Peninsula Beth El launches interfaith womens center

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Focusing on both the practical and the spiritual, Peninsula Temple Beth El has established "a place for women to gather, study and create."

With activities ranging from book discussion potlucks to classes for new mothers, the San Mateo synagogue's Elohai Women's Center seeks to serve a wide spectrum of women, said coordinator Emily Fabbri.

"The center will be intergenerational and interfaith, which is unusual at a Jewish institution," she added.

"We are open to women who belong to other churches, synagogues or are unaffiliated. Our goal is to create a shared vision, to feel more connected to one another."

Another goal is to give women a chance to "support one another and support others in the community [who are] in need."

Elohai is Hebrew for "My God."

The center, which officially opened its doors May 11, currently occupies a multipurpose room in the synagogue's religious school. It is funded in part by Beth El Women, the synagogue's sisterhood organization.

Inspiration for the center arose last February, as Fabbri and another sisterhood member tried to think of activities they could do together as Jewish women. After considering Jewish crafts and cooking projects, and providing Shabbat box meals for shut-ins, Fabbri decided such ideas should be supported under a broader umbrella organization.

The women's center opened less than two months later — right before Mother's Day. Supporters hosted a grand opening event featuring jazz singer Madeline Eastman and a number of local singers and musicians. The evening included a dinner and havdallah service.

Fabbri hopes to create a set of ongoing programs, rather than strictly one-time events, with an emphasis on three areas: community service and involvement, family and health, and culture and the arts.

Thursday at a center potluck supper, the work of female authors was read aloud.

Beginning in October, Cantor Ellen Schwab will lead a weekly midday class titled "Seasons of our Sisterhood," which will use songs, poetry and cultural traditions to focus on women throughout history. Fabbri noted that the class will be spiritual in orientation.

The center's organizers hope to develop a "Mommy and Me" program for at-home mothers, airing topics such as child development and sibling rivalry. The sessions will provide time for moms and kids to play together.

Fabbri hopes the center will develop classes that teach the skills that every woman needs to learn but few do: such essentials as auto maintenance, post-earthquake survival techniques, home maintenance, financial planning and career changes.

While the EWC focuses on women's issues, Fabbri said future programs may also interest men. She proposed classes on improving marriage and communication, or dealing with aging parents.