Rosh Hashanah banner

Well, this is it – September. The Jewish year really ramps up! High Holidays are just around the corner, kids go back to school and we all go into our work mode. As we approach those Days of Awe let me remind you, please don’t think that High Holy Day services are the time to first expose your non-Jewish sweetheart to a Jewish religious service. Yes, there are the 3 people in the world for whom that worked (I’ll probably get an email from you) but the rest of the non-Jewish world DOESN’T like these extra long, extra religious services. Heck, lots of Jews don’t like them either but they go because they “have to.” Wait, they have to? Are the High Holy Day police cruising the streets looking for Jews? No, and most Jews can’t really tell you why they have to go, they just feel it. As one 20-something told me, “It would just be weird to not be in services on those days. That’s where all the Jews are. That’s just where I want to be on those days.”

Let me offer a different service choice for first timers – S’lichot. S’lichot is a late night service that brings to a close the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. I love it. My synagogue begins with a Havdalah service outdoors. From there we move inside where there is food (of course), and have a teaching on the High Holidays in the sanctuary. After that, the clergy leave to change into the white robes they will wear throughout the Days of Awe. We, the congregants, change the Torah scrolls from their usual Shabbat coverings to the special white covers. The clergy returns robed in white and lead a late night service.

It all has a wonderful warm and mystical feeling. The night, the ceremony, the soft lights, the music. I suggest you try that for a first timer.

Tot Shabbat (Walnut Creek)
Everything You Always Wondered about Torah Study (Palo Alto)
Blessing Etz’s Petz and Ice Cream Social (Palo Alto)
La Shuk by Omanoot (San Francisco)
Spiritual Preparation for the High Holidays (Walnut Creek)
The Pornography of Pain (San Jose)
Shabbat Yafe (Berkeley)
Chardonnay Shabbat (Palo Alto)
Shabbat Pizza Party for Families with Young Children (Pleasanton)
DIY Judaism: Jewish Greetings Cards (Oakland)
Re-Emergence: The Jews of Nigeria (Oakland)
Introduction to Judaism (San Francisco)
After the Play: Degenerate, Forbidden, Suppressed: Music (Berkeley)
Discussion series for Interfaith/Intercultural Couples (Berkeley)

Tot Shabbat
Tot Shabbat is a warm and friendly Shabbat experience with music, storytelling, and simple prayers for the littlest ones in our community. After Tot Shabbat, we’ll enjoy a simple pizza dinner* together, and at 6:30pm will move into our family service, for older children and the rest of the community. Kids will find that the service feels familiar and accessible, including a story told by special guests that you won’t want to miss.
Following this 6:30pm service, we’ll enjoy Oneg Shabbat including back to school treats for all the kids!
*Pizza dinner will begin at 6pm. To join us for dinner, please send your check for $10 adults / $5 children (5 – 12) to the Temple Office. RSVPs appreciated no later than Wednesday, September 3. Please be sure to let us know of any allergies.

Date: Sept. 5
Time: 5:30pm
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
Call the office if you have any questions – 925-933-5397.

Everything You Always Wondered about Torah Study, but Didn’t Know to Ask
Join Rabbi Ari Cartun for an introduction to this quintessential Jewish practice.

Date: Saturday September 6
Time: 9:00am
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma St, Palo Alto

Blessing Etz’s Petz and Ice Cream Social
Connect and Reconnect with Shorashim friends. Bring a photo of your pet for the Giant Pet Collage. Learn a new
blessing just for pets! Come to the special PJ Library Story Corner. Another great chance to bring friends to see just how much fun we have at Etz!

Date: Saturday, September 6
Time: 3:00 – 4:30pm
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma St, Palo Alto

La Shuk by Omanoot
Here’s a fun and creative way to support Israel and Israeli artists! Presenting Omanoot’s first ever pop-up event in San Francisco. Please come support emerging Israeli artists, photographers, illustrators, jewelers and designers.
Omanoot means ‘art’ in Hebrew. Omanoot is a cultural e-commerce site and education portal that is committed to connecting the world to Israel’s vibrant culture and arts.

Date: Sunday, September 7
Time: 1:00 to 7:00pm
Place: Firehouse 8, 1648 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco
More info here.

Spiritual Preparation for the High Holidays
Join in our series of three hour-long sessions devoted to preparing for the coming holidays. Themes will range from the messages of our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Torah and Haftarah readings, to ways in which the music and liturgy complement each other, to themes of change and beginning again, and how they personally affect us. (Rabbi Gutterman will lead the first and third sessions. Cantor Chabon and Rabbi Gutterman will lead the second one together.)

Dates: Tuesday September 9 at 7:30pm
Sunday September 14 at 11:00am
Saturday September 20 at 7:30pm.
(This last meeting will be followed by dessert and Havdallah, leading into our Selichot service.)
Place: B’nai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way | Walnut Creek

The Pornography of Pain: How the Media Promotes Violence and Hinders Peace in the Middle East
Presented by Hillel of Silicon Valley
In his talk on media policies of going for the “juicy story”, Aryeh Green will speak about media portrayal of the Middle East, and how it does more to hinder the peace process, than help it. Aryeh Green, originally from Menlo Park and a UC Berkeley grad, has been on the front lines promoting human rights and peace in the Middle East for 30 years. Today the head of MediaCentral in Jerusalem, he has served as a senior advisor to Israeli minister Natan Sharansky and in management positions in some of Israel’s leading companies. A frequent visitor to the Bay Area, Aryeh offers an insider’s view of current developments in Israel and the region, and is a captivating and knowledgeable speaker; his talks with Q&A always inform and inspire. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Yael at (408) 775-7534 or

Date: Wednesday, September 10
Time: 6:00pm
Place: Duncan Hall Room 351, San Jose State University, San Jose

Shabbat Yafe
Celebrate Shabbat together with an all-ages service & spirited song-leading! This month’s theme is K’hillah K’dosha, Holy Community. Here’s the schedule —
5:00 pm Tot Shabbat (geared to preschool families)
5:30 pm Catered Dinner: (Sign up for dinner here
6:15 pm Community-Wide Service
7:00 pm Oneg and Board Games

Date: September 12
Time: 5:00pm
Place: Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley
Cost: $10/household in advance; $15 at the door

Chardonnay Shabbat
Come celebrate the end of summer with us and discover what makes our community so special. Enjoy refreshing wines/other drinks, tasty appetizers, and relaxed , interesting chats. Families with children 3-9 years are welcome. We will have snacks and activities for the kids with teens to give the adults time to schmooze.

Date: Friday, September 12
Time: 6:30 pm
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma St, Palo Alto

Shabbat Pizza Party for Families with Young Children
All young families with children ages 0-5 and their older siblings are invited for a Shabbat pizza party. This will be a very relaxed evening where kids can play and their parents can enjoy each others’ company.
We’ll begin the evening by singing Shabbat songs with Rabbi Milder. Then, following the pizza dinner, there will toys out for the little ones and crafts and board games for their older siblings.

Date: Saturday, September 13
Time: 5:00pm
Place: Congregation Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Court, Pleasanton
Cost: Each family is asked to contribute $20 at the door to cover the cost of pizza, salad, fruit and dessert.
For more information, contact Lisa Kama, Pre-K Youth Chair, at

DIY Judaism: Jewish Greetings Cards
Hallmark shops don’t have cards for Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot. When it comes to the December holidays, can Jews send greeting cards in December? Should they be Chanukah cards? Can they send Christmas cards? What about solstice cards or those annual update letters? Join Dawn Kepler to discuss Seasons Greetings questions and make your own special Holiday cards while we talk. PLUS we’ll have some card fixings to make your own unique cards for Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Purim!

We will meet in a private home in Oakland. Children 10 and older may enroll at half price with their parent.

Date: Sunday September 14
Time: 2 to 4pm
Place: Private home in Oakland
Cost: $10
Register here

Re-Emergence: The Jews of Nigeria
Film Showing & talk by David Tobis about bringing a Torah to the Igbo Jews of Abuja, Nigeria
Thirty million Igbos live in Nigeria. Many consider themselves to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. At least 3000 of the Igbos are practicing Jews. They have come to Judaism in the past quarter of a century though some believe their Jewish roots go back to the bible. Re-emergence describes the Igbo’s Jewish communities, the hundreds of overlaps between Jewish and Igbo customs and practices, and their desire to be part of the larger Jewish community.
After the film, David Tobis, who is working in Nigeria and befriended the Igbo Jewish community, will speak about his experiences. He is working to repair a Torah in New York City and have it brought to Abuja.

Date: Sunday, September 14
Time: 10:00 am – Noon
Place: Temple Beth Abraham, 327 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland
For more information contact: Rayna Arnold, 510-832-0936

Confusion and Clarity in Zippori:
A 3rd Century Talmud Conversation with actress/educator Joyce Klein
Join us for an interactive dramatic presentation set in the House of Study in Zippori during the time of the Mishna when a seamstress comes looking for advice and guidance.

Date: Sunday, September 14
Time: 1:00 pm
Place: Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma St, Palo Alto
Cost: $10 at the door.

After the Play:
Degenerate, Forbidden, Suppressed: Music and Otherness in Fascist Europe

You liked it so I did it again. Here’s another class with a Berkeley Rep play!
This fall, the Berkeley Rep presents An Audience with Meow Meow, about an international singing sensation and uber-award winning comedienne. This workshop explores music as a “degenerate” art form. The attitudes displayed by European fascist regimes (especially Italy, Germany, and Vichy France, from the early 1920’s to the end of WW2) towards musical cultures of the “other” — including Jewish, Romani, North African, and African American music, as well as cabaret and popular song — ranged from unambiguous condemnation and suppression, to more nuanced tolerance and even inclusion. This class will examine Fascist rules about music, examples including Brecht and Weill’s musical theater, Django Reinhardt’s “Gypsy Jazz,” Italian adaptation of American blues and jazz, and traditional music in colonial North Africa, exploring myths and facts about music history in the early 20th century.

Whether you take the class to prepare to see the play or as post play expansion, you’ll love the wild ride through degenerate music!
Info and play tickets here

Date: Wednesday, September 17
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Place: Lehrhaus, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12
Register for the class here.

Introduction to Judaism
Fall: Seasons of Joy
Join with Emanu-El clergy to learn about the breadth and wonder of Jewish tradition. This class is a pathway for the adult learner who wishes to discover or deepen Jewish knowledge, non-Jews who are marrying a Jewish partner, and those who are considering conversion to Judaism.
Intro to Judaism meets on Tuesday evenings over three trimesters and has rolling admission. A student can begin in any of the trimesters. Trimesters do not have to be completed in a particular order.

Date: Tuesdays, October 7, 21, 28; November 4, 11, 18; December 2, 9
Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Place: Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, San Francisco
Cost: Emanu-El Member $18; non-member $25 (per trimester)
One-time book fee: $65 (for members and non-members)
Register here.

Discussion series for Interfaith/Intercultural Couples
Interfaith couples get it – this is going to take some discussion, some compromise. But what exactly is ‘fair’? Can each of us get what we want and that will be OK for our kids? Then there’s our parents, grandparents, and siblings – how do we get them on board with our choices?
There’s a step-by-step process of breaking down the parts of this puzzle and finding out what you want and how to go about getting it. Join us! This may surprise you but it will actually be enjoyable! Groups form year round.
8 Sessions
Exchange ideas about such issues as:
Holiday Observances – Which holidays will be celebrated in our home?
Dealing With Our Families – How will we talk to our parents about our choices?
Raising Children – How can we make sure our child is “part” of each of us?
Spiritual Concerns – How do we satisfy our needs and recognize our Partner’s?
Cultural Differences – How do communication styles and familial expectations impact our relationship?

This is one of the most meaningful and powerful things you can do for your relationship. I encourage every couple to participate in a couples group.

Dates: 6 Tuesdays, Oct. 14, 21, 28, Nov. 4, 11, 28. Plus one social gathering to be arranged with the group.
Time: 7:30 to 9pm
Cost: $120/couple
There is a sliding scale. NO ONE turned away. Tell me you work evenings, tell me you can’t get a babysitter, but don’t tell me it’s the money because we can make it work.
Register here

Posted by admin under Community Activities, High Holidays, Introduction to Judaism, Spirituality
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boy with star resized

Interfaith Couples Raising Children:
Identity for Your Child & Your Home

Three Workshops, come to one or come to all of them

Choosing a religious identity for your child is often feels like the hardest decision an interfaith couple faces. If both of you are attached to your religious/cultural heritage you may have gotten stuck in a circular conversation that nobody wins. How can you get free and make a decision?
Or, perhaps you have made a decision, Christian or Jewish.* If only one of you is attached to your faith tradition it may be easy to pick that tradition. But having done so, what comes next?

What Religion Will We Pick for our Child? We Can’t Decide
Couples want to be fair to each other, but what if both feel strongly about their own tradition? What about doing both? How would that work? In this workshop we’ll discuss tools for making a decision, key elements to consider and how to test out your choice.

One of Us is Jewish but We’ve Chosen Christianity, Now What?
The Christian spouse knows how to ‘do’ Christianity and is supported in this by our American Christian culture, but you may still want to introduce a concept of Jewish heritage to your child. We’ll discuss how to offer the concept of Jewish roots without disrupting your child’s Christian identity.

Raising a Jewish Child in an Interfaith Home
You’ve made the big decision – we’ll raise our child(ren) as Jews. Now what? Does this mean no Christmas or Easter? How do we interact with our non-Jewish family’s holidays? What synagogue should we join and how can we ask for specific support in our process? Is a lot of the effort falling on a non-Jewish woman who doesn’t have a gut feeling for Judaism; how can she be supported? Let’s talk about how to integrate non-Jewish family and their holiday expectations, what to say to parents and siblings, what you can expect from a synagogue community and how to support the non-Jewish parent.

*If the non-Jewish spouse is not Christian but a different minority religion like Hindi or Buddhist, a different set of issues arise. Living with two minority religions in America presents its own challenges.

Come to one or the entire series.
Sundays, Nov. 2, 9, 16
3pm to 4:30pm
Peninsula JCC, 800 Foster City Blvd, Foster City
Cost: Series of three sessions: $25 for members of the sponsoring organizations; $30 for the public
Individual session: $10 to members of the sponsoring organizations; $12 to the public.
Register here.

Co-sponsored by Peninsula Jewish Community Center, Peninsula Temple Beth El, Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Peninsula Temple Sholom.

Posted by admin under Children, Couples, Parenting, Past Programs, Spirituality
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sleeping child from British website

A prayer before bedtime
A Christian mom on this list told me that she was raised saying a prayer before bedtime. In thinking over the prayer she realized that there was nothing about Jesus, nothing anti-Jewish in it and began saying it with her own children. She loves having something from her own childhood that she sharing with her kids.

Here’s the prayer she uses:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray dear Lord my soul to keep
Please help me be the best I can be
Please watch over our family
Thanks for all you’ve give me; Please forgive me for all I’ve done wrong.

Note from Mom: “and then I go into specific prayers for people I hope feel better, etc.”

Which brings us to some questions I get, “Do Jews say a prayer before bed?” “Do Jews have a prayer for sick people?” “Do Jews believe in angels?”

The prayer traditionally said before bedtime is the Sh’ma. Cantor Ilene Keys, of Temple Sinai in Oakland and the mother of three, suggests this version of the Sh’ma before bed:
Blessed are You our God, who casts sleep upon my eyes and slumber upon my eyelids. May You lay me down to sleep in peace and raise me up in peace. Blessed are You who illuminates the entire world with Your Glory.
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
God of Israel, may Michael be at my right, Gabriel at my left, Uriel before me and Raphael behind me; and above my head the Presence of God, Sh’chinat El.

Who, you may ask are Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael? They are angels. Michael traditionally represents God’s love; Gabriel, God’s strength; Uriel, God’s light; and Raphael, God’s healing. There’s a lovely song about the Angels of Israel that I used to sing to my children when they were little. It has a sleepy tune and a reassuring message.

What about praying for sick people? Yes, congregations traditionally chant or sing a prayer asking for a complete healing after reciting the names of those who are ill, the prayer is called the “Mi Sheberach.”

There’s a small paperback book called,

    Thank You, God! A Jewish Child’s Book of Prayers

, that has brief prayers for children in English, Hebrew and transliteration. You can get it at your local Jewish bookstore or go online to the publisher, Kar-Ben Publishing at or call 800-452-7236.

There is a Shabbat CD for the little ones, Shabbat Shalom! Jewish Children’s Songs & Blessings for Shabbat
It is aimed at preschoolers and offers non-Jewish (and Jewish parents) an easy way to learn bedtime songs. It is from URJ Press. (That’s Union for Reform Judaism’s publishing arm.)

Shabbat Shalom CD from URJ

Posted by admin under Books, Children, God, Parenting, Spirituality
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Friendly faces

Friendly faces

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

Student home from college sings on the bema

Student home from college sings on the bema

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Finding a Synagogue, Spirituality
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Bees know their job

Bees know their job

​The ​concept of ‘chosen-ness’ really messes with some people’s minds. Let’s clear it up so we can be productive.

I read a drash​/teaching​ by a friend for the parshah Kedoshim​ (teaching on a section of the Jewish bible)​. He said:

The Parshah of Kedoshim begins with the statement, ​’​You shall be holy, for I, the L‑rd your G‑d, am holy.​’​ This is followed by dozens of mitzvot (Divine commandments) through which the Jew​ ​sanctifies him- or herself and relates to the holiness of G‑d.

I have underlined the part that held my attention. ​My understanding is that​ ​b​y performing the mitzvot Jews set them​ apart and become holy AS JEWS, not as Christians, not as Sufi, but as Jews.​ Other religious traditions have other rules and understandings of how they are to relate to God’s demands on them. They have their own contract with the Eternal. The mitzvot are the Jews’ contract. This is how I see ‘choseness.’

Thus, every person, every tradition​,​ has been chosen for something. The goal in life is not to worry about what someone else’s job is but to clarify what YOUR job is. And then do it.

Please don’t waste any energy worrying that someone thinks they are better than someone else. At the end of the day, who cares if they think they are so hot? You are here for one brief shining life. Get to work identifying what you are here to accomplish.

One of my favorite sayings is from Rabbi Tarfon who said, “You are not required to complete the task, nor are you free to desist from it.”

Feeling anxious about this concept? Feel free to email or call me.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Non-Jewish family, Spirituality
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boy with star resized

More questions from my Mixed and Matched column in the J-Weekly.

My husband is not Jewish; I am. Neither of us is very religious, but we are spiritual. Our kids are 3 and 5, and we can’t figure out what to do about religion. We want them to understand both of us and our backgrounds. We love the idea of a moral teaching that supports our values. Right now we do Christmas and paint eggs at Easter. We have a menorah most of the nights of Hanukkah and we go to my parents’ for a Passover seder. But I feel like we aren’t really committed to any tradition. That just seems lame to me. — Otherwise Happy Mom

Dear Mom: There are hundreds of families like yours who are trying to figure out what to do. You are not alone. Let’s explore what’s going on for your family.

You state that neither you nor your husband is very religious, but you are spiritual. What does that mean? This is a very common claim in America and perhaps especially in the Bay Area. I find that when I press individuals to define this idea, usually it means they have a sense of something greater than we as mortals, a belief in the universal moral teachings of all religions, a weak understanding of their own religious tradition and a dislike of “organized religion.”

Unfortunately, religious instruction for most Americans, and certainly for most American Jews, ends in adolescence. That leaves many of us with a 14-year-old’s understanding of our religion. Imagine what your marriage would be like if you had a 14-year-old’s understanding of sex!

Do you really know what is being taught at synagogue? Today’s synagogues teach the importance of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, supporting equal rights for all; they urge people not to gossip, treat elders with respect, care for little children and be sure to vote. These are all values that I’m betting you and your husband support wholeheartedly. The most common myth is that religion causes war. I won’t give you a history lesson right now, but suffice to say, no synagogue, church or mosque in America has a personal army.

If you want your children to have a spiritual education, a religious institution is the place where you will be supported in that effort. Just the way you will use teachers, coaches and aunts to create a community of shared values, you can use rabbis, ministers and religious school teachers to build a community of shared values and spiritual perspectives.

You are absolutely right that your children need to know who each of their parents is and where they come from. But that message should be delivered from the child’s perspective. They are not mini extensions of you and your partner; they are whole beings who carry a part of you in them.

This means that the first thing to determine is not, who are Daddy and Mommy, but who is Junior? What identity are you giving your children? This will be the basis for their understanding. Let’s say you have a son; you will talk to him as a boy, not as a variation of your female identity. So, too, if you give your children a Jewish identity, they will understand their Dad’s non-Jewish identity as belonging to him and being connected to them.

Years of working with adults who grew up in interfaith homes have convinced me that a half-and-half identity is not reassuring for a child. The brain reaches full size between ages 25 and 30. At that point, a human is able to do complex gray thinking. During the years we are raising our kids, they are predominantly black-and-white thinkers. The world around them will define them as Jewish or not. Their peers will need to categorize them as part of their own mental development. I suggest you decide on a single religious identity for your children and then integrate the additional heritage under the dominant identity.

To get started, begin a discussion with your spouse about your own identities, how you want your child to self-identify and what traditions could support your family. This can feel like a big task. An easy way to have this all laid out for you is to attend an interfaith-intercultural couples discussion group.

Originally published in the J-Weekly Feb. 6, 2014. You can see readers’ replies on their website here.

Posted by admin under Children, Mixed & Matched, Parenting, Spirituality
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In my January 2014 column, Mixed and Matched, I shared a letter from a Jewish Dad who felt his wife was not doing enough to raise his children as Jews. After reading the article a gentleman who is the non-Jewish husband in a couple who has participated in my programs wrote a very astute article expressing his thoughts as they have developed on this topic. Here is Peter Gardner’s article.

Peter Gardner

You can read a non-Jewish Mother’s thoughts here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, In the News, Parenting, Spirituality
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Alef Bet

In January 2014 my Mixed and Matched column addressed the concerns a Jewish Dad had about his wife’s ‘failure’ to raise the kids Jewish. Many people reacted to the article with some anger at his failure to take responsibility for raising his own children. But some non-Jewish spouses had other thoughts.

One non-Jewish mother had this to say:

I agree that the Dad needs to get more involved but I would not want him to necessarily “lead the way”. I am not Jewish but am raising my children Jewish. I don’t take a back seat to my Jewish family members and would not want them to “lead the way” in my children’s spiritual upbringing. I think instead it is important for the non-Jewish parent (who has agreed to have a Jewish home) to determine how best to embrace Judaism in a way that resonates personally with him/her.

In fact, I chose the Jewish preschool that felt most comfortable to me. I chose our temple. I go to the schools to spin dreidles and host parties for the Jewish holidays. I have one chance to raise my children and their spirituality is important enough to me that I want a central role in guiding my children (rather than deferring that to others). That is why, when I learn of Jewish traditions, I determine which ones are meaningful to me and have the most parallels with my own upbringing. And then I embrace these traditions and weave them into the fabric of the family that my husband and I are building, together.

I would suggest that the husband ask his wife what spiritual traditions were meaningful to her growing up. For instance, did she say a certain prayer? Can she weave elements of this prayer into Shabbat? Make date nights to go to services and let her choose the temple that feels best to her.

As you point out, his wife agreed to raise their children in a religion that is somewhat foreign to her. As much as possible, he should let her take the lead in defining elements of a Jewish life that resonate with her—including choosing a temple and adopting meaningful traditions. I believe this is the surest way for her to embrace Judaism, and therefore their family to embrace Judaism.

Every couple will have their own approach to raising their children. Just be sure that you and your partner are openly discussing both your desires.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, In the News, Jewish holidays at home, Jewish Learning, Parenting, Spirituality
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Tony Kushner’s new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures

Intelligent Homosexual

This spring, Berkeley Rep presents Tony Kushner’s new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
In this play Kushner uses one argumentative family to explore some of the major questions of life. What is a meaningful life? What if you are disappointed at the end of your life? How do we deal with the uncontrollable and constant changes? Is suicide a valid choice?
None of these issues are new. Jewish wisdom, in particular Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, has addressed these questions, often leaving the reader still unsure of whether to be comforted by simple pleasures or tormented by the meaninglessness of human existence. Put on your philosopher’s cap and join Rabbi Chester to discuss little things, like the meaning of life.

Date: Thursday, May 29
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Place: Lehrhaus Judaica, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Cost: $12
Register here

When you register you will receive a special discount code that you can use when purchasing your ticket.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Jewish Learning, Past Programs, Programs archive, Spirituality
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Michella Ore wrote a wonderful article for JVibe, a now out-of-print Jewish teen magazine, back in the spring of 2009. I contacted her recently to ask if I could reprint her article. I also asked her to give us an update on how her decisions were turning out for her. As a biracial daughter of interfaith parents she had decided to officially convert. First, here’s her 2009 story.

Catholic to Kugel
I had always thought about going to synagogue. But it wasn’t until a year-and-a-half ago that I stepped foot in one for the first time. I was 12. Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., was warm and spacious–not like the cold pews I was used to sitting in during services. That night I stayed for the Shabbat service, and when it ended, my dad introduced me to the congregation. We joined them for Kiddush, and met some of the kids.
Being in a new environment was a scary thing. Everyone had obviously known one another for a long time, and I was just meeting them for the first time. I was shy about starting new chapter in my life, but I decided that I would come back and give it a try.
You see, I’m Catholic. My mom is an African-American Christian, and my dad is a mixture of Nigerian, Native American, Russian and German–and is Jewish by birthright. After years of attending a Catholic school, I realized that Judaism allowed me to question things in ways that Catholicism did not. Judaism offered me the opportunity to learn from the Scripture but also to question it. During my elementary years in Catholic school, I had always questioned whether Jesus was the son of God. I felt that we are children of God and that no one person should be singled out as more God-given than the rest.

Learn Fast
After more than a year, I still learn new things at synagogue every week. When I’m not able to go to services, I read the weekly Torah portion. I have also been attending a bat mitzvah prep class on Sundays in which we discuss Jewish women and their influences on the Torah.
In the beginning of my process of conversion, I had to learn how to read Hebrew. It was tough at first, but not being able to sing along in services was motivation to learn. I got help from a friend at Netivot Shalom, who taught me the basics. I also studied on my own, and now I can keep up with services and sing the psalms and prayers myself. But the most difficult thing has been studying religious texts and balancing my regular schoolwork. Add to that my extracurriculars and social life, and you have a pretty busy 14-year-old!
There were times when I was frustrated with Hebrew and days of religious observance when I had to decide whether to go to school or to synagogue. When I decided to go to school, I was questioned about what’s more important. I have since learned that religion and education are equally important, and I need to find a balance so I can get what I need from both.

Faking It
The process has not been smooth sailing. People have sometimes called me a “fake Jew.” Because of my mixed heritage, I’ve been told I don’t look Jewish–I’ve even been questioned about how I could possibly be Jewish. To me, stating that I’m a Jew should be enough information. I believe there’s no such thing as a fake Jew. The term is usually directed toward converts and those whose mothers aren’t Jewish, but I feel as much of a Jew as anyone. If you are a Jew at heart, you’re Jewish–period. As future generations are born, fewer Jews will still look like the “stereotypical” Jew.
Converting is important to me because I want to officially be confirmed as a Jew. I want to be acknowledged throughout the world as a Jew, without a doubt from anyone. Converting will state on paper what I have felt all along. Being Jewish is more than a religion to me; it’s a way of life. People say that being Jewish is just a religion, but it’s more than that. I know atheistic Jews who don’t believe in God but still consider themselves Jews. I have learned that Jews don’t just read the Torah, they live by it. And this is one of the reasons I was drawn closer to the religion and the culture.

It’s My Life
I hope the conversion process teaches me what it means to be a Jew, including the many devastating events Jews have experienced so I can share that pain and support with those who need help. I want to have a Jewish household when I grow up and pass along the teachings to my children. Along the way, I may even gain a thicker skin–after hearing that I don’t “look” Jewish, I hope to learn how to ignore negative comments and instead focus on my goals.
In January, I flew to Boston (my first time on an airplane!) for an event run by The Curriculum Initiative –a Jewish educational organization serving independent high schools. I was uneasy about the people I was going to meet during the weekend. From what little I had heard, East Coast Jews aren’t that tolerant of “diverse” Jews. So when I arrived and saw that the event was being led by an African-American Jew, I was pleasantly surprised. While I was in Boston, I met many types of Jews from different ethnicities who had diverse views on politics. The trip stripped me of my ignorance and reinforced my decision to convert.
Throughout this intense process I have learned that we must follow what we know is best for ourselves, even if other people don’t see it that way. I haven’t had everyone’s support, but I know it’s the right answer for me.

* * *
I asked Michella how life has been in the past 5 years. She replied:

I completed my conversion in 2009. I had my bat mitzvah when I was 16. I’ve felt pretty great since then and I’m almost 20. My school doesn’t have a huge Jewish presence on campus but I try to attend events when I can. While, I was in high school I attended Berkeley Midrasha for four years and went to shul at least once a month.

Being a multiracial Jew doesn’t really impact my activities. People seem positively intrigued when they find out I’m Jewish and I don’t feel the need to explain how – as I thought I would years ago.

In regards to words of wisdom, I would say follow what you feel is right. I chose to learn more about Judaism because of my dad’s lineage but that isn’t what compelled me to go through the conversion. I did it because I felt a personal connection to Judaism (the appreciation of questioning and digging beneath the surface in particular attracted me) and wanted to continue along that path.

Hope this helps!

Michella Ore

Now a student at Williams College in MA, Michella told me she hopes her story will support other young people who are curious and want to explore Judaism.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Conversion, In their own words, Jews of Color, Spirituality
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