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Jewish Song

Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz, a Kabbalist in Safed in the 16th century, would be proud to know that “Le’cha Dodi,” a poem he composed in the mid-1500s, is j. readers’ favorite Jewish song almost 500 years later.

A joyful song that invites Jews to greet the Shabbat bride, “Le’cha Dodi” can be sung in many different melodies. The popularity of “Le’cha Dodi” among young and old alike will surely make it a Jewish classic for years to come.

“Shalom Aleichem” was readers’ second-choice favorite.

Jewish Holiday

Passover takes the matzah cake when it comes to Jewish holidays. Apparently, Bay Area Jews revel in recalling the hardships of slavery and tasting the sweetness of freedom every spring.

Passover was voted the favorite Jewish holiday because of its widespread appeal among all ages, compelling tale of the Exodus from Egypt and innovative, albeit stomach ache-inducing recipes (matzah lasagna, matzah kugel, matzah pizza.)

The bright lights of Chanukah and the soul-searching spirituality of Yom Kippur can’t compete with Passover’s popularity. Purim, however, came in second.

Adult Education Synagogue Program

For many synagogues, the sad truth is that once a kid has his bar mitzvah, you’ll never see his face again. But the four synagogues that won in this category place a high premium on engaging people long into adulthood. The winners for favorite adult educational synagogue program were Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Congregation Beth Jacob in the East Bay, Congregation Beth Am in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Kol Shofar in Marin/Sonoma.

“Our programs come from the bottom up,” says Nancy Sheftel-Gomes, Sherith Israel’s religious school principal. “It’s sort of the Sherith Israel thing.” The 615 member families are the ones who suggest topics for Rabbi Larry Raphael’s adult courses, such as last year’s class on Buber, Chassidism and Kabbalah.

The adult learning at Beth Jacob, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Oakland, is about creating community more than anything else, says Kathy Hollander, the synagogue office’s administrative assistant. Congregants enjoy studying together at shul, but also enjoy visiting each other’s homes for learning, Hollander says. “We try to include everything in our programs so we can include all of these people.”

At Beth Am, a Reform congregation in Los Altos Hills, “We try to make learning accessible,” says Senior Rabbi Janet Marder, noting that the classes range from beginners’ to advanced courses. There are many ways for Beth Am members to learn, including Shabbaton, a family learning program for parents and children on Shabbat afternoons.

The course offerings for adults at Kol Shofar are plentiful, says Michael Saxe-Taller, the programming and membership director. The synagogue hosts “intellectually challenging and stimulating” clergy and lay-led classes, a yearly scholar in residence and a popular Jewish author series. Authors such as Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Ruth Ellenson and Madeline Levine visited last year.

Adath Israel came in second in San Francisco, Temple Sinai in the East Bay, Congregation Keddem in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Congregation

Beth Jacob

Oakland

(510) 482-1147

www.bethjacoboakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 479-3335

www.kolshofar.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Adath Israel

Congregation

(415) 564-5665

www.adathisraelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-0313

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Keddem

Palo Alto

(650) 494-6400

www.keddem.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

Collaborative Synagogue Programming

When good people get together, great things happen. And that’s certainly true among Bay Area synagogues, whose staff and congregants revel in collaboration with colleagues and nearby organizations. J. readers recognized four exceptional collaborative programs: Marin Day School/Bright Horizons-Sherith Israel Campus for San Francisco, Morasha: Oakland Learns Together for the East Bay, Peninsula Sinai Congregation in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregations Kol Shofar and Rodef Sholom in Marin/Sonoma.

The preschool at Sherith Israel opened 18 years ago, out of the rubble of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Marin Day School parents who work in the city decided they wanted a preschool near their offices, and California Pacific Medical Center employees were looking for nearby childcare. “We had the facility, Marin Day School had the licensing … and CPMC owned the property immediately behind our building,” says Nancy Sheftel-Gomes, director of education at Sherith Israel.

Oakland-area synagogues of all stripes join together in the pluralistic Morasha: Oakland Learns Together program to engage in text study. Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchan of Temple Sinai in Oakland, which has participated in Morasha for five years, says nowhere else has she seen a program like this. Morasha lets different kinds of Jews to “sit down and share text and share tradition and share ourselves,” Mates-Muchan says.

Congregation Kol Shofar, a Conservative synagogue, and Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom are the ultimate model of collaboration, according to Kol Shofar Programming and Membership Director Michael Saxe-Taller. The two San Rafael synagogues collaborate on holiday celebrations and the Yom HaShoah commemoration.

Collaborating within the Jewish community — and the larger faith community — is part of the culture at Conservative Peninsula Sinai Congregation. “We’re backyard neighbors to the JCC in Foster City,” says Cantor and Education Director Doron Shapira. The shul is also involved in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a group of synagogues and churches that volunteer space for the homeless.

In second place is the partnership between San Francisco Congregations Emanu-El and Sha’ar Zahav.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Marin Day School/

Bright Horizons

Sherith Israel Campus

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Morasha: Oakland

Learns Together

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula Sina

Congregationi

Foster City

(650) 349-2816

www.peninsulasinai.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation Kol

Shofar and Congregation

Rodef Sholom

Kol Shofar: (415) 479-3335

www.kolshofar.org

Rodef Sholom: (415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

and Congregation

Sha’ar Zahav

Emanu-El: (415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

Sha’ar Zahav: (415) 861-6932

www.shaarzahav.org

Most Innovative Synagogue Programming

These four synagogues know that it takes creativity, flexibility and diversity to stay on the cutting edge of adult and youth programming.

The first place winner picked by our readers is Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, which operates on the philosophy that “there’s something for everybody” when it comes to programming for congregants with varying needs. “The synagogue of today is not the synagogue of 1960,” Executive Director Gary Cohn says. Whether it’s Darfur activism, alternative worship options or invigorating adult learning, you can find what you’re searching for at Emanu-El.

Three words come to Kathy Hollander’s mind when she thinks of Congregation Beth Jacob in Oakland, which won in the East Bay: traditional (it’s Modern Orthodox), tolerant and embracing. Traditional and innovative may seem to be at odds with each other, but that’s not the case for Beth Jacob.

Hollander, the synagogue’s administrative assistant, highlights Beth Jacob’s lay-led summer study group, which is open to all. Last summer the small group discussed Pirke Avot. This summer they’re studying Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s “Nineteen Letters.”

Think big, take risks, experiment — and it will be exhilarating. That’s Rabbi Micah Citrin’s attitude toward programming at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, a Reform synagogue of nearly 1,500 families that won in the South Bay/Peninsula. The synagogue’s mini-courses on Jewish mysticism, modern Jewish literature and Jewish history have become especially popular. Next year the synagogue will add a theater-based Judaica program called Chagigah for elementary school kids.

Letting congregants form personal connections with each other is a guiding mission for Conservative congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, voted first in Marin. Michael Saxe-Taller, the synagogue’s program and membership director, says they are always trying to find ways for congregations to “share their stories and build deeper and more honest relationships with each other.”

Second-place winners are Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Temple Beth Abraham in the East Bay, Congregation Kol Emeth in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation

Oakland

(510) 482-1147

www.bethjacoboakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Temple Beth Abraham

Oakland

(510) 832-0936

www.tbaoakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation

Kol Emeth

Palo Alto

(650) 948-7498

www.kolemeth.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

Interfaith Synagogue Program

Bay Area synagogues and organizations are responding to the growing numbers of interfaith families and couples by investing heavily in outreach programming. Our readers gave the first-place award to Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Temple Isaiah in the East Bay, Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin/Sonoma and Peninsula Temple Beth El in the South Bay/Peninsula.

For Reform Rabbi Larry Raphael of Sherith Israel, making everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, feel at home in the synagogue is his top priority. For non-Jews (and Jews) who wish to learn more about Judaism, Raphael says he offers an Introduction to Judaism class. In fact, an equal number of Jews and non-Jews take the course each year, Raphael says. “There’s a hunger for information about Judaism that is delivered in an open and welcoming fashion.”

Two of the four rabbis at Reform Temple Isaiah in Lafayette are willing to officiate at interfaith marriage ceremonies. To make services welcoming to interfaith families, more English melodies are being incorporated, says Associate Rabbi Judy Shanks. “I think our goal always is to honor all of our members and to encourage them to learn and growl,” she adds.

The variety of programming at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo makes the synagogue a standout for interfaith families, says Norm Frankel, the synagogue’s executive director. Workshops last year for young interfaith families were a hit, as well as the Introduction to Judaism class offered every year. “In general we’re very welcoming to interfaith families. It’s just one of our strengths,” Frankel says.

Rabbi Noa Kushner of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael isn’t comfortable with the term “interfaith.”

“[They] don’t consider themselves interfaith because they’re practicing Judaism,” she says. “I think some congregations look at interfaith families and Jewish families as a ‘them’ and ‘us’ but … we’re all in this together.” Kushner adds that Rodef does its best to place as few “restrictions” as possible on families raising their kids Jewish. A new mentorship program to bring congregants from varying Jewish backgrounds together is in the works.

In second place are Adath Israel Congregation in San Francisco, Temple Sinai in the East Bay, Peninsula Temple Sholom in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Kol Shofar in Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Temple Isaiah

Lafayette

(925) 283-8575

www.temple-isaiah.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula Temple Beth El

San Mateo

(650) 341-7701

www.templebethel.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

SECOND PLACE,

San Francisco

Adath Israel

Congregation

(415) 564-5665

www.adathisraelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-0313

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Temple Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.templebethjacob.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

Israel-Related Synagogue Program

Israel is the Jewish homeland, but it’s also a land of strife and high culture, a land of seculars and religious scholars. And everyone has a different opinion on what’s best for its future. These four congregations provide j. readers’ favorite Israel-related programming: Beth Jacob Congregation in the East Bay, Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Congregation Beth David in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Kol Shofar in Marin/Sonoma.

Beth Jacob Congregation, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Oakland, hosted the Israeli ambassador to Poland and the Polish ambassador to Israel in a program last year. Kathy Hollander, an administrative assistant, says the program was especially effective for Holocaust survivors: “I think it kind of gave a little bit of closure, if possible, to some of them.”

Sherith Israel in S.F. partnered with Melitz Centers for Jewish Zionist Education to hold a weekend Israel symposium this past year. While Melitz gave a presentation Friday night, Sherith Israel presented on “critical internal, social issues in Israel,” such as gay rights and the possibility of one day creating an Israeli constitution, Sherith Israel Rabbi Larry Raphael says.

Overall, Conservative Congregation Beth David in Saratoga is “very pro-Israel,” Rabbi Daniel Pressman says. Speakers on Israel frequent the congregation and congregants are “heavily involved” in AIPAC. “Whenever we have a chance to get an Israel speaker we jump at it,” he says. Beth David has sent teenagers on Young Judea’s Year Course in Israel and the March of the Living.

Kol Shofar’s “Bridges to Israel” programs cover various issues in Israel is offered every year, and speakers with a wide variety of opinions on Israel visit the synagogue, says Michael Saxe-Taller, the Tiburon synagogue’s director of programming and membership. “We have people who have spoken from AIPAC to Peace Now and all over the spectrum,” he says.

In second place are Temple Isaiah for the East Bay, Adath Israel Congregation for San Francisco, Peninsula Sinai Congregation for the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Rodef Sholom for Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Beth Jacob

Congregation

Oakland

(510) 482-1147

www.bethjacoboakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth David

Saratoga

(408) 257-3333

www.beth-david.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 479-3335

www.kolshofar.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Adath Israel

Congregation

(415) 564-5665

www.adathisraelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Isaiah

Lafayette

(925) 283-8575

www.temple-isaiah.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula Sinai

Congregation

Foster City

(650) 349-2816

www.peninsulasinai.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

Religious School

Though many complain about it, when pressed, Bay Area kids may just admit they like religious school. These feelings are especially fostered by the Hebrew schools voted as Bay Area favorites: Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, Congregation B’nai Shalom in the East Bay, Peninsula Temple Sholom in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Kol Shofar in Marin/Sonoma.

Sherith Israel’s director of education said she wants to instill a sense of lifelong learning within each student that passes through their doors — children, teenagers and adults. “Everyone has something to add, whether you’re 5 or 10 or 50,” Nancy Sheftel-Gomes says. One of Sherith Israel’s programs, Shabbat School, includes about 30 kids who meet Friday afternoons, first to learn and then to celebrate Shabbat with their parents.

Debbie Deitch, vice president of education at B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, says she places an emphasis on comprehension over memorization. Religious school students don’t just learn the prayer book liturgy; they also study the deeper meanings of prayers. And the learning doesn’t stop outside of the classroom: Seventh-graders participate in mitzvah projects and sixth- and seventh-graders go on a camping trip together in August.

It’s a sad truth that after bar or bat mitzvah, many young congregants don’t come to synagogue much. That’s not the case at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Executive Director James Carlson says. “When they start at Temple Sholom they stay at Temple Sholom until they go to college,” he says. “I think that they develop friends for life.”

It’s not a religious school’s job to “make Jews,” says Kol Shofar educator Phillip Hanken, who is entering his third year at the synagogue. Making Jews is the parent’s job. So to that effect, Hanken is developing new programs to bring the generations together in their Jewish learning. Parents study the same material as their children, albeit on a more sophisticated level. Kol Shofar is also opening a Hebrew computer lab for students to play educational games.

Congregation Emanu-El won second place in San Francisco, Temple Sinai won second in the East Bay, Temple Beth Jacob won second in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Rodef Sholom took second in Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Congregation

B’nai Shalom

Walnut Creek

(925) 934-9510

www.bshalom.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula

Temple Sholom

Burlingame

(650) 697-2279

www.sholom.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-5423

www.kolshofar.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-0313

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Temple Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.templebethjacob.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

Social Action Synagogue Program

Bay Area synagogues take the commandment to pursue justice to heart. That’s why they’re fighting to end genocide in Darfur, providing shelter for the homeless, cooking for those in need and delivering food to homeless shelters — social action programs voted as favorites by j. readers.

Martina Knee was so moved by the American Jewish World Service’s call to end genocide in Darfur that she got her whole synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, to take action. Knee has organized a Darfur table at Friday night services, brought speakers to the synagogue and led letter-writing campaigns and political advocacy efforts.

Every winter, Temple Isaiah in Contra Costa joins with other houses of worship and opens its doors to the homeless population for two weeks. Congregants prepare and serve meals, set up art projects for the kids and lead programs for the adults. “The congregation just comes through with whatever these folks need,” says Mary Anne Winig, Temple Isaiah’s adult program coordinator.

In coordination with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, congregants at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City prepare and deliver food to Jews who are housebound, have illnesses or financial struggles, says Cantor and Education Director Doron Shapira of the monthly “Chicken Soupers” program. While the program started among teens, now the entire synagogue is involved, Shapira says.

Kol Shofar congregants are working on “issues related to the elderly, to teens and their families and to the general issue of breaking down isolation and increasing the connection between people in the synagogue and in the county in general,” says Michael Saxe-Taller, the programming and membership director at the Tiburon synagogue. Congregants also deliver food monthly to the Mill Street Shelter and hold tri-annual blood drives.

Second place winners are Congregation Sherith Israel’s Hamotzi program in San Francisco, Kehilla Community Synagogue in the East Bay, Congregation Beth Am in the South Bay/Peninsula and Congregation Rodef Sholom’s Mitzvah Kitchen in Marin/Sonoma.

FIRST PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

Darfur advocacy

(415) 751-2511

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Isaiah

Lafayette

(925) 283-8575

www.temple-isaiah.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula Sinai

Congregation

Foster City

(650) 349-2816

www.peninsulasinai.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 479-3335

www.kolshofar.org

SECOND PLACE

San Francisco

Congregation

Sherith Israel

Hamotzi

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Kehilla Community

Synagogue

Piedmont

(510) 547-2424

www.kehillasynagogue.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation

Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Marin/Sonoma

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

Mitzvah Kitchen

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org