Jewish Life

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Jewish Life

Marisa Breall

Adult education programming

Some 3,000 years of Jewish history and scholarship have resulted in the accumulation of a whole lot of knowledge. Adult education classes, from traditional study to unconventional learning, provide ample opportunities to continue your education (and catch up from those Sunday school lessons you may have missed — or forgotten).

Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco offers “Exploring the World of Judaism,” a popular speakers’ series. “This program is of particular interest to our congregants because they choose the topics, which gives them a sense of ownership, and taps into the pulse of what people want,” explains education director Nancy Sheftel-Gomes. Lectures have covered topics such as “Jews, Money and Ethics,” “Top 10 Moments in San Francisco Jewish History” and “Exploring the World of Jewish Music.”

Adult classes at Temple Sinai, in partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica, are far-reaching in their appeal. “Sacred Scrolls” takes an in-depth look at biblical texts and their relationship to rituals and celebrations. For the more artistically inclined, the Oakland synagogue offers an adult art class in which students make pieces from reusable items.

The adult education program at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, led by Rabbi Sarah Wolf, picks a yearly theme that informs the classes and guest speakers. This year’s topic was “God is Not a Four Letter Word: Developing Your Personal Theology.” One of the more popular programs is the Sunday morning Torah study led by Rabbi Janet Marder and drawing over 150 regulars.

Tied for first place in the South Bay/ Peninsula, Congregation Beth Jacob’s adult learning program is integral to the Redwood City synagogue’s broader philosophy. “The social and emotional ties created among our adult learners are strong and meaningful,” says Rabbi Nathaniel Ezray, helping congregants to “develop their Jewish identities.” The program includes weekly study groups on the Torah, texts and holidays; two-year adult b’nai mitzvah classes;and mini-courses on subjects such as Jewish cooking, current events in Israel and books.

“Jewish learning should be exciting, accessible and creative,” says Hagar Ben-Eliezer, director of programming and community outreach at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. One inventive offering is “Eat, Pray, Schmooze,” held the first Friday of every month. A community dinner is followed by programs and services for adults and children, allowing congregants to learn and shmooze together.

Second-place winners were Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto and Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael.

 1st Place

San Francisco

Congregation Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-3263

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Congregation Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.bethjacobrwc.org

North Bay

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

 

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2511

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation

Oakland

(510) 482-2374

www.bethjacoboakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Kol Emeth

Palo Alto

(650) 948-2712

www.kolemeth.org

North Bay

Congregation Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

Interfaith programming

In a community as diverse as ours, religious affiliation comes in many shades of gray — and synagogues throughout the Bay Area pay tribute to this melting pot with a wide variety of interfaith programming.

Educational interfaith programming is plentiful at Congregation Sherith Israel. All early childhood activities welcome interfaith families. Additionally, the San Francisco synagogue host both a Mothers Circle and Grandparents Circle for interfaith families, which are both presented by the Jewish Outreach Institute. And many senior staff members take part in the San Francisco Interfaith Council. “Even though the Interfaith Council consists of representatives from every variation of religious institution, there is something really similar about all of us,” says Educational Director Nancy Sheftel-Gomes. 

Kehilla Community Synagogue’s welcoming atmosphere is in part a result of their acceptance of everyone. “We just are interfaith,” says Executive Director Sandy Brett. “At Kehilla, our feeling is that if you are in a positive relationship with Judaism and the Jewish community, then you are welcome to be one of the people who passes down the Torah.” The Piedmont synagogue is a part of an interfaith trio in the East Bay, together with Montclair Presbyterian Church and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California.

Congregation Beth Am’s new Interfaith Outreach Weekend was specifically identified as a favorite program by j. readers. This first-time event had several different activities, including a sermon on faith outreach during Friday night services and a panel discussion with interfaith couples who are members of the Los Altos Hills synagogue.

 Interfaith programming at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael means including all members of the synagogue’s community. “We offer many programs that are very inclusive,” says Executive Director Michael Kamler, “and we are very sensitive to the different experiences people have.” To that end, Rodef Sholom offers mentoring programs that match up its most experienced and involved congregants with both interfaith and new members.

Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Temple Sinai in Oakland, Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City and Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon came in second.

 

 1st Place

San Francisco

Congregation Sherith Israel

(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

North Bay

Congregation Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

 

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2511

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-3263

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.bethjacobrwc.org

North Bay

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

Israel-related programming

When it comes to forging connections with Israel, the 7,400 miles between here and there can be quite a distance to bridge — not just physically, but spiritually and intellectually as well. All of the Readers’ Choice winners have found engaging ways to make halfway across the world feel more like right across the bay.

“Rabbi [Larry] Raphael likes to say that we grow Jews in synagogue, so when it comes to Israel, I think we would say that we grow our congregants’ connections to Israel,” says Nancy Sheftel-Gomes, educational director at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. Those connections are cultivated through learning opportunities that aim to broaden perspectives. “We have brought in speakers with different points of views,” she says, “not only Jewish Israelis but also Muslim speakers.”

When Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation marked Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day), love for Israel was readily apparent — almost every single person in attendance wore blue and white. Further evidence of the strong bond with the Jewish state can be seen in the number of teenage congregants who choose to spend a year studying in Israel before college. Some adults will join them before the year is up — a mission to Israel is planned for next summer.

Congregation Beth Am’s Israel Awareness Committee is just a year old, but it has been a very successful one. “People are asking for more!” says Judith Rabbie, chair of the committee in Los Altos Hills. The group organizes educational events that showcase Israeli culture, such as movies and music, with an average attendance of 175 people.

Israel-focused events also draw a large crowd at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, which tied for first place in the South Bay/Peninsula. “We have a speaker every month on a Friday night,” says ritual director Bill Futornick, “and without fail the largest-attended ones are about Israel.” Successful programming is made up of a whole gamut of views, Futornick says. “We really want to represent all opinions from all over the spectrum.” Beth Jacob also is involved in planning a community-wide North Peninsula trip to Israel.

“The Bridges to Israel program really was started to do just that — build a bridge between our community and Israel,” says Hagar Ben-Eliezer, director of programs and community outreach at Kol Shofar. Congregants attend lectures with an Israel focus, discussing history, current events and diaspora realities, to “really get down to the core of what Zionism means.”

At Rodef Sholom, Israel programming happens on both sides of the globe. Congregants participate in trips to Israel, and the synagogue sponsors programs that bring Israel to Marin. Last March, Rodef Sholom, in partnership with Kol Shofar, put on a presentation about Israel’s Hand in Hand School, which promotes social change and understanding between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

In second place were Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Temple Sinai in Oakland, Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto and B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma.

 1st Place

San Francisco

Congregation Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation

Oakland

(510) 482-2374

www.BethJacobOakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Congregation Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.bethjacobrwc.org

North Bay

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

Congregation Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

 

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2511

www.emanuelsf.org

East Bay

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 465-0603

www.oaklandsinai.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Kol Emeth

Palo Alto

(650) 948-2712

www.kolemeth.org

North Bay

B’nai Israel Jewish Center

Petaluma

(707) 762-0340

www.bnaiisrael.net

Social action programming

Hunger, the environment, literacy and poverty are four areas of social need that many synagogues embrace.

At Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, volunteer opportunities are abundant. Congregants can mentor middle-school students, connect with the homeless or work the land at the Free Farm community garden. Social justice coordinator Sandy Rechtschaffen hopes that through the synagogue’s programs, “service becomes just a normative part of congregants’ everyday Jewish life.”

Congregation Sherith Israel, tied for first place in San Francisco, relies on congregants taking the initiative. “We have a bottoms-up approach that really drives change,” says David Morgenstein, chair of the social action committee. Sherith Israel is also part of the San Francisco Organizing Project, a group focusing on issues facing the city.

Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Max Davis strives to incorporate social action education into all programs at the Berkeley synagogue. “We hope that when community members come together to shmooze, whether at Kiddush or at home, everyone will be able to share in the conversation about social action,” Davis says.

At Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, the tzedek council has 12 ongoing projects that support different needs in the community. At the local level, the green team is working to make the synagogue environmentally sustainable. The WeveGotUrBack project is a partnership with East Palo Alto’s Costano Elementary School to provide supplies to students in underserved neighborhoods.

Congregation Rodef Sholom’s community organizing group, Panim el Panim, focuses on creating social change through face-to-face interactions. The San Rafael synagogue’s tikkkun olam committee sponsors a range of programs: serving meals to the homeless, service trips to New Orleans, park cleanups, Habitat for Humanity and more.

Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City and Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon came in second.

 

 1st Place

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

Congregation Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

East Bay

Congregation Beth Israel

Berkeley • (510) 843-5246

www.cbiberkeley.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills • (650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

North Bay

Congregation

Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441

www.rodefsholom.org

 

 2nd Place

San Francisco

Congregation

Beth Sholom

(415) 221-8736

www.bethsholomsf.org

East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation

Oakland

(510) 482-1147

www.bethjacoboakland.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Jacob

Redwood City

(650) 366-8481

www.bethjacobrwc.org

North Bay

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org