a deep impact on me – years ago in a workshop a non-Jewish wife told me that she waited all year for Christmas. She described herself as “a pressure cooker waiting to let off steam.” She recounted her love of the rituals of Christmas. She didn’t identify as Christian and she had considered conversion but she felt deeply attached to Christmas and her annual festive BANG.

It didn’t seem to me that she needed to convert; I thought she needed to have more than one day, one season, of celebration. Since she was married to a Jewish man and raising her children Jewish I suggested that she try adding the observance of Jewish holidays. I conjectured that her husband might be more engaged and participatory and that that would improve her celebrations/holidays quota. I even suggested she try Shabbat.

Two years later I saw her in the lobby of a JCC. She dashed to my side and in glowing terms told me that she had indeed begun observing Jewish holidays including Shabbat. She felt that her needs for ritual, spirituality and celebration were being met at last.

I have never forgotten that image of a pressure cooker. How very hard to have to “save up” your emotions for one holiday. What if this year Christmas doesn’t live up to your expectations and needs? I know that there are lots of people in danger of that happening. If you have set your heart on a bang-up Christmas please identify a few easy to accomplish activities. You might even plan them for after Christmas. You could have:

A games night with your kids & friends
A sing-along
A cookie bake-athon
A volunteer day at an animal shelter
A walk in the woods
A drive through the most Christmas decorated blocks in your town
Go out to dinner and a movie
Watch an old, beloved movie in pjs with popcorn.

Do one or more of these things with people that you love. Being with loved ones perks up any day of the year.

I wish you a Merry Christmas if you celebrate Christmas and to those who don’t, you can still schedule one or more of these activities.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Christmas, Community Activities, Couples, Holidays
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