Readers’ Choice 2021: Innovative Programming

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Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535 •

A perennial winner of J.’s Readers’ Choice and the area’s largest Reform Jewish synagogue was founded in 1850 in San Francisco. A regular purveyor of innovative programs, the congregation offers small group gatherings for deeper connection, called B’bayit, in addition to its larger services and events. Continuing to be a hit, Shabbat mornings offer Torah Hevra with Scholar-Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. Services are now live-streamed and many are available with limited access in person as well. The congregation has always been involved in community outreach, both through cultural offerings and social justice. The museum in the temple has regularly featured both local and internationally known artists.

Congregation Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720 •

Sherith Israel is another regular honoree of Readers’ Choice. With Covid opening up so many opportunities for exposure beyond the immediate area, Sherith now hosts its own Youtube channel complete with services, sermons and lectures available anytime. The historic Reform congregation, founded during the Gold Rush, offers tours of its beautiful edifice every Wednesday at 2 p.m. A full range of educational programs for all ages along with its deep musical roots are hallmarks of the temple.

Sha’ar Zahav

(415) 861-6932 •

The Bay Area’s first gay and lesbian synagogue, founded in 1977, Sha’ar Zahav concerns itself with providing the warmth and comfort of chosen family. The congregation uses deep tradition as its springboard from which it questions, innovates and celebrates Judaism, tweaking tradition or reinventing it entirely. Programming focuses on authentic and transformative Jewish experiences within the diverse singles, couples, families and community that call the synagogue their home. As of this writing, services have moved to hybrid, both in person and via Zoom.



Temple Beth Abraham


(510) 832-0936 •

A Conservative congregation in Oakland, TBA’s offerings have run the gamut from traditional Kabbalat Shabbat to their Rock and Roll service. Make a Match Mentor program enables new members to be buddied up with more seasoned members for easy integration into the community. Other opportunities to connect to community with mishpacha groups for families, and junior congregation for 3rd to 6th graders. In the Covid age, they have moved to services online, and opening up slowly to in-person gatherings, with masks and distancing.

Temple Sinai


(510) 451-3263 •

Award-winning preschool and religious school and progressive social action programs are just a few reasons to check out Temple Sinai. A returnee to the ranks of Readers’ Choice, this warm Reform congregation gathers in a lovely historic building in Oakland. They strive for innovation in all aspects of their Shabbat and holiday observances, adult education and event progamming. As we emerge from Covid restrictions, the temple is slowly opening up their services from being completely online.

Temple Isaiah


(925) 283-8575  •

There are tons of reasons one might refer to Temple Isaiah as innovative. Near the top of the list is their socially-conscious Winter Nights program. Members of Temple Isaiah have participated for 16 years in this very hands-on program, sheltering and feeding over 1,200 people. The next session begins on Monday, December 20, 2021. Another innovation is their Lishma Cards program, a new way to keep track of members’ Jewish learning throughout the year. It’s the adult version of the “gold star” through which adults are encouraged to seek out Jewish learning through classes, torah study, film and community events.



Peninsula Temple Beth El

San Mateo

(650) 341-7701 •

PTBE’s Hanukkah program is an outstanding example of their approach to innovative programming. They emjoyed the holiday with a combined Hanukkah/Diwali celebration. The event planned to showcase Hanukkah and Hindi songs, holiday candle lighting in both traditions, holiday food and an illuminating educational component on the significance of the two holidays and the unifying theme of light. The temple strives to find a satisfying balance between honoring traditions while introducing new and exciting ways of “doing Jewish.”

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661 •

Always a leader in innovation, Beth Am brings a creative approach to programming and worship, even with this year’s challenges. For many years running, they maintain their favorite status among J.’s readers. Even with such a large congregation, there are many groups — women’s groups, learning cohorts, families, to name just a few, allowing for more intimate connections. Live streaming and Zoom have supplemented their in-person gatherings to ensure safety. Beth Am’s Tikvah programs offers one-to-one emotional support for members facing a life challenge, especially in the times of Covid.



Congregation Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441  •

Even during times such as these, Rodef Sholom continues to offer members and visitors (mostly online/zoom) enjoyable and meaningful observance and celebrations.  This year’s Hanukkah gathering is a great example, with virtual latke recipe sharing, joint lighting of menorahs and friends connecting. The congregation has kept up adult education and has begun a very innovative pilot program, Treasures of the Tribe, to welcome members new to Jewish living by gifting them ritual objects that members no longer use, and sharing the stories of those objects.