Post-tashlich Shabbat service at the Peninsula JCC's Hamlin Garden, led by (from left) Cantor Doron Shapira, Rabbi Laurie Matzkin, musician Michael Battat and Rabbi Lisa Kingston.
Post-tashlich Shabbat service at the Peninsula JCC's Hamlin Garden, led by (from left) Cantor Doron Shapira, Rabbi Laurie Matzkin, musician Michael Battat and Rabbi Lisa Kingston.

Kicking off 5783 with spirituality and community on the Peninsula

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For the first time in years, I did not lead congregational worship during the recently concluded High Holiday season. Instead, I filled my dance card with opportunities up and down the Peninsula and was able to witness firsthand the incredible efforts of my colleagues and our diverse Jewish community.

For Selichot, I joined a group of women — from teens to seniors — from Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto in Rabbi Sarah Graff’s backyard for a moving song session that integrated favorites from their annual women’s retreat with highlights of the High Holiday season. We were so moved by congregant Rick Dinitz’s English interpretation of Kol Nidre that we sang it three times through. Rabbi Idit Solomon of Berkeley-based Hasidah, the Jewish fertility support organization, led us in an “Al Chet” exercise, inviting us to name personal character traits that pain us — and that we want to leave behind.

Rosh Hashanah brought my family to Kol Emeth for the first holiday in their new building. The feeling of the airy sanctuary with the unforeseen salvation of a 40-foot tall sliding glass door (planned before Covid!) that opens to the courtyard created an organic, indoor-outdoor flow that helped us feel connected to nature — and Covid-safe.

A view from the entrance to Kol Emeth's new sanctuary, looking straight at the Ark.
A view from the entrance to Kol Emeth’s new sanctuary, looking straight at the Ark.

For the first Shabbat of 5783, my colleagues Rabbi Lisa Kingston (Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo) and Cantor Doron Shapira (Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City) humored me by co-creating an afternoon tashlich boat ride on the Foster City Lagoon. We mixed participants into different boating groups so the community could leisurely get to know each other and cast our rice paper sins to float with the jellyfish. The experience culminated in a first-ever collaborative, musical Shabbat service back at the PJCC with all our community members celebrating together.

Thanks to a rare babysitter, my husband and I actually sat and davened together on both Kol Nidre and Neilah. And from our rental home in our new neighborhood, we could walk to shul for the first time since 2016.

Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City offered so many options for participation: a masked section in the sanctuary, a side patio with a giant screen to watch the service onsite but outdoors, an alternative service on the main patio with camp-style guitar music, and, of course, streaming on Zoom.

For Yom Kippur morning, I accepted Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper’s invitation to chant haftarah for Hillel at Stanford’s Reform/Conservative service. Experiencing Frost Amphitheater as a Jewish sacred space was unforgettable: quiet, peaceful, natural.

The true blend of styles mirrored the pluralism of campus life: Lior Ben-Hur with his world-music band Sol Tevel; the shared leadership of both Rabbi Hahn Tapper and Rabbi Jessica Kirschner; local soprano Kari Kirk; an enthusiastic professor-turned-hazzan; and a silky-voiced grad student who led the Ashamnu.

Our final stop on the path of prayer was Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, in a remodeled sanctuary that reopened just as the world shut down in 2020. From a women’s healing service with all three rabbis to a rousing Neilah led by Elana Jagoda Kaye and Saul Kaye and their band, the services were heartfelt, personal and intense. Rabbi Kingston, in her 10th year at the temple and first as senior rabbi, shined as a leader who encouraged her team to have their own moments of empowerment and impact.

I am so proud to have all these incredible women clergy as my colleagues.

As a child of Temple Isaiah in the ’80s, where Rabbi Roberto Graetz and Rabbi Judy Shanks were one of the first “co-rabbi” teams around, I find it gratifying to see the impact of women rabbis and cantors throughout the Bay Area. I am so proud to have all these incredible clergy as my colleagues.

The message from my peers was that there is room for everyone; that by structuring holy teams and inviting new voices (in both song and speech), more beauty, spirituality and courageous honesty can flow between the prayerbook and our hearts.

In addition to the sincerity of these worship offerings, each of the communities I visited was sensitive to a variety of Covid comfort levels and offered every possible accommodation — mask sections, outdoor screenings, livestreaming and, for those who felt ready, the feeling of community re-gathering.

Besides the stars on the stage (well, bimah) I have already mentioned, I want to acknowledge and congratulate the minyans and minyans of other professionals, volunteers, lay leaders and other partners who worked themselves to the bone to pull off this feat.

Shul is like ice skating — you only see the results of the process — and this year, I give a 10 to the Peninsula Jewish community for a beautiful dance that helped us all enter the gates of 5783.

Rabbi Laurie Matzkin
Rabbi Laurie Matzkin

Rabbi Laurie Matzkin is the Chief Jewish Experience officer at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.