Israeli expatriates create new social network in Marin

Jerusalem-born Dan Geller is eager to connect with the Israeli community in Marin.

He's encountered a few stumbling blocks along the way, however.

"The problem is that none of us know each other," said Geller, who has lived in San Rafael for six of his 25 years in the Bay Area. "I would imagine that there may be close to 200 of us living here, but it's tough to say for sure."

Geller is making inroads, though. And knowing the extent of the Israeli community here may no longer be a matter of guesswork.

Dov Govrin, another resident of San Rafael, has formed an Israeli cultural association called Beyti, partially out of frustration and partially out of homesickness.

"To me, the Jewish holidays weren't about religious traditions. They were about klezmer music, tons of food, folk dancing and no-host bars," Govrin said. "There was a real communal feel to it, and that's something I really miss."

Govrin, who was born in the United States but spent more than 20 years on an Israeli kibbutz, said some of the hearty, earthy characteristics of kibbutz life will be incorporated by the group, which already has held a Purim bash and an Israeli Independence Day celebration. To get on the mailing list, call (415) 472-2052.

With about 30 core members, Beyti also has plans for a Hebrew book and video library, an Israeli theater company, a forum for Israeli guest lecturers, and joint ventures on events in both San Francisco and the Peninsula.

The group also intends to organize Israeli dancing the third Sunday of every month at the Marin Jewish Community Center, which sponsors the Beyti events; Israeli singing in private homes throughout the year; and a Sukkot celebration at the JCC on Oct. 15.

If the plans come to fruition, Beyti member Dalit Broner, for one, may be able to save some time and gas money: When the Novato resident wants to experience a full-fledged Israeli community, she often has to travel across the Golden Gate Bridge and continue south.

"The Peninsula, especially Palo Alto, has a thriving Israeli cultural scene," said Broner. "They have art, music, theater, and cultural associations — everything that you need to bring people together."

Broner, who was born in Arad near the Negev and has lived in the North Bay more than a decade, said Beyti gives her a sense of belonging, closer to home. The group reminds her that she'll never stray too far from her roots.

Another Israeli ex-pat, Ben Zolan of San Rafael, said the guiding motivation behind Beyti is to recapture the spirituality of the Jewish homeland.

"There is a unique element to Israeli spirituality that gets lost as we buy more and more into American culture," said Zolan, who has lived in Marin for 14 years.

The former Tel Aviv resident said what is oftentimes missing in the diaspora community is a fundamental connection to Judaism and its history.

"Israel is the land where all this history comes alive…the land becomes a moral agent and tells you who you are," Zolan said.

"That's why it's especially important for our children, who have never been to Israel, to be introduced to the culture through language, food, music and dancing.

"We want to make sure that those traditions don't die out."