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Petaluma's Inclusive Center for Jewish Life

Words are Hard to Find

06/04/2020 05:09:15 PM

Jun4

Rabbi Ted Feldman

As Jews, we should understand the anger that builds up over generations and generations confronting racism. George Floyd's death is an affront to the moral teachings that comprise the fabric of our free society. We are taught to not stand idly by the pain of our neighbors. What we witnessed on the viral videos was the fulfillment of an admonition in the Ethics of our Sages, the reward of one crime is another crime. Not only was there one perpetrator of this crime, but those who stood by joined in responsibility.

As I write this note, demonstrators are in front of the Petaluma Police Department, freely and, I hope, peacefully, expressing their solidarity with the thousands and thousands of people who have walked and cried and marched and prayed for change and healing. Our Chief of Police has expressed his and his officers horror at what has happened.

For us as Jews, finding ourselves in a period of rising anti-Semitism, these events and threats of military invention should raise our antennae and remind us that our vigilance is important now, as ever. In doing that, though, we want to join with the myriad of Jewish and community organizations who stand with the African American community in demanding a stop to these events which destroy lives, families, and communities. I feel like I am going back to the 1950's and recall driving in Tennessee during the early stages of the civil rights movement. I remember, as a child, seeing cars overturned, smoke billowing from buildings, police in riot gear and whites and blacks trying to heal the then racism that permeated life in those communities. It feels like deja vu. Watching the news this week reminded me that there our parts of our world still needing healing and renewal.

I know that I should be writing a long analyses of these events using Jewish sources and reminding us of our roots. I have to believe that most, if not all, of those reading this feel that urge for justice in our guts. Given what is happening, I am planning to offer a class in Jewish notions of social justice...just to remind ourselves from whence we came and where we can go.Please stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I invite to to affirm through your thoughts and actions that black lives do, indeed, matter. In fact, all of human life matters and right now we are focusing on understanding what is going on in our society and offering our thoughts, actions, donations, demonstrations to express our work to make a more just society.

May we all reach into our hearts and check out our own prejudices as we reach out beyond ourselves to make a difference in our world.

Shalom!!

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Helping Our B'nai Israel Jewish Community Through the Covid-19 Pandemic

06/02/2020 07:17:12 PM

Jun2

Stuart Nissenbaum, BIJC President

Covid-19 has shaken our world. Everyone of us has felt the ripple effects as this disease has taken so many lives and livelihoods. Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation. It is my hope that each member of our community is staying safe, healthy, and getting through these trying times.

During this time, I wanted to reach out and update you on how B’nai Israel has assessed, convened and realigned itself to a “new normal”- one that no one can yet imagine. The term new normal, itself, is so strange and I pray that we never accept it as such. Because I believe…

  • It is not normal for multiple family members, sometimes several generations to die within days of each other
  • It is not normal for burials to take place without loved ones present
  • It is not normal for our Shabbat services to be virtual rather than to gather as community in our synagogue
  • It is not normal for our extended families to have a Passover seder on Zoom
  • It is not normal for our synagogues, JCC’s and Jewish agencies to lay off or furlough thousands of employees

These past few months have turned out to be a test for our Jewish Center. Do we have the ability to rapidly re-create our way of doing business? The short answer is: YES.

Within days of the closure, B’nai Israel moved its Shabbat services onto Zoom. A typical Zoom service has seen 25-30 members join virtually as our Rabbi leads us in prayer and guides us towards healing. Rabbi Feldman has channeled FDR’s fireside chat, where each Tuesday morning he hosts an open forum so that members can discuss how they are coping with the changes brought on by Covid-19, and Wednesday evenings are set aside for virtual Adult Education classes. Our educators also moved our religious and pre-school classes to Zoom and have maintained constant contact with our children and their families. And several members have conducted Zoom cooking classes each Wednesday afternoon.

We know that the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually come to a pause and the economy will reboot itself, as will BIJC. But before we even think of re-opening, we must assess the damage that this pandemic has caused our community. Who has lost their job, business, retirement and God forbid, their life? Who has gotten sick or needs immediate assistance? Who has gone from a two-family income to a single family or zero income? Whose parents can no longer assist in the financial and/or physical needs of their children or grandchildren. And who cannot continue to pay their membership dues or re-join BIJC for 2020/2021.

Many of you attended our Annual Membership meeting on May 17th and heard me discuss the effects that Covid-19 is having and will continue to have on our Jewish Center. This year’s budget and the budget that was passed for the upcoming year will see a major loss of revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We estimate the shortfall to be approximately $90,000. Several of our fundraising events have been postponed. Our annual golf tournament which raised over $27,000 last year had to be postponed and will likely not be rescheduled until late fall or spring. Our Bidding for Good auction raised over $20,000 last year and also needed to be postponed as we were unable to go out in the community to solicit donations from local businesses. Although our High Holiday Appeal begins in late summer with mention in our newsletter, it is the appeal from the bimah on Yom Kippur that helps fund a good portion of our operating expenses. Yet this year our congregation may not be praying together in our building and there will be no opportunity for an appeal from the bimah. There is nothing more powerful than a meaningful address to the congregation followed by an ask and then a call to action for everyone to support our Center.

We are now approaching the end of our fiscal year and for the most part we have been in quarantine since mid-March. Most certainly, we won’t go back to any semblance of business as usual until the end of summer. Our Gan Israel Pre-School has been closed for almost three months and it appears that we will not be re-opening for a summer session. More lost revenue. Many Gan Israel families have prepaid their summer tuition and we are in the process of refunding over $20,000 in tuition.

No matter what the outcome of this year and next, the work of B’nai Israel Jewish Center is important and must continue. What will be the final cost to do that work, what employees need to be kept on, all the insurance, building maintenance, office expenses….the list goes on and needs to be considered when we look at the overall cost of running our Center. While we have somehow managed through the initial stages of Covid—19 lockdown, we are now bracing for the ongoing effects of the epidemic. B’nai Israel has faced many difficult situations in the past and we are adept at facing hardships with incredible resiliency, creativity and care. We know how to turn sorrow into joy and face fear with confidence and as a community we will come together to not only survive but to return stronger than ever.

If you have been so fortunate as to have escaped the personal financial losses associated with Covid-19, I am asking you to join me in making a difference today when it matters more than ever. Our staff and Board of Directors need your help to continue doing the good work that we do for you and for our community. Please carefully consider making your donation and give generously so that the doors to our beloved 155-year-old institution can remain open in good times and bad.

Click here to make a donation

Lag B'Omer

05/11/2020 04:11:08 PM

May11

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Tonight, at sundown, we welcome the day on the Jewish calendar called Lag B’Omer, the 33rd Day of the counting of the Omer. The mitzvah, commandment, in the book of Leviticus, bids us to count the days from Pesach to Shavuot. In ancient times this counting was accomplished by bringing measures of grain, an Omer, to the ancient Temple. The counting of the days from the liberation from Egyptian bondage to the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai took seven complete weeks. Shavuot was the fiftieth day.

So, why is this 33rd day significant. According to Talmudic tradition, a plague was rampaging through the communities of Jews during the time of Rabbi Akiva, Second Century. According to the tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting, the epidemic was declared lifted and celebrations ensued. As a result of that plague, 24,000 students had lost their lives. The celebrations represented a feeling of miraculous healing.

This 33rd day of the counting is also considered to be the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the principal book of the Jewish mystical tradition. Bar Yochai, on his death bed, revealed all of the secrets of that mystical tradition. The celebratory bonfires in Israel are to acknowledge that revelation.

For us today, struggling with the presence of COVID-19 in our world, we are reminded that civilization has had to deal with these plagues throughout history. Only in retrospect can the power of healing stand out for us. Today we have the tools of modern science to help us confront this reality, but we are also reminded that the natural world is, ultimately, beyond the total control of human beings.

On this Lag B’Omer, we acknowledge the lives lost centuries ago and the healing that came forth. We also acknowledge that we are saddened by our contemporary pandemic and the lives that have been lost and affected by this scourge. As we care for ourselves and our loved ones, we look forward to a contemporary Lag B’Omer when we can declare the plague lifted. May that moment come speedily and, in the meantime, may we live safely and with hope.

We were together...

03/29/2020 08:11:59 PM

Mar29

Hillary Fox

Finding Direction by Looking Back

03/26/2020 02:00:51 PM

Mar26

Ruth Wilson

During these unsettling times, I find comfort in looking back and learning how people coped with and often rose above challenges in their lives. As a relative newcomer to the B’nai Israel community I have always wanted to know more about its storied history that began in the 1860s. Many of us own or have heard about Comrades and Chicken Ranchers,[1] Kenneth Kann’s collection of interviews that included the Russian Jewish immigrants from the turn of the 20th century, to successive waves of settlers from mid- to late-century. Under the Fair Use doctrine, I offer a short excerpt. N.B. the names of the interviewees have been changed. I wish it weren’t so but I understand why the author chose to do it.

from Ch. 8 When There’s A War It Gets Busy

Diana Rabin Hartman (b. 1925 Petaluma)

The war was marvelous! Absolutely marvelous!! Right near Petaluma was Hamilton Air Force Base, the Coast Guard at Two Rock Ranch, the cavalry at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds. Boys everywhere! I had a lot of fun!

The war didn’t really hit me until my brother got drafted. Before that, when a girlfriend got me a date with a soldier from Hamilton Field, I was afraid to tell my mother. Jewish girls did not go out with soldiers! They were the dregs of the earth! But when nice Jewish boys from Petaluma became soldiers, it was entirely different. That’s when this nonreligious Jewish community started holding Oneg Shabbat, Friday-night services. So the Jewish soldiers in the area would have someplace to go. It brought all the Jewish soldiers into the Center! Non-Jewish boys came too. Oh, we had a lot of boys around.

I met my husband at one of those Friday-night services. He didn’t have a chance, poor guy. I met him in February of 1943 and we announced our engagement at the community seder in the spring. Joe Holtzman toasted us with champagne!

We had a huge wedding. Everybody came – 400 people. This was wartime, so the whole community gave sugar stamps for the cake. All the women helped with the cooking. Bill’s parents flew out from New York for the wedding. They were very religious – sixteen sets of dishes – you couldn’t mix anything – kosher kosher. When they arrived my mother-in-law asked, “Who is the shoykhet [ritual slaughter] for all this chicken at the wedding dinner?”

Bill says, “Me! I string up the chickens, take the knife, and whoosh – slit their throats!” [Much laughter.]

She almost had a heart attack.

We tried our best to have a real Jewish wedding. Rabbi Solomon Platt came up from San Francisco to marry us. We had the whole thing – the khupe [traditional wedding canopy], the banquet, music, dancing. We did it all after dark, do everyone had time to put their chickens to sleep.

[1] Comrades and Chicken Ranchers, Kenneth L. Kann, 1993, Cornell University Press

Our Evolving World

03/25/2020 12:54:40 PM

Mar25

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Our staff, Hillary Fox(program and outreach director), Ruth  Wilson (communications coordinator), and Lisa Basalto(webmaster) have worked so hard to get this site ready for us to use as a forum for thoughts, feelings, ideas, and whatnot during these challenging times. All I know is that my email boxes are filled with words from organizations, businesses, political leaders, and such trying to assure people, inform people, on and on.

Anyone who has studied Judaism with me knows that I have, for decades, relied on Mordecai Kaplan’s definition of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. Over the centuries we have clearly demonstrated that our Jewish lives have changed. They have changed from location to location, in various cultures in which we lived and under the leadership of different people who have developed different views of how to live our lives as  Jews. A prime example is happening right now. I know of rabbis and communities that would not have been willing to rely on technology to connect people, particularly on Shabbat. In the unfolding drama of the world pandemic, things have changed.For a while now, many have condemned technology as taking people away from live interactions. Today, we are grateful toi have these tools to keep our community together.

And, right here, we have this thing called a blog to give us the opportunity to express ourselves in writing or through pictures or art or music. I will watch these pages closely to look for words from our community. It is these words that will profoundly connect us in these days of separation.

Meanwhile, I will work from home, attend to my child who starts distance learning after this week and will likely not be back in a classroom for the remainder of the school year. I will try to keep in touch with as many of our BIJC community as I can and add thoughts to these pages. Please join me.

News from Outreach and Programming

03/24/2020 02:01:45 PM

Mar24

Hillary Fox

Welcome to our community blog!  Hope we can all stay in touch here & keep updated w/ our virtual events!

Speaking of: Shabbat Connect, our religious school programming is back this Saturday, March 28th from 10am-10:40am.  This is a family program for preschool-7th. If you haven’t participated before but would like to pls email me: hillary@bnaiisrael.net.  You can also see our website for full description of the “regular” program.

💞, Hillary

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780