Burning house from Pixabay

Burning house from Pixabay

When terrible things happen we want our spiritual leaders to find meaning in what seems meaningless. Rabbi Steve Chester recently sent this message to his congregation of Temple Israel. He leans more on actions than on faith. Maybe you feel that way also.

The last few months have been very difficult ones for many of us. Natural disasters seem to be running rampant. Hurricanes in Florida, Houston and Puerto Rico have killed a number of people and left thousands homeless. Fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties also have killed people and left thousands homeless. If this is not enough, human beings have perpetrated horrendous deeds. The massacre in Las Vegas; the mowing down of those in Manhattan; the recent shooting in the church in Texas. Hundreds are dead or wounded. We as a society are reeling because of these events. These tragedies, whether caused by natural forces or human forces cause us to ask many questions-some of the most frequent being “Why did God let this happen; Where was God when these events were happening; or did God have anything to do with these events.” “Were people so bad that God was punishing us in the same way God punished Noah’s generation?”

I recently read an article that attempted to answer these age old questions.The article, in brief, did not give AN answer, but gave many answers. These answers ranged from the most traditional: the people affected by these events, or at least many of them, were leading lives full of sin and thus God punished them through these horrific acts of nature or of humans in order to make them change their ways; to the non-religious response: God had nothing to do with this; to many beliefs in between. Depending on one’s theology, so went the answer.

What do I answer when people ask me what God’s role in this tragic events was? My answer is based on the approach taken by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his famous book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I agree with him when he says that God is not the cause of the act or event itself, but that God is in the response-in the response of human beings. God was found-was acting through those who risked their lives to save others as the winds roared, the waters rose, the fires raged and the bullets struck. God was in the many people who rushed to volunteer to help the hundreds of thousands who suffered losses of all kinds. God was in all who sent money to get food, medicine and shelter to those whose lives were filled with fear and suffering after each event. God is present when we do Godly deeds. God is present when we become partners with God to help those in need. God is present when we strive to do God’s work of repairing our broken world.

So, where was God in the horrible happenings in the past few months? God was there in the work that we did, in the help we gave, in the prayers we delivered. We are created in God’s image: as God is merciful, so are we to be merciful; as God is caring, so are we to be caring; as God is comforting, so are we to be comforting. May we continue to be merciful, caring and comforting as we do God’s work here on earth.

Rabbi Chester
Temple Israel in Alameda

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Have you ever felt out of step with those around you? Sometimes, even among those we love most, we feel “different.” I witnessed several experiences of that this week. In the first, I read Cantor Jennie Chabon‘s beautiful drash, “Is God the one thing?

Jennie Chabon singing

When my brother was in college, he and his friends began what became a years-long search for one thing-one place, one food, one anything- that everyone in the world either loves or hates. No one can be neutral about it or it doesn’t count. He would ask this question whenever he was hanging out with new people, to see if someone could come up with an answer.

New York? That has to be a place that people either love or hate. But no, it turns out that some people have neutral feelings about NYC.

Anchovies? I am firmly planted in the hate category with anchovies, but apparently some people could take them or leave them.

Camping? That is such a love-hate activity! I love camping, but I certainly know people who can’t stand it. Alas, some people like it just fine.

My brother and his friends never did find their one thing, and over time the question stopped being very interesting. But I have found myself thinking about it again lately as we have been diving into interfaith work here at Congregation B’nai Tikvah.

We have had two interfaith dialogues over the past several weeks, the first with members of the United Church of Christ in Orinda, the second with members of the Sam Ramon Valley Islamic Center. These two communities are obviously very different from each other–one Protestant, one Muslim–but there was one striking similarity between them: a love of God is at the center of their communities and their faith.

As liberal Jews, we are taught that belief in God is an optional part of our spiritual and cultural identity. You don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish, or even to be an observant Jew. I have clergy friends who don’t believe in God and who were outspoken about their atheism in seminary. They are happily serving congregations and leading prayers that praise God week after week, even though they don’t actually believe what they are saying. For them, God is a magnificent character in the greatest story ever told.

This concept is absolutely unfathomable to a Muslim or a Christian. God IS their faith. Which makes me wonder, would Christians and Muslims say that God is the answer to my brother’s question? Is God the one thing, the one being about whom no one has ambivalent feelings?

I think the reason I love doing interfaith work is this: when I spend time with people of other faiths, people who are unashamed of their love of God, I feel like I fit in in a way that I don’t among liberal Jews. I was at an ice cream parlor yesterday with my son, when I noticed a young couple walk in together, hand in hand. Around the girl’s neck was a large key chain with “I love Jesus” written all the way around it. My heart sang for that girl and her shameless faith.

It’s true that we are not a people that publicizes our Judaism or proselytizes in any way. That caution has grown out of centuries of needing to protect ourselves. But sometimes, I wish I could shout out my faith like that girl with her ice cream cone. I wish I could exclaim my love of God without feeling like I need to defend it to my own people.

When Jews believe in God they are often assumed to be fundamentalists. Most likely, they are not. Why? Because highly educated Jews don’t believe there is ONE way to interpret or experience God. Don’t let someone who lacks knowledge to make you feel bad. Take a look at the book, Finding God: Selected Responses, by Rabbi Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme. The book was originally titled, Finding God: Ten Jewish Responses.

* * *

PJ Our Way logo

My second experience was during a discussion of a PJ Library book with 9 and 10 year olds. We were talking about Confessions of a Closet Catholic, a book for PJ My Way kids. The kids were puzzled and then pleased as they realized that each of their families does Judaism a bit differently. I think that being young and not yet stuck with a TRUTH, they were quite comfortable letting others be different from themselves. Some keep kosher, one doesn’t drive on Shabbat, another family does the opposite. I’d like to see us adults strive to be open to the different practices and choices of others.

* * *

Rabbi Steven Abraham

Rabbi Steven Abraham

Third, I received an article from a colleague; the article is written by a Conservative rabbi titled It’s Time to Say Yes and describes his personal decision making process to determine that he will officiate at interfaith marriages. My colleague assumed I would be thrilled with this article, after all, I refer interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding all time. But I was not thrilled, because the rabbi argued that the Right thing to do is to officiate at interfaith weddings. That means that rabbis who choose otherwise are “wrong.” Like my nine year old friends I strive to see the path that I have chosen while acknowledging that there are other paths that are valid for other travelers.

Jewish tradition teaches that there are 70 paths up the mountain to God. The number 70 is a metaphor for “many”. Seventy is also used when referring to all the humans on earth, i.e. the Seventy Nations. Thus, Judaism teaches that there are different AND VALID paths (religions). In fact there are as many paths as there are different kinds of people.

Shouldn’t Jews allow other Jews to be different? I am delighted to have a large list of rabbis who will perform an interfaith wedding. Do I need to condemn those who are not on my list? Nope. I believe that diversity is a good thing — even among Jews!

Speaking of all different kinds of Jews, try to get over to see the photo exhibit, This Is Bay Area Jewry. It will be showing at the Marin JCC from June 12 to Aug. 25, 2017.

Giacomini-Takasaki family

Giacomini-Takasaki family

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thank you god book65-8_LRG

An Early Childhood Educator once told me, “Children are organically spiritual.” Children naturally explore the non-physical world. They wonder about it. For children, the whole world is new. They are curious and will hear from friends, TV, the internet, commercials, etc. about God. They will wonder about God. Is God really a man? Does he have a beard? Can you see God? Have you seen God, Mom? Whether you personally have a God concept or not, chances are that our society will give your children one – an American, socially appropriate concept. However, that concept may not sit well with you. So how CAN we talk to our children about God?

Begin by asking your child what they believe. Do they believe in “God”? If so, what is God like? See what things they say that you can affirm.

Working with your spouse or a good friend, try to articulate your own God concept – or your reason for disbelief. Put words to it. Make it real to you. Then listen to their beliefs and interpretations. I hope that you pick someone with whom you do not entirely agree; because, believe me, neither you nor I actually know what God is. Once you have a way to describe what you believe, you have something tangible to tell your child. You may express some doubt too, like “no one has ever seen God so no one knows exactly what God is like.” You may tell your child, “When you said X it made me really think.” Children can have some pretty profound ideas.

Then there is the challenge of sharing your ideas, plus those of your child’s other parent, into age appropriate words. What if the two of you disagree? Do you have to have an agreed upon message for your child? What if your child is going to Hebrew school and bringing home bible stories that anthropomorphize God and it’s driving you mad? What do you say to your child, your spouse, the clergy?

Rabbis have amazing conversations about God with children. They are pretty used to it and can help you sort out what you want to say to your child. In fact, all clergy are confronted with this task daily. Go talk to your rabbi, minister or priest. Share your awkward, unrealistic, doubting thoughts. Trust me, they won’t be surprised. Go as a couple.

Do you need to be on the same page as parents? Yes, it is best if you are. But you don’t have to believe the same thing. Perhaps what you’ll both be telling your child is, “Mommy believes in God, but Daddy doesn’t. Here’s why we each think as we do. No one knows for sure about God so we all are just trying to figure it out. We have decided to raise you Jewish/Christian/Hindu so you’ll get to learn from rabbi/minister/priest how Judaism/Christianity/Hinduism understands God. As you get older you’ll keep thinking and you’ll be able to tell us what ideas have come to you.”

This is a time when your interfaith family can come in quite handy. You can point out that Grandma doesn’t believe in God but she always goes to synagogue because she believes in keeping the Jewish people together. Grandpa believes in Jesus but doesn’t really like to go to church so he prays at home. Aunt Julie is an atheist; she can’t decide whether there’s a God or not, but she believes in being a good person so she chose to be a doctor.

Your core message about God will reflect those things that you want to see in your own and your child’s life. Is that kindness, service to others, patience, acceptance of the ideas of others? You will tie these actions/values to the way you speak of the BIG things in life: God, Purpose, Meaning.

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cloud scape

As a child didn’t you think of a miracle as a magical event, something that defied the laws of nature? Such a definition of miracles often leaves adults cold. Here is a quote from a handout I believe Vicky Kelman wrote: the correct question about miracles is not “Do you believe in miracles?” (Which is the one we usually hear) but rather “What miracle(s) have you experienced today?”

The word miracle derives from the Latin word mirari meaning wonder. According to several modern Jewish thinkers, the experience of miracle derives from the human capacity for wonder. This capacity for wonder, which Martin Buber called “abiding astonishment” and Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement” is the raw material of which miracles are made.

An extraordinary event (the exodus from Egypt, the victory of the Maccabees which we recall at this time of year, the recapture of Jerusalem in the Six Day War) is the kind of event likely to receive the label “miracle” but the prayer book teaches a complementary perspective on miracle by including the phrase “Thank you for … your daily miracles” among those prayers said three times a day. In this way otherwise ordinary events such as the birth of a baby, the blossom of a daffodil, the body’s recovery after illness are also miracles. The ability to experience daily miracles is at the core of the Jewish world view.

Looked at this way, a miracle is neither supernatural nor super-historical but an event which feels to people who experience it, as a miracle.

May we all experience the daily miracles and blessings that surround us. Make a list of your blessings. Science has found that people who spend a few minutes every day feeling grateful are happier and healthier. Sounds miraculous!

Tikvah Tots (Walnut Creek)
Child Friendly Service & Dinner (San Leandro)
The Road to Character by David Brooks (San Rafael)
Hanukkah Celebration and Crafts Fair (San Francisco)
A Hanukkah Celebration for All Ages (Berkeley)
Israeli Dancing for Chanukah (Los Altos Hills)
Shabbat YAFE Latkefest (Berkeley)
Reggae Shabbat and Chanukah Party (San Francisco)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Conversion to Judaism (Walnut Creek)
The Eighth Night of Hanukkah (Oakland)
The Rivers Of Babylon (San Francisco)
InterFaith Chanukah Celebration at Blackhawk Plaza (Danville)
4th Annual One Bay One Book (Burlingame)
Songs from Israel and Palestine (Berkeley)

Tikvah Tots
Little ones are welcome at Tikvah Tots every Friday morning from 10–11am for an informal get together. Led by Rabbi Gutterman, the event will include free play, chat time for adults, and circle time with Shabbat songs and blessings (and juice and challah, of course).

Dates: Fridays
Time: 10 to 11am
Place: Bnai Tikvah, 25 Hillcroft Way, Walnut Creek
More info look at this downloadable PDF.

Child Friendly Service & Dinner
Join the members of Beth Sholom in San Leandro for child-friendly worship service led by the returning Hebrew students. Services will be followed by a delicious dinner.

Date: Friday, December 4
Time: 6pm
Place: Beth Sholom, 642 Dolores Ave., San Leandro
Cost: $10 per person 13 years old or older; free for children.
Call the office to reserve a place, 510.357-8505.

The Road to Character by David Brooks
with Rabbi Stacy Friedman
In The Road to Character, David Brooks focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success. Brooks challenges us, and himself, to rebalance the scales between our “resume virtues” – achieving wealth, fame and status – and our “eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed. Blending psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional, The Road to Character provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.

Date: Sunday, December 6
Time: 10:00 – 11:10am
Place: JCC Lounge, 200 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael
RSVP to Molly at molly@rodefsholom.org.

Hanukkah Celebration and Crafts Fair
It’s not too early to mark your calendars for our annual Hanukkah Celebration and Crafts Faire. We will have entertainment (Jewish Folk Chorus), lots of beautiful crafts, jewelry and of course, Hanukkah and other gift items from our B’nai Emunah Gift Shop. Yes, of course, we’ll have home-made latkes and a variety of children’s games and crafts.

Date: Dec. 6
Time: 11:30am to 3:30pm
Place: B’nai Emunah, 3595 Taraval St, San Francisco

A Hanukkah Celebration for All Ages
Join Chochmat HaLev for the first night of Hanukkah.
4:00 “Zaide Makes Latkes”
Playful puppetry and music with Jen Miriam & Alon Altman
4:45 Community Candle lighting
Bring your chanukiah/menorah and add to the light!
5:00 Community Sing with Gary Lapow, Maggid Jhos Singer, Julie Batz, and Friends
Songs, stories, and teachings for all ages

Date: Sunday Dec. 6
Time: 4pm- 8pm
Place: Chochmat HaLev, 2215 Prince Street, Berkeley
Cost: Public/$15; Children/$5; Members of Chochmat HaLev $10

Israeli Dancing for Chanukah
Community Potluck Meal to Follow
The Beth Am community and friends are warmly invited to a community lighting of the 5th candle of Chanukah! We will sing the blessings and Chanukah songs, share a potluck dairy meal, and dance the Horah to tunes performed by Naomi Zamir and her lively klezmer group, Majorly Minor. Come and dance — anyone can dance the Hora!
Please bring your chanukiyah and candles as well as a potluck dish to share. (Kashrut information: please note that Beth Am serves food “kosher style,” which means no pork or shellfish and we do not serve milk and meat in the same dish, such as meat lasagna. Thank you for observing in this way.) Bring your partner, your friends and let us celebrate a holiday that so deeply calls for freedom of religion!

Date: Thursday, Dec. 10
Time: 7:00pm
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
For more information, please the office at (650) 493-466.

Shabbat YAFE Latkefest
Sponsored by the Men’s Club
Join us for the Men’s Club’s famous latkes, candle lighting, Chanukah songs and birthday cake in honor of the 10th anniversary of our Oxford Street building.

Shabbat YAFE is an inter-generational Shabbat celebration filled with music and ruach (spirit)! This month’s theme is “Kavod (Respect) for Our Home”. Join us for a catered dinner (Please sign up here). All YAFE families and the entire congregation are invited and welcome at the service.

5:00 pm Tot Shabbat in the Beit Midrash
5:30 pm Catered Vegetarian Dinner in the Social Hall
(cost: $15/family with RSVP and $20 at the door )
6:15 pm Candlelighting, Chanukah sing-a-long, and festive Shabbat services in the sanctuary

Date: Friday, December 11
Time: 5:00 pm
Place: Beth El, 1301 Oxford, Berkeley

Reggae Shabbat and Chanukah Party
From Jerusalem and Jamaica to Sherith Israel, let the good times roll as we celebrate the sixth night of Chanukah. Rock out to the Jewish-themed reggae rhythms of Lior Ben-Hur and his band, Sol Tevel. We’ll recount the miracle of the burning oil and the Maccabees’ triumph over assimilation.

Our celebratory and light-filled Shabbat service will be followed by a catered latke dinner. And remember to bring your chanukiah to join in the festive congregational candle lighting.

Date: Friday, December 11
Time: 6 pm: Service and chanukiah lighting
7:30 pm: Dinner and dance party with Lior Ben-Hur and his band, Sol Tevel
Cost: Dinner: $36 for a family of four (two adults and two children under bar mitzvah age); $18 for adults, $10 for solo parent, and $8 for children.
Please purchase tickets by December 7th here
Questions? E-mail Eric Drucker or call him at 415.346.1720 x24.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Conversion to Judaism
Are you curious about conversion to Judaism — for yourself or someone you love? Perhaps you know someone who is converting and wonder why someone would make that choice. Maybe this is the first time you heard that conversion to Judaism is a possibility. Curious? Confused? Join Jews by choice, born Jews and non-Jews as we work to answer all of your questions about conversion!

If you are a member of a synagogue, of course you can speak with your own rabbi about conversion. And you are still welcome to come hear from our panel. If you currently do not have a rabbi, this program will help you find one.

Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015
B’nai Shalom, 74 Eckley Ln, Walnut Creek
Hosted by B’nai Shalom and Building Jewish Bridges
Co-sponsored by B’nai Tikvah, Temple Isaiah, Lehrhaus Judaica

The Eighth Night of Hanukkah
Join us for a concert and a sing-along of traditional and contemporary songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and English with the Nigunim Chorus and Music Director Achi Ben Shalom. Nigunim Chorus is dedicated to learning, preserving and presenting folks songs of the Jewish people.

Date: Sunday, Dec. 13
Time: 4pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free and open to the community so bring friends!

The Rivers Of Babylon – The First Judeans In The Babylonian Exile
Guest Lecturer Dr. Laurie Pearce
Dr. Laurie Pearce presents dramatic new evidence about the Judeans exiled to Babylonia after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. She will explore their successful integration into Babylonian life, and offers insights into ways that it was possible for Judeans to maintain their unique identity in their host land and among other foreign populations.

Date: Sunday, December 13
Time: 9:30 – 11:00 am
Place: In the Rinder Chapel at Congregation Emanu-el, 2 Lake St., San Francisco

InterFaith Chanukah Celebration at Blackhawk Plaza
Join Beth Chaim Congregation and their faith community partners in a public lighting of candles on the 8th night of Chanukah to celebrate religious freedom for all.

Date: Sunday, Dec. 13
Time: 6:00pm
Place: Blackhawk Plaza
For more information contact the office of Beth Chaim Congregation of Danville at 925-736-7146.

4th Annual One Bay One Book
Join Rabbi Delson for a discussion of The Periodic Table, a memoir of the years before and after Primo Levi’s transportation from his native Italy to Auschwitz as an anti-Fascist partisan and a Jew.

Defying categorization, The Periodic Table is a pioneering work in its creative approach to memoir; it is the winner of the Royal Institution of Great Britain’s survey as the greatest science book ever written, and it is an invaluable record both of Levi’s life and of the experience of Jews in northern Italy.

Date: Monday, December 14
Time: 7:00pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Sholom, 1655 Sebastian Dr., Burlingame
RSVP to Rabbi Delson (rabbidelson-at-sholom.org) to let her know you plan to attend the class.

Songs from Israel and Palestine
A Concert with Lior Tsarfaty and Naser Musa
Join Palestinian musician Naser Musa and Israeli musician Lior Tsarfaty for an evening of prayers for peace. During this time when violence and hatred are escalating between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East we join together in this concert to say that we refuse to be enemies. Join us.
With special guest Bouchaib Abdelhadi.

Date: Thursday, December 17
Time: 8pm
Place: Chochmat HaLev, 2215 Prince Street, Berkeley
Cost: Public/$20; Members of Chochmat HaLev $15
Get tickets here.

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Comic book character Hot Stuff

Comic book character Hot Stuff

I received this question from a Jewish mom to my Mixed and Matched column:

My husband was raised in a nominally Christian family. We are raising our kids Jewish. Our oldest is going to public school in the fall. I feel like I should prepare our son for the inevitable Christian child who tells him, ‘Jews are going to hell.’ I don’t want to cast aspersions on my in-laws and other Christians. How do I handle this? — Love My In-laws

My answer:

Dear Love: Some people will read your letter and say, “It’s not inevitable; you don’t need to say anything.” But they are wrong. There is rarely a fire at public school, but they hold practice fire drills nonetheless. Be prepared, have the conversation upfront.

Begin by discussing your message with your husband so that you have a comfortable, shared story for your son. Then explain to your son that in any group, whether it is a group of baseball fans, people from the same country, those on the same soccer team or those who share the same religion, there is always the chance that some of those people think differently, even so differently that we may not like what they believe. Tell him that some Christians believe differently from your own family members. These Christians believe that Jesus is the God for everyone and that anyone who does not agree is going to hell.

Remember for yourself that this basic message will at some point extend to people who are racist or homophobic. The goal is to share some bad news about life without making him feel hate toward others.

What often helps children is telling them that while Christians believe in hell, Jews do not, so there is nothing to fear. Give them a bit of the history of early Christianity; for example, early Christian leaders argued whether or not Jesus was God and eventually the yeses won. So even early Christians weren’t 100 percent clear about Jesus being God. Also, do acknowledge that Jesus was a real historical person and he was Jewish. In his lifetime, Jesus didn’t claim to be a Christian and in fact, Christianity was not invented until long after his death so it would have been impossible for him to call himself a Christian. That is enough information for your child to feel competent in a conversation about the facts regarding Christian history and Jewish beliefs.

Although Jews don’t believe in hell, Christian friends may continue to trouble your child, saying his soul is in danger. Again, point out that there are many different religions practiced here in our own community as well as around the world, each with different beliefs. As your child ages, you will undoubtedly talk about how different people view God and serve God. We Jews tend to focus on justice. That is why we have a book of laws (Torah) and books explaining the laws (Talmud and rabbinic writings). Other religions also believe in justice, but they believe in other core ways of performing their service to God. If you ask a Christian what their core message is, I have found that they typically say, ‘Love, it’s all about love.’ A great message, and one that Judaism embraces, too. So we are all similar and yet unique.

Do kids still say this kind of stuff? Yes, because that’s what they are being taught. They are not being mean. In their eyes, they are being informative. So your child should respond with more information, not fear or defensiveness. Each child, your Jewish one and his Christian friend, can discuss these important topics with their respective parents. Dialogue is a good thing. My own children were told they were going to hell, one in elementary school and the other in high school. Naturally, these conversations were different and took an age-appropriate direction. Neither child was distressed. We have extended family members who are Christian, which had no impact on our relationships.

The Jewish child who is told by a family member that he or she or a parent is going to hell is in a different situation, but that does not sound like a concern in your family. I feel confident that the conversation will go smoothly.

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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 www.karben.com 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

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From biblebeltbalabusta.com

From biblebeltbalabusta.com

A wonderful message from Rabbi Larry Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton – with both heart and humor. I couldn’t say it any better. Happy 5774!

God Writes a Blog

At the beginning of the Jewish New Year, it is customary to greet one another with a special wish: L’shanah tovah tikatevu, may you be inscribed for a good year.

Our ancestors envisioned God as a scribe, the One who records our deeds and measures our worth. There, in the Book of Life, is a record of everything we have done. Each year has its own volume. For good or bad, what we have achieved and where we have failed, how we gave hope and how we let others down-it’s all written down. Nothing of our lives is insignificant, too minor to matter.

I am certain that God is ahead of the curve, and writes a blog these days. All of our deeds are stored in the Cloud. God has unlimited storage capacity.

When you are tagged in God’s next posting, I hope it will be for something good. When you face challenges, I hope you will find yourself uploaded and uplifted by caring hands and hearts.

L’shanah tovah tikatevu, may you and all your loved ones be virtually inscribed for health and joy in the coming year.

Rabbi Larry Milder

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The April that my son was eight years old we were preparing for Passover. My husband and kids had searched the house for chametz (the crumbs of leavening). Tradition says that you burn the chametz. So my husband put a strip of aluminum foil over the gas stove’s burner and turned on the flame. The crumbs began to smoke and then suddenly POP! They burst into flame! My son jumped back and with wide eyes asked, “Was that God?”

Was that God?
Is that natural phenomenon of heating starches to the point of fire, God? Well, yes, in a way. If you believe that all of nature is a part of God — sunsets, lightening, waterfalls, polar bears, etc.
Was that a bearded man in the sky zapping the chametz? No, that would be magic.

How do we talk to our children about God? What is it we want them to believe? What are they physiologically able to grasp at their particular age? If you believe in a Creator-force, that’s pretty vague. If you believe in Jesus, a man who was God also, that’s pretty complex. If you don’t believe in any “greater being” but do believe in Jewish peoplehood, how do you sync that with a child in Hebrew school learning God stories?

Let’s talk about it. The tricky and wonderful thing about God is that there are no right answers. No two of us believes in exactly the same way. Yet we are responsible for giving something to our children. Whether that something is faith, uncertainty or scientific explanation, we need to do it in age appropriate ways that support the unique child to whom we are speaking. Worried that your child will be ‘brainwashed’ if you tell them what to think? Sorry, it ain’t that easy. Your child needs and wants your guidance. Little children want to be on the same page with you. The world is all new to them and they need the security of a shared concept. Will they ever think for themselves? Oh, yes, and when they do you’ll wish they were more readily influenced by you. They will go their own way spiritually as well as all the other ways in which children differentiate from their parents.

Now you may be thinking, that’s all fine and good, but I don’t even know what I THINK about God. Excellent point. You’ll need to work out some message, even if that message is an honest, “Honey, I am still trying to figure this out because I don’t know. What do you think?”

Maybe you’d like an opportunity to discuss our kids and God concepts with other folks. Feel free to call me. Additionally, let me know if you’d like to see a program in your city. Two from past years are —

God Talk for Adults
Talking to Children About God

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Join Rabbi Straus and other parents to explore children’s concepts of God. Should parents open a conversation about God or wait for children to ask questions? What if you don’t believe in God but your spouse does? What should you say about what they are being taught in Religious School? What if you and your spouse are not the same religion? Bring your own questions and we’ll look for answers together.

Dec. 9
Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Free & open to the community. Please RSVP so we have enough chairs by emailing dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, God, Jewish Learning, Parenting, Past Programs, Spirituality
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Rabbis have amazing God conversations with children fairly regularly. Why we don’t continue these conversations as easily as we age? The questions certainly don’t get any easier! Perhaps we forget, over the years, that sharing doubts and yearning for hope is what makes us human. I invite you to join an open and caring – and non-judgmental – conversation. “You bring your questions. I’ll bring mine!” —Rabbi Creditor

Interfaith couples — please bring your shared, or differing, views of God to the conversation!

Date: Dec. 5
Time: 7:30pm
Place: Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley
Registration fee: $5
Register here.

Co-sponsored by Congregation Netivot Shalom, Lehrhaus and Building Jewish Bridges.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, God, Jewish Learning, Past Programs
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