When in Rome…

(Image: Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit of Beth Am teaching kids)

You’ve no doubt heard the saying, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. This phrase dates back to the 4th century of the Common Era, but has remained in use because it continues to be relevant. When do you do things “your way” and when do you bow to the customs of a new/foreign place/practice?

Rabbi Larry Milder recently wrote to his congregation on Minhag Hamakom Is a Jewish Value —

It’s a common experience. You go to another synagogue, and notice that some ritual is done differently than the way you are accustomed to behaving in your home synagogue. Do they open the Ark for Aleynu? Does the congregation rise for Shema? 

Much of what we consider traditional or standard Jewish practice is, in fact, custom. The term for “the custom of the place” is minhag hamakom. Because custom is so prevalent in Judaism, the rabbis established a principle: “One should not deviate from local custom, because of the divisiveness which could ensue.” (Mishna Pesachim 4:1) 

The first time I attended a Bar Mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue, I was 13 years old. Growing up in a Reform congregation where no one wore a kippah, I was unaware that this was expected. The usher handed me one on my way in, which I dutifully put on. 

I now know that there is no halachah, Jewish legal principle, that one needs to wear a kippah. But, it was minhag hamakom. I can argue the halachah all I want: the principle that applied, though, was minhag hamakom, doing what they do.

Of course, the notion of minhag hamakom is predicated on a belief that a congregation will, indeed, establish what its minhag is. By doing so, they create meaning, a coherent experience for those who worship together. Indeed, the very act of establishing minhag hamakom precludes the “divisiveness” that would inevitably arise. Are we doing this together, or are we each doing our own thing? The holiness of community rests on a shared sense of aesthetics, of spirituality, of values.

We live in a world that prioritizes individuality over community. And there is something empowering about that freedom that I wouldn’t want to give up.

Yet, the transcendent experience of communal prayer requires us to set aside a certain degree of individuality so that we can achieve something together.

These days, if I have the opportunity to attend Shabbat services in another congregation, I find it rewarding to experience a minhag that is different from my own. It’s not more or less correct; it just points to a spiritual equilibrium that they have arrived at. If I really want to experience the fullness of their worship, I have to leave behind what I am accustomed to doing, what I expect to happen, and go with the flow of minhag hamakom, the custom of the place.

The week that I read Rabbi Milder’s teaching I attended a class at my local Orthodox shul on the same topic! It is relatively easy for a Reform practicing Jew to adapt to other Jewish rituals. But the more observant the Jew is, the more likely that differences can bump up against their core values. Rabbi Albert of Beth Jacob, the Orthodox shul, described the challenges for Ashkenazi Jews and Mizrahi Jews, both Orthodox, to accommodate each other’s differences in prayer and practices. The ancient rabbis teach that in some cases you simply don’t ask your host a question about the food, you just keep the peace. He was asked questions about how Orthodox Jews can accommodate invitations from less observant family members. Sometimes you can, and obviously sometimes you can’t. It was fascinating.  I saw in his teaching the efforts of our rabbis and sages to honor individual communities’ practices and still maintain cohesion.

As America fractures and fights I can clearly see the value of some individual sacrifice for the sake of the greater whole. I am glad that smoking is not allowed on airplanes. I am grateful that there are speed limits. I accept that I’m not allowed to cut down my neighbor’s tree that blocks my view, because I don’t want my trees cut.

Those individuals who need this protection can seem annoying until you love one of them. If your friend is in a wheelchair suddenly you resent the lack of disabled parking spots or the 4 inch lip on a doorway or the building without an elevator.

I have begun noticing and rejoicing in the communal limits that hold our society together.

A unique opportunity to learn about the Jews of Iran from Iranian Jews.

The Nightingale of Iran
It was a golden age for Jews in Iran. In the 1950s, a religious Jew—Younes Dardashti—became a national celebrity, singing at the Shah’s palace and on the radio. In the 1960s, his son Farid became a teen idol on TV. They were beloved by Iranian Muslims. But at the height of their fame, they left the country. It has always been a mystery to Danielle Dardashti and her sister Galeet: Why did their family leave Iran? Now, in a documentary podcast series, the sisters reveal painful secrets unspoken for generations.
The sisters have produced a podcast telling their family story. It is free to hear at https://www.nightingaleofiran.com/

Also, Nightingale in theJ-Weekly
Purim Events around the Bay Area The J-weekly has compiled a list of holiday activities!
A Jew by choice will be the first Black woman cantor! I think this is pretty awesome on so many levels!

Shabbat Sovev (Foster City)
Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Class (Oakland)
Monday Night Jewish Meditation (on Zoom)
Activism & Resilience: A Celebration of Jewish Women of Color (San Francisco)
Honoring Your Jewish Child’s Non-Jewish Heritage (Zoom)
Ya Rayah: A Mizrahi Film Series (Berkeley)
Jr. Jews Purim Costume Party! (San Rafael)
Sababa Shabbat (Oakland)
Mishpucha & Me Playgroup with PJ Library (Pleasanton)
Buried Treasures Tours (Colma)
Divorce & Discovery: A Jewish Healing Retreat (Near Yosemite)

Shabbat Sovev (Encircling Shabbat)
A musical service for all ages. Join us for our musical Friday night service in the round.

Date:   March 15 (Save the date for our next Shabbat Sovev on May 17)
Time:   7:30pm
Place:   Peninsula Sinai, 499 Boothbay Ave., Foster City

Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Class
“Be joyful! It’s the Jewish month of Adar!” The Rabbinic Sages taught that the month of Adar is the most joyous month of the year. In this month’s meditation session, we will focus on how to bring more joy into our lives.
Join Steve Goldstein as he leads a monthly Jewish Guided Meditation session in cultivating middot (attributes) such as gratitude, loving kindness, joy, forgiveness/self-forgiveness, and compassion. All are welcome, both experienced meditators and those who are new to meditation.
You are welcome to come to one or all of the sessions. Each class is a stand-alone session.

Date:   Saturday, March 16
Time:   9:00am
Place:   Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland

Monday Night Jewish Meditation
Want to see God (or at least Its shadow)? Lower your blood pressure? Manage your spiritual confusion? Connect with a deeper Jewish consciousness?
Jewish meditation nourishes our soul.  It has been around for centuries and includes forms such as chanting, visualization, silence, and movement. It can revitalize and transform Judaism from the blasé familiar into a profound and constantly renewing spiritual practice.
Some of the teachers are skilled in Classical Jewish styles of meditation, while others are practitioners of other forms but have integrated Jewish wisdom, liturgy, and concepts into their teaching. All provide an interesting, engaging and meaningful experience.
For beginners and experienced meditators alike. No previous meditation or Jewish experience required. By donation.

Dates:  Every Monday, next on Monday March 18
Time:   7 – 8:00pm
Place:   On Zoom ONLY
Details here
Cost:    $18 donation
Host:   Chochmat Halev, 2215 Prince St., Berkeley

Activism & Resilience: A Celebration of Jewish Women of Color
Come together for networking and community building, with an emphasis on self care and sustenance. This event will provide an opportunity for Jewish women of color to get to know each other and share opportunities for social justice and advocacy work.
Dinner and refreshments provided.
Please keep in mind that this event is specifically meant as an affinity space for people who self-identify as a Jew of Color, Mizrahi, Sephardi, and/or a person of color.

Date:   Tuesday, March 19
Time:   7:00–8:30pm
Place:   Manny’s, 3092 16th Street, San Francisco
Register here 
Hosted by National Council of Jewish Women & Jewtina y Co.

Honoring Your Jewish Child’s Non-Jewish Heritage
Every child needs to understand where they come from. If you are raising your child as a Jew, but one parent is not Jewish it is essential that you teach your child about that side of their family. This is half of them! They need to be comfortable with how they put these parts together to make a whole person: themselves.

Jews may be concerned that learning about the non-Jewish parent means learning about another religion that will compete with Judaism. Not at all. There are hundreds of elements to another tradition or culture that are important and utterly without religious content:

There are cultural traditions which may include language, food, and music.
There are family traditions that include stories, memories, trips, games.
There are the traditions you create in your own nuclear family.

What if one parent has a religion? How can that be taught in a way that feels right to all members of the family – especially your child?
Let’s discuss how to teach your child about BOTH sides of the family and how to integrate both parents into your child’s identity.

Date:   March 21
Time:   7 to 8pm
Place:   Online
Free, email me at dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org to receive the Zoom link.

Ya Rayah: A Mizrahi Film Series
Co-presented by the Jewish Film Institute
By and about Mizrahi and Arab Jews, Ya Rayah (“oh you, the one leaving”) is an outstanding film series that will take you on a journey through the rich reality of our Mizrahi and Arab Jewish life, culture and history. Through a lovingly curated series of monthly screenings and Q&A’s, we will explore the wide range of Mizrahi experience from longing to anger and loss, all the way to the joy of reclaiming Mizrahi and Arab Jewish cultures and narratives.

Date:   First Screening is Thursday, March 21
Time:   6:30 – 9:00pm
Place:   Urban Adamah, 1151 Sixth Street, Berkeley
Register here

Jr. Jews Purim Costume Party!
For families with young children (ages 0-5)
We are excited to celebrate Purim with you! Come in your best costume (or come as you are), and get ready for a party filled with stories, a parade, pizza, crafts, and hamantaschen!

Date:   Friday, March 22
Time:   5:00 to 5:45pm
Place:   Marin JCC, 200 North San Pedro Road, San Rafael
Hosted by the Marin JCC Early Childhood Education and Congregation Rodef Sholom.
FREE for all, and all are welcome.
Contact Rachel at rweiss@marinjcc.org for questions.

Sababa Shabbat
Join us for a family-friendly, musical Shabbat service. Our service will be at 5:30pm, with dinner to follow at 6:00pm.

Date:   Friday, March 22
Time:   5:30pm
Place:   Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost:    Dinner is $10 per person. You are welcome to bring your own dinner.
Contact Molly Peritore molly@oaklandsinai.org with any questions.
Register here.

Mishpucha & Me Playgroup with PJ Library
Mishpucha & Me is a new monthly playgroup for our youngest children (ages 0-3) and their caregivers. We provide a safe and nurturing environment for young children to explore their world and a relaxed atmosphere for adults to enjoy food, conversation, and community.

Date:   Tuesday, March 26. Additional gatherings on Tuesday, April 23 and May 28
Time:   10:00 – 11:00am
Place:   Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Court, Pleasanton
RSVP for March here.
We hope you can also join us on Tuesday, April 23 and May 28 at the same time. Please RSVP for each event you plan to attend.
Mishpucha & Me is a joint program of Congregation Beth Emek and PJ Library Bay Area.
Questions? Contact earlychildhood@bethemek.org.

Buried Treasures Tours
Join historian Judi Leff for an inside look at the buried treasures who reside in our lovely Colma space. Meet famous, infamous, and unknown figures who helped create and craft our thriving Bay Area Jewish and civic landscapes. Rabbi Westreich will be joining us for the spring tour, with Rabbi Jonathan on the summer tour.
Say thank you to those who brought us the San Francisco Zoo, Stern Grove, the airport, the aquarium and MOMA. Learn about pioneers who wove gold into the threads of a strong and vibrant community. Hear the stories of those brave folks who left the old to make the new, for themselves and ultimately, for us.
For more information or to reserve your spot please contact the Home of Peace office at 650/755-4700, or register on our website, www.jcemsf.org/buried-treasures-tours-registration/.

Spring Tour: Sunday | April 7 @ 1 pm.
Summer Tour: Sunday | June 23 @ 1 pm.
Hosted by Jewish Cemeteries of San Francisco

Divorce & Discovery: A Jewish Healing Retreat
This program is for anyone who has ever navigated the multi-faceted challenges of divorce or a break-up.
Founded by Rabbi Deborah Newbrun (former Tawonga Camp Director and Covenant Award Recipient) and joined by Divorce Coach Wendy Kesser.
Spend 4 days / 3 nights at Camp Tawonga’s beautiful rustic location situated at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.

Dates:  Thursday, April 25 to Sunday, April 28
Place:   Camp Tawonga, near Yosemite National Park
Learn more & register