(From left) Elaina Marshalek and Rabbi Frankie Sandmel at home in Rockridge. (Photo/Alix Wall)
(From left) Elaina Marshalek and Rabbi Frankie Sandmel at home in Rockridge. (Photo/Alix Wall)

At Bay Area’s first ‘Base,’ rabbinic couple invites you in to make connections

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Long before becoming a rabbi, Frankie Sandmel organized events like Havdalah with a social justice slant. Now Rabbi Sandmel and their partner, Elaina Marshalek, will do some of that and more as community-builders at Base, an initiative that aims to reach young Jews outside of the synagogue.

Already with nine outposts in places such as Chicago, Brooklyn, Harlem and Miami, Base now has its first Bay Area location in the sunny Oakland home that Sandmel, 32, and Marshalek, 31, moved into last month — next door to the Moishe House in Rockridge, and adjacent to the future home of the JCC of the East Bay.

“While each Base is diverse in terms of what they look like and who they serve, what participants say about [each location] is very similar,” Marshalek said. “And that is that everyone feels welcome and that they can be themselves here.”

Base was founded seven years ago by four friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn who were passionate about Jewish outreach. Each Base is run by a rabbinical couple, something that Sandmel believes is based on the successful Chabad model, one in which hospitable emissaries create a warm atmosphere.

At Base, people are invited into the rabbi-and-spouse’s home for Shabbat and holiday meals, Jewish learning, programs and social connection. It is run under the auspices of Moishe House, and the initiatives are similar, except that at Moishe House there are multiple residents, they’re not married, and they receive rent stipends in exchange for planning events for their 20- and 30-something peers.

Also, while Moishe House events can run the gamut (some Jewish, some not), Base’s events will be more about Jewish learning and community service.

For example, Marshalek said, they will be more likely to have Shabbat and holiday meals around the table, for smaller groups to facilitate deeper connections, whereas Moishe House might have a potluck with unlimited guests. And rather than a one-time workshop at a Moishe House, Base is more likely to offer a six-week series that will explore an issue in-depth and foster interpersonal connections.

For Sandmel, being a rabbi-educator at Base is a full-time job. It’s part time for Marshalek, who is director of programs for Chicago-based Svara, which IDs itself as “a traditionally radical yeshiva dedicated to the serious study of Talmud through the lens of queer experiences.” (It also runs Queer Talmud Camp, which has been on hiatus since the pandemic.) Marshalek and Sandmel, who also has an affiliation with Svara, are both big fans of its ethos of making serious Jewish learning accessible to people who might not try it otherwise.

As the community builds, Sandmel will offer rabbinic pastoral support and perform lifecycle events. And beyond hosting Shabbat and holiday meals, the couple will offer opportunities for Jewish learning — Marshalek’s book-lined office will double as a beit midrash, or study hall — and Sandmel expects to go out for coffee with interested folks. Their first event will be the Tu B’Av Community Love Party, held on their patio on Aug. 11. It will feature “hanging, grilling, dreaming and perhaps some crafts to celebrate love and to warm our home.”

“The reason we wanted this role was that we were doing it anyway,” said Marshalek, who grew up Reform in San Mateo, where she attended Peninsula Temple Beth El, served on the NFTY board and attended Cal for both her undergraduate degree and graduate school.

“It feels like a huge wink from HaShem,” added Sandmel, a third-generation rabbi who grew up mostly in Chicago. They were ordained by Hebrew College in Boston this past May.

Marshalek and Sandmel married in January of this year, and since arriving in the East Bay have been meeting with Jewish leaders in the community to talk about collaborating.

Sandmel said one of the aims is to “meet people where they are and invest in them as individuals” and to do it with a “progressive lens.” Added Marshalek: “We know there are a lot of folks hungry for deep Jewish learning, deep spiritual support and nourishment and we want to offer new avenues for that.”

One plus is that the couple has the experience of other Base leaders to draw on. Then again, each community is different. They envision drawing to their home a mix of queer and straight, partnered and not, and non-Jews interested in what Judaism has to offer are welcome, too.

“Our biggest goal is helping people who want to be in Jewish community,” Sandmel said.

To learn more, follow Base on Instagram or visit basemovement.org/bay.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."