Emanu-El now hosts Shabbat in Mill Valley

Good news for Marinites who aren't up to shlepping across the bridge for Friday night services at Congregation Emanu-El. The San Francisco synagogue is now holding ancillary services in Marin the fourth Friday of every month.

"Over the last few years, more and more of our members moved out of San Francisco into Marin," notes Gary Cohn, executive director of the Reform synagogue. "Our main goal is to service the needs of our congregants today."

Currently, more than 300 of Emanu-El's approximately 1,555 members live in Marin County. Emanu-El's services there, held since January at the Mount Tamalpais United Methodist Church in Mill Valley, have been drawing up to 80 people a pop.

Though Emanu-El has members on the Peninsula and in the East Bay, Cohn says the synagogue has no plans to hold additional Shabbat services in those areas.

Emanu-El's four rabbis and its cantor take turns leading the Marin service, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and relies on the same prayerbook and basically the same format as its sister service in San Francisco. A 6 p.m. potluck dinner precedes the service.

Among those who have regularly attended the Shabbat program is Don Buder, a Mill Valley resident and member of Emanu-El since 1985.

For Buder, an attorney who practices in San Francisco, getting from work to home on Friday afternoons and back to services with wife Janet and daughters Emily, 7, and Sarah, 4, has proven more than a bit taxing.

The Marin service "has eliminated that obstacle," he says.

Buder also enjoys the service because it is "much more informal, much more intimate," he says, than the larger San Francisco service. "The adjective I'd use to describe it is `warm.'"

In Buder's eyes, the Shabbat programs have helped bring Emanu-El's Marin contingent closer together. "It has created a little community within a larger one," he says.

It has been decades since Emanu-El offered programming in Marin. While the 150-year-old synagogue once held services both there and on the Peninsula, the need diminished as synagogues and other Jewish venues opened in those areas.

But shifts in demographics and an increased number of commuters have rekindled the need, Cohn says.

"With two-working-spouse families and single-parent families, it's harder and harder for people to carve out the time to get to the synagogue," he says. The more accessible a synagogue is to members, he asserts, the more active they will be.

Though the Marin services are aimed at Emanu-El members on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge, they are open to the general public as well.

Emanu-El notified both Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael and Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon well before the new services got under way, according to Cohn.

"I just think it was courtesy on our part if we're going to do something in Marin," Cohn says. "We should make them aware of what we're doing. It's good business."

For his part, Rabbi Michael Barenbaum of Rodef Sholom says he understands the push to make synagogue programs more accessible to members.

"A congregation needs to serve its congregants where [the congregants] are," he says.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.