JCF daily minyan lends support to grieving workers

Instead of rushing out of work at 5 p.m. these days, a number of S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation employees are staying late.

It's not just preparations for the Super Sunday phonathon that are keeping them there.

Every evening, Monday through Thursday, at least 10 federation workers gather for mincha, the afternoon prayer service. Employee Ron Zucker, whose mother died in August at age 64, organized the service so he could recite the Mourner's Kaddish in the presence of a minyan, the quorum of 10 Jews required for public prayer.

Following the death of a parent, Jewish tradition dictates that a child say the prayer for the dead every day for a year. Pressed to get out of work in time to reach a synagogue, Zucker decided to organize a service at the federation office in downtown San Francisco.

To start, he sent out an e-mail asking people to attend if they had the time and the inclination. The minyan has been meeting ever since.

"People have been good about it, astoundingly good about it," said Zucker, a computer network manager. "Sometimes we have to wander the halls saying, `Can you help us out?' But by and large, people make the effort if I ask them. They'll come even if they're busy."

The services have been going on since late October, when clocks were set back for winter and when mincha services, which start before sundown, began convening earlier.

Spurring Zucker's decision to organize the service was the death of another federation employee's parent. Ed Cushman, assistant executive director in charge of the fund-raising campaign, lost his 78-year-old father to a heart attack on Yom Kippur.

"It means a lot to Ron and myself that [co-workers] take time out virtually every day to do this," Cushman said. "There's a sense of community in that experience. It's like a little minyan community we've formed."

Wendy Rothenberg is one of the regulars.

"It's become this really wonderful way to end the day and provide support to our colleagues, who are obviously going through a difficult time," said Rothenberg, director of the Women's Alliance.

"Just standing there and being present, I'm able to help them do something that's important to them."

Zucker, in fact, so appreciates the support that he has given each minyan-goer a copy of a traditional siddur with a gold-embossed cover.

"We all trek down the hall with our own little book," Rothenberg said. "They're becoming worn on those pages we go to every night."

The service meets in a conference room or library and generally lasts about 15 minutes. The mincha service contains a number of prayers, including the Mourner's Kaddish. Various participants lead the minyan.

In traditional Judaism, only men may comprise a minyan. At the federation, however, females form the core of worshippers at the daily service. Zucker, who grew up in an East Coast Orthodox home and whose father is an Orthodox rabbi, welcomes their participation.

That women have not traditionally been involved in minyanim is "one of my breaking points with the Orthodox," he said.

Zucker does not yet know if the minyan will continue to meet once clocks move forward again in the spring. Even if the group disperses, he believes the services have proven valuable from both a religious and social perspective.

"We end up talking about what we're doing and why we're doing it," he said. "It's very much affected my relationship with my co-workers."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.