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Thoughts on Shabbat Sukkot

10/15/2022 09:27:54 AM


Guest Rabbi Rob Bonem

Thoughts from Rabbi Rob Bonem at BIJC on Shabbat Sukkot 5783/2022
Please note, these are a basic outline of Rabbi Rob’s words, but were not intended to be a written d’var Torah, and were not delivered verbatim. Rabbi Rob has graciously allowed us to share his thoughts here but asks that they not be reproduced without permission. To request permission please email

Good Shabbos!   Chag Sameach!   

Before we talk about Sukkot, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. I've led an interesting life.  I'm from Chicago, but have lived in Paris, Berlin, Jerusalem, Santa Barbara, Tucson, LA and the Bay area.   I'm a Rabbi, teacher, and life coach.   As a Rabbi, I'm trained to work with people from all denominations (or none).   This matches my own practice.   There are parts of me that are Orthodox, parts of me that are Conservative, parts of me that are Reform, and parts that are Renewal.   You may see the different parts of me today.   Forgive me if I do something that is different from your practice.   Forgive me if I use language that is not the language you use.   For example, I use the word G-d.   Some people use the word Sovereign, or Source, or Spirit.   Please just translate my words into words that work for you.  

As I mentioned, I am also a teacher.   In addition to Jewish topics, I have taught psychology, American government, English as a second language, and ballroom dance.   I tend to dance during my singing.   Please feel free to dance today.  

And I work as a spiritual life coach.   I have a master's in clinical psychology.   These areas all overlap.   I strive to make the spiritual practical and the practical spiritual.   

I think Sukkot is one of our most underrated holidays.   Many Jews emphasize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.    But Sukkot is referred to as “Z’man Simchateinu,” the time for joy.   It seems to me to be shame that we are overlooking, or diminishing, the time to celebrate. One of the ways we celebrate is by singing - and maybe dancing - for Hallel, which we’ll do together today, but there are other ways that we can celebrate the joy of Sukkot.

Sukkot is a harvest festival.   This was, in ancient days, the time we would go out to harvest our crops.   We would live in Sukkot, near the fields, so as not to lose time traveling.   And we would rejoice in our harvest.   I would like to suggest that today, there are three ways that we can harvest, even if we don’t live lives that are directly connected to agriculture.  One is the material world.   One is the spiritual world.  And one is anything else you might want to rejoice in.   

First, I would like to speak about the material world.   While most of us don't go out to the fields anymore, this is still a time to be thankful for our physical goods.   This includes not only the food we have to eat, but also the clothing we wear, the homes that we have, and any money we may have set aside.   One reason we live in Sukkot, in booths, at this time, is to be aware of the great prosperity that we have in our regular lives.   And this alone is a reason for us to be happy, to rejoice, and to give thanks.   This prosperity is our harvest in the material world.  

A second harvest is our harvest of the spiritual world.   If you did the work of the days of awe, if you did the work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you are now reaping or harvesting the benefits of that work.   At the synagogue where I worked this year, I lead the congregation in a process of forgiveness.   If you were able to forgive those who hurt you, you have gotten rid of some anger and resentment.   If you asked for forgiveness from those you have hurt, you have gotten rid of guilt.   And, by the way, if you have not yet done this work, it is not too late.   It is never too late to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness.   If you have done any of these things this year, you are probably feeling happier and lighter.   And this is a moment for us to realize it, to remember it, and to celebrate it.   This, and any other spiritual work we've done the last year, is our spiritual harvest.   And this is our second way of harvesting.   

And if there is anything else that you are thankful for, in this year, or in this life, you can also harvest that at this time.   I am including in this category anything else that may be a cause for celebration in your life.   If you have any measure of health, you can rejoice in it.   If you have any measure of good relationships with others, this is something you can rejoice in.   If you have any measure of happiness, this is also a cause for joy.   

Now, I do not like to just give a speech up here.   I like my teachings to be practical.   So please take a moment to think of a couple of things you are grateful.   Appreciate them.   See them as a cause for joy.   Be thankful.   If you are comfortable, share one with the person next to you.   And now, share it with G-d.   And give thanks.      

There are many aspects to this holiday that bring us joy.   We eat well and eat together.   We sing, and dance, and wave the lulav.  And we harvest.   We take a moment to appreciate, to harvest the material prosperity in our lives.   We take a moment to appreciate, to harvest the spiritual work, and its fruits, in our lives.   And we take a moment to appreciate, to harvest, anything else that is good in our lives.   

I want to thank you all for allowing me to be with you today.   If you find any part of what I did today helpful, please tell me - that is part of my harvest.     And I want to bless you, and bless all of us, that we have a good harvest this year, that we have a good harvest in the year to come, and a good harvest all the years of our life.     

Reflection on Avodah Service

10/05/2022 09:26:44 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Joseph

Reflection on Avodah Service Yom Kippur 5783

The Yiddish playwright and ethnographer Saul Ansky (1863-1920) traveled the rural areas of Eastern Europe, recording Jewish culture and life. The Soviet government withheld his ethnographic material for decades. Only in the late 1990s were some of his findings finally made available to scholars and the public. I first encountered them a few years later.1
Ansky’s famous play The Dybbuk, first performed in 1920, was based partly on his research. The d’var Torah given by the Chasidic master at the beginning of the play was one he recorded during his fieldwork.

This teaching, which I share with you now as our alternative to re-enacting the Avodah service, helps us to understand better why it remains so prominent in our Yom Kippur observance today and more deeply absorb its meaning:

The world of God is great and holy.
Of all the lands of the world, the land Israel was set aside to be holy for us; and in the land of Israel, the holiest city is Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, the holiest place was the Holy Temple.
And the holiest site in the Temple was the Holy of Holies…

Our tradition is that in the world there a seventy nations, and, of them, Israel was set aside to be holy unto God.
The holiest of the people Israel is the tribe of the Levites. The holiest of the Levites are the priests;
And among the priests, the holiest was the High Priest.

The lunar year has 354 days.
Some days are set aside as holy days. Holier than the festivals are the Shabbatot;
And the holiest of the Shabbatot is the Day of Atonement – the Shabbat of Shabbatot.

There are seventy languages in the world, and of them, Hebrew was chosen as our holy tongue.
The holiest of all things written in the Hebrew language is the Holy Torah. In the Torah, the holiest part is the Ten Commandments.
And the holiest of all the words in the Ten Commandments is the name of God.

At a certain hour, on a certain day of the year, all these four holinesses met together.
of Holies and there revealed the Divine name.
And if he invoked God’s name in purity, all Israel was forgiven.

Wherever a person stands to lift up eyes to heaven, that place is a Holy of Holies. Every human being created by God in God’s own image is a High Priest.
Each day of a person’s life is the Day of Atonement…

Each one of us can face God with the language of the heart. Each one of us can be forgiven.
Each one of us can achieve atonement and be made pure in the eyes of God.2

Holiness is not remote from us. It is right here, right now, in and around us. And if we make it so, this same holiness is accessible every day of our lives.

The great medieval Hispano-Hebrew poet Moshe Ibn Ezra (c. 1060- c. 1139) wrote: Devarim ha-yotzim min halev nichnasim el halev – Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.

Keyn yehi ratzon – May it be so. Today, on Yom Kippur, and every day for the rest of our lives.

1 Ansky’s The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, published in English translation in 2002, reports firsthand on the Jews caught between the warring armies of Russia, Germany, and the Austrian Empire and his efforts to organize desperately needed relief from 1914- 1918. It provides critical context for understanding the circumstances of Jews in Ukraine historically and today.

2 Machzor Lev Shalem, pp. 325-326

Holiness is Right Here

10/05/2022 09:25:18 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Jacob

Holiness is Right Here, Right Now – Yom Kippur Morning 5783

Holy is your name, holy is your work, holy are the days that return to you. Holy are the years that you uncover. Holy are the hands that are raised to you, and the weeping that is wept to you. Holy is the fire between your will and ours, in which we are refined. Holy is that which is unredeemed, covered with your patience. Holy are the souls lost in your unnaming, Holy and shining with great light, is every living thing, established in this world and covered with time, until your name is praised forever.

But that I could write like Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), whose stirring words on holiness are so fitting for Yom Kippur. Cohen understands that holiness begins and ends with the One. In between is the holiness of human struggle and shining with light, every living thing – past, present, and future – in relationship with God. His vivid description shows holiness existing actively in words, actions, time, and space.

The repetition of the word 'holy' multiple times may remind us of the Kedushah in the repetition of the Amidah when we rise on our toes three times as we say, Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh (Holy, holy, holy), imitating the angels praising God (Isaiah 6:3).

As a midrashist (interpreter of biblical text), it may also be Cohen’s expansive understanding of a verse from Leviticus, which we will read this afternoon during the Mincha service: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

It would seem that this is a straightforward positive commandment and one that we would certainly expect to find among the rabbis' list of the 613 biblical mitzvot. Major spoiler alert: None of the most significant codifiers includes You shall be holy as a commandment they tell us to follow!

The classical explanation for this omission is that becoming holy is our lives' over-arching and all-encompassing goal; therefore, You shall be holy is on a different plane than the statutes comprising the 613 behavioral mitzvot.

In Everyday Holiness, his first book on Mussar practice – an ethics-centered spiritual path, Alan Morinis suggests an alternate explanation: You shall be holy is aimed directly to our souls. It is advice helping us understand the impulse we already feel within ourselves, our inner drive to make something better of our lives not through material changes or gains but spiritual improvement.1
The words kedoshim tihyu, translated as You shall be holy, are in the plural form, underscoring the inclusiveness of the words kol adat b'nai Yisrael – "the whole Israelite community" – in the first phrase. Becoming holy is the responsibility of every individual, and we are each to take to heart the Torah's good counsel.

How do we do this – become holy? I have quite a few thoughts about the importance of simple, concrete acts of everyday living informed by Jewish ethics – things like loving your neighbor, protecting the vulnerable, and caring for the earth and all its inhabitants. I cannot tell you from experience what it is like to be a holy person because I'm not there yet.

With some confidence, I can say a few things about how to prepare: Recognize that you are unique, not alone. You shall be holy sets the same goal of spiritual growth and refinement for all of us. Each of us will follow a different path because each person is unique.

Accept that we can be compassionate based on our own feelings, identification with the oppressed and vulnerable, or because we have internalized good training in values. Similarly, we may be just, pure, powerful, or righteous. But we cannot be holy except in relation to God, Who is the only Source of holiness. In Judaism, God designates what is holy – Israel, the Torah, Shabbat, for example – not us.2

Know that religious piety, whether in ritual observance or tikkun olam, and Torah learning are insufficient, especially when they are performative. Ibn Ezra's commentary uv'levavechah la'asoto (in your heart, do it) in Deuteronomy 30:14 is instructive here: The essence of all mitzvot is in the heart. Some require the use of our mouths, and these have the purpose of strengthening the heart. Others are actions. When we speak about them, we draw from that strength.

Understand that you need the will to be on your spiritual growth path. This is not something we can do passively or that anyone else can force on us. In his commentary on the words in your heart, do it, the Emek HaDavar puts it this way: Without the heart's desire, singing all day cannot arise, whereas mindfulness (literally, "a raising of the heart") arouses holiness as an intense love.

Addressing the Jewish community worldwide, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker wrote recently:

When I was being held hostage on January 15th, I didn't know about all of the vigils and all of the love, and all of the fear. I didn't know until after we escaped that y'all were with us. So many of you were with us that day in Colleyville — waiting, hoping, praying, and ultimately rejoicing that we made it out alive.

Kol adat b'nai Yisrael – "the whole Israelite community."
Rabbi Cytron-Walker goes on to say:

Our rabbis teach: "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bah zeh," that all Jews are responsible for one another. The outpouring of emotion that you shared during our ordeal and in the aftermath …overwhelmed us in the best of ways. I was eternally grateful for all the support and thought a lot about how it would feel to go through something like that and be met with silence. What if our world was shattered and no one cared?

No one should ever have to feel that way. Being responsible for each other means that when we're a part of a Jewish community that we never have to question whether we belong. Within our fractured communities, we often fall short of this ideal.
It's a time for change. We seek healing in our lives and healing for our communities. Start with being responsible for each other. Live this value. We need you! 3

Kedoshim tihyu, You shall be holy.

I will have more to say about holiness in the here and now when we reach the part of the Musaf service that traditionally serves as a symbolic reenactment of the atonement ritual performed by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, which we read earlier in the Torah.

1 Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness, p. 13.
2 Arthur Green, These are the Words, pp. 129-130.
3 Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, "What if our world was shattered and no one cared?"

The Sin of a Confused Heart

10/04/2022 09:23:52 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Joseph

The Sin of a Confused Heart – Erev Yom Kippur 5783

We confess to our confusion on Yom Kippur.
While this could apply for each of us, myself included, to any number of things, what I am referring to here is one of the many transgressions that we acknowledge in the Vidui (Confession). And for the sin, we committed before You by a confused heart.

The 18th-century prayerbook of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah Kramer (1720–1796), explains that this plea includes acts of wrongdoing connected with confusion, such as: doubting principles of Jewish faith or law or wondering about the historical existence of prophets or the reliability of our sacred texts. He also connects it to the pain or anguish we cause ourselves and others because of this doubt.

Lest anyone dismiss this view as incompatible with or even irrelevant to a modern, liberal Judaism, let me illustrate with a recent, widely circulated example:

Following his recent $10 million fine and suspension by the NBA, Robert Sarver, the NBA's Phoenix Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury owner who happens to be Jewish, said in a public statement:

"As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner's one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.

But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury."

Whatever any of us thinks of the cost to Sarver relative to the severity of his misdeeds, his self- identification as "a man of faith" and reference to teshuvah invites a closer look at his statement. Where is his apology to the people he's hurt? Where does he state how he will make amends? Where does he ask all the people impacted by his misdeeds for forgiveness? We might ask, is all this necessary? Our Jewish tradition says unequivocably yes.

Maimonides's actual statement in his Hilchot Teshuvah (Laws of Teshuvah) that I cited earlier are:

The penitent who confesses publicly is praiseworthy, and it is commendable for them to let the public know their iniquities and to reveal the sins between the harm doer and the person [who was harmed] to others, saying: "Truly, I have sinned against that person, and I have wronged them thus and such, but, behold me this day, I repent and am remorseful." But the one who is arrogant and reveals not but covers up their sins is not a wholehearted penitent, as it says, One who covers their transgressions shall not prosper (Proverbs 28:13).

Externalizing the problem his own words and actions created, Robert Sarver blames the environment for the consequences of the confusion in his heart. He is hardly alone.

If you're a fan of the satirical news and musical program, Le Show, or like me, catch it in the car listening to your local public radio station once in a while, you've heard Harry Shearer – who also happens to be Jewish – read a curated collection of Apologies of the Week. Recent sources include Brigham Young University, the San Diego City Council, The Motion Picture Academy, football legend Tom Brady, opera singer Placido Domingo, January 6th rioter Francis Connor, and, yes, Robert Sarver, too.

In truth, we are awash in non-apologies, the questionable kind of apologies that begin: "Sorry but…", "Sorry if…", "I'm sorry you…", and the quip that leaves no doubt about the speaker's malicious intention, "Sorry, not sorry."

Not only celebrities, politicians, influencers, and institutions with paid "reputation managers" do this. Know that you are likely in proximity right now to someone who caused harm in this way in the past year. It could be me – or you!

Reflecting on redemption, Healy Shir Slakman, a musician and fifth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, says:

This season, I'm unsettled by apologies. I'm unsettled by the voids they create, the demands they make, and the power dynamics they elevate. They can be distracting, misleading, and an opportunity for deflection. By projecting and reflecting inner upset, grief, or distress externally, apologies can sometimes discombobulate situations and burden the already wronged party even more. I'm unsettled because outward expressions of remorse can often delay, distract, and even prevent someone from doing the difficult work of genuinely looking within. Formulating and offering a seemingly honest apology can interfere with the potentiallymore complex task of being honest with oneself and seeing the difficult and more base parts of ourselves. 

How do we protect ourselves from the confusion and damage that apologies born only out of a self-conscious guilt prompt?
Apologies that ultimately center our ego-experience, apologies that silence or dismiss, apologies that enable gaslighting and blame-shifting, apologies that use remorse as a method for disguising control, apologies that don't recognize the party harmed, apologies that strip victims of agency by demanding their forgiveness, apologies that allow someone to ascend a moral high ground wrongfully, apologies that sneakily perpetuate the very injustice they claim to address? How do we sort through stories we have constructed and relied on to protect our egos and avoid the difficult task of confronting our flawed, fragile, and fearful selves?

Indeed, how do we atone for the sin of having a confused heart? Dr. Erica Brown, director of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, asks, "How can confusion ever be a sin? It is not intentional. Confusion is not an act; it is a condition brought about by the ambiguities of a situation." She then reminds us that we can perpetuate our heart's confusion, doubt, pain, and the subsequent harm we cause by not seeking clarity soon enough or remaining in denial. For that, we confess to the sin of a confused heart – again and again.

This Yom Kippur, when we confront our wrongdoings, including the confusion in our hearts, confessing our sins individually and collectively, let us guard against guilt and shame overwhelming and pushing us into an emotional pit where we feel like there is no way out.

We must remember that the Jewish approach to reflecting on wrongdoings, including confusion of the heart, is not to despair. Each of us can live uprightly, and to the extent of the disorder in our hearts — as bad or low as we think we are — we have the power to change. Seven times the righteous person falls and gets up (Proverbs 24:16).
A person is truly righteous when they err but continue to grow, nevertheless. This is what makes them righteous. And our triumph over our confusion, pain, doubt, and subsequent downfalls make us great. May immersing ourselves in teshuvah, tefilla, and tzedakah cut through the confusion and strengthen our hearts, resetting us on a path of righteousness throughout this Yom Kippur and the coming year.

Letting Go of Hatred

09/26/2022 09:21:38 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Joseph

Letting Go of Hatred, Inviting Love Rosh Hashanah I 5783

Shana tova u'metuka – a sweet, blessing-filled year to everyone joining us in person in our High Holiday sanctuary and at home on Zoom!

Earlier this morning, I spoke about God's loving response to Hagar's despair. Long despised by Sarah, Abraham concedes to her demand that Hagar and her son, with Abraham, be expelled permanently from the household. Far from her own people, with no connections and few material resources, she wanders with Ishmael in the wilderness. When they run out of water, she tucks her child safely under a bush and turns away in lament, unable to bear the thought of watching him die.

The anthropologist and memoirist Ruth Behar suggests that for Jewish listeners, the purpose of the story of Sarah and Hagar is to awaken both the humility and the courage to stand before the cold winds of self-scrutiny. This act we know is essential to the Days of Awe. She says:

As Jews, we read the story of Sarah and Hagar as we begin the new year, brimming with hope, desperately seeking that state of grace where we are ready "to risk loving again those who have wounded us," and ready for "others to trust us again despite the fact that we have broken their hearts." 1

This narrative, which is the origin story of our covenantal relationship with God, also teaches us that one of the most significant stumbling blocks in our efforts to ready ourselves to love and be loved again is the internalized hatred that we are so adept at finding ways to justify, minimalize, or simply are unable to see.

Let me briefly explain. In biblical stories, names count. Here, the husband is 'ab-ram, "exalted father," and the wife is sarai, "the princess." This woman is hagar, her name comprised of the same Hebrew consonants as haggēr, "the outsider." 2 In the Torah, which has no vowels, the two words appear identical. Vocalized, they differ by a single vowel sound.

Even before the woman called Hagar - surely not her given name nor one she chose for herself - is literally living outside, everything that we learn about her reinforces a negative stereotype and creates moral distance. She is an Egyptian, enslaved, a surrogate mother, and is always Hagar, the lesser dehumanized "Other." In the biblical narrative, even God addresses her this way.

Telling and retelling the story conditions us to dehumanize this character, too. This can occur without our awareness of what is happening. We may not connect our negative judgment of her character or behavior with this pre-conditioning. However, we still believe that she is disserving of her mistreatment because she is Hagar.
We may turn to validating sources, of which there have been many throughout the ages, that encourage us to exclude other voices. – How many of us here today know that Hagar was a princess wed to Abraham in a dynastic marriage in Islamic tradition?

One day, we realize that we hate Hagar and that hate is powerful. Now it is Rosh Hashanah, and here we are.
In one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached: "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars...Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

The love that drives out hate requires a strong heart. A strong heart is a flexible heart. This is no less true of the heart, our spiritual and relational center (our neshamah), which some call the soul, than of the physical muscle at the center of our circulatory system, pumping blood around our bodies as it beats. 

How do we develop the strong heart it takes to live fully in this world, enabling us to love our enemies as well as our friends?

A well-known Chasidic parable tells the story of a king who has stored away his precious possessions in a treasure room, locked with a complex set of keys. The keys were given only to his most trusted servants, who also needed instructions for using them. In our generation, though the King wants His beloved children to have the treasure, the keys have been lost altogether. All we can do to get to the treasure is to smash the lock.

The lock in the parable is the human heart. All we can do is break our hearts, which are filled with arrogance, pride, and, too often, anger and shame. When we come to God in true brokenheartedness, all the locks open on their own.

An open heart is a humble heart, and a humble heart is ready to receive and give love. But how?
Psalm 27, which accompanies us from the month of Elul through these Holy Days, speaks directly to this question.
In last verse, the psalmist says: Put your hope in Adonai; You strengthen and fortify your heart when you put your hope in Adonai. (Psalm 27:14)

The middle phrase, chazak v'ya'ameitz libecha – strengthen and fortify your heart, echoes the instruction that Moses gives Joshua, who soon will lead the Israelites as they resettle in the Promised Land.
In a sort of literary hug, this verse's first and last words are the same: kivva el-Adonai – put your hope in God.

The word kivva is closely related to kavvanah, which means "direction of the heart." We direct our hearts to God with prayer, study, and mitzvot when we do them in ways that lead us inward toward God's presence, as Rabbi Art Green says, "offering our words or deeds upon an inner altar." 3

Knowing this, we might retranslate the last verse of Psalm 27 as: Direct your heart toward God, toward Adonai; the way to strengthen and fortify your heart is to direct your heart toward God, toward Adonai.

Dwelling in this verse today and in the coming days is a powerful practice in and of itself as we recall and do our best to make amends for our failings during this just past year.

An embodied practice connecting our spiritual and physical hearts is another tool available to us. Let's try this together:
Take your non-dominant hand – for me, that's my left – and place it gently over your heart. Now place your dominant hand over it. Sit with this for a moment feeling your heartbeat. You can close your eyes if that feels good to you right now.
With your hands resting over your heart, take in this prayer poem written by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg:

Ahavah Rabbah
What is a great love?
A love that reaches deep inside our hearts and minds and never departs.
An expanding, continually surpassing compassion that flows toward and with us…
May we know that we are held in an embrace of infinite kindness… May it shine from our eyes
as the love that it is.
May our minds and hearts be unified to behold with love and wonder
that which is ever becoming.
No more victims, no more powerlessness, no more blaming or shaming each other and ourselves.
For our faith in this,
in this sacred this, makes us joyous.
Continually gathering peacefully from the dispersed and distracted into this right here, our home.
closer to your name, what is, sacred love.4

Taking a deep breath in and releasing it slowly, you can bring your hands down now and open your eyes if they have been closed.

Ahavah ("love") in the Jewish religious context is nuanced. It refers to three things that we elevate and center on Rosh Hashanah:

  • The first is God's love for Creation and each individual creature. The constant flow of God's love to each creature is the essence of life itself because Creation, which we celebrate today, is an eternal process of the one God's becoming manifest in infinite forms.
  • Second is the mutual love between God and the soul of every human being. Created b'tzelem Elohim ("in the image of God"), each of us is born with the enduring capacity to know God from within by knowing our own heart. Responding in love to the Divine love that gives it life, our neshama longs to cause God's light to shine forth into the world around it.
  • The third is the love between God and the descendants of Sarah and Abraham, expressed as an eternal covenant. Despite our fears to the contrary, we know that God's love is unconditional. At the same time, we remain challenged, knowing that its expression depends on the job we do as love-bearers in the world.

God is beyond needing our love.5 What we can and must "do" for God this Rosh Hashanah and throughout the year is strengthen our hearts. Our people, humanity, and all of Creation are depending on it.

1 Ruth Behar, "Sarah and Hagar: The Heelprints on Their Faces," Beginning Anew: A Woman's Companion to the High Holidays, p. 42
2 Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, pp.225-226
3 Arthur Green, These are the Words, p. 131
4 Excerpted from God Loves the Stranger, pp. 118-119
5 Arthur Green, These are the Words, pp. 115-116

Why Pray

09/25/2022 09:19:50 AM


Guest Rabbi Rebecca Joseph

“Why Pray?” – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5783

Shana tova! It’s wonderful to be together in the first hours of this new year – 5783.

After being online only for the last two years, we are gathering for High Holiday services in person and live streaming. Wherever you are, our BIJC congregational family welcomes you!

Whatever brings you here tonight, whether you have been celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with this congregation for decades, found your way here during the Covid pandemic, or – like me! – are here this year for the first time; I sincerely hope that you will find in our services what you most need in this season for reflection, reconciliation, and adjusting to changing circumstances and new realities.

In the weeks of planning and preparation for these High Holidays, I’ve been delighted to meet and work with many people in this community. In our conversations, almost everyone shared a story about why they come to services and what it means to them. Things they mentioned include:

Reconnecting with the Jewish community. Kibud av v’eim – Honoring their parents. A sense that this is what Jews do.
Nostalgia for experiences earlier in life, especially during childhood. Passing on traditions to children and grandchildren.
The memorable melodies of the High Holidays. These are all great reasons to be here; each of us may see our own motivation in one or more of them.

One thing that does not seem to be on most of our lists is many hours of praying together with numerous repetitions. While there are people for whom extended immersion in prayer is a most desirable gift – this may be you!, prayer, for many of us, is one of the most challenging things about participating in these services.

There are numerous difficulties we can encounter with prayer. Let’s start with a really big one. I think of it as the “God Language Conundrum.” Here are a few ways that it can show up for us during these holidays:

Abigail Pogrebin is the author of My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew, which was a finalist for the 2018 National Jewish Book Award. In the prologue to her first book, Stars of David, she admits:

I’m still in synagogue twice a year on the High Holy Days…In synagogue on Kol Nidre – the eve of Yom Kippur – I always feel hypocritical confessing my sins. But that doesn’t stop me from asking God for clemency: My list of lapses is always easy to summon up. During one service, I found myself weeping during the Shehechiyanu (the blessing that thanks God for giving us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this moment). I was overcome by the singing, everyone standing and swaying, arms around neighbors they didn’t even know. Of course, minutes after that transcendent moment, I found myself flipping ahead in the prayer book to see how much of the service was left.1

The late Edgar Bronfman, Sr., long-time President of the World Jewish Congress and billionaire scion of the Seagram’s dynasty, once said, "The problem is that in synagogue, we talk about this Avinu Malkeinu [“Our Father, Our King”] business all the time. I don’t do that. I mean, I can sing it, but while I’m singing it, I’m saying, 'It’s not my father, it’s not my king.'"2

In “An Atheist’s Prayer for the High Holidays,” published on the Jewish parenting website,
Kveller just this past week, Alexandra Moss writes:

God opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah and seals it on Yom Kippur. Or so I was taught. I’ve been an atheist since before my bat mitzvah. I bristle at the misogyny and the miracles of the Torah.

Still, as the Days of Awe approach I slip into old patterns: the prayers, the food, the sacred time with family. These 10 days are another sort of opening, a lure back into the traditions of my childhood, my ancestors. A temptation no less powerful than the apple was to Eve…

Covid, monkeypox, polio. Polar ice caps melting twice as fast as predicted. “Thousand- year” floods every single year. Fires engulfing the globe’s forests. Mass shootings of schoolchildren. The desecration of American democracy.
What values do I want to impart to my children? What rituals do I want them to remember when they’re grown?

…I may not believe in the Book of Life. In a God who weighs our actions and apologies. But in a world that’s crashing all around us, I still hope – pray? – that my loved ones and I will live another year. 3

If any or all of these anecdotes resonate for you, you are – Jewish. And you are fully welcome here. Here are a few other common obstacles to a meaningful High Holidays prayer experience and some suggestions for working with them:

There is a lot of Hebrew and even some Aramaic in the services. Machzor Eit Ratzon, our High Holiday prayerbook, includes English translations and transliteration of every prayer. Prayer in any language is acceptable, as is praying in your own words. If you can’t find the words, concentrating on the sound of a melody or setting an intention of gratitude can be very meaningful.
It’s hard to concentrate on following the service for so long. In the right-hand column and shaded boxes in the machzor, you’ll find commentaries, reflections, and meditations for you to use at any time. You might also try lingering on a word or phrase in prayer for a while as the service continues. During the silent Amidah (“Standing”), try a slow walking or rolling meditation if you use a wheelchair. Take a break when you need to. Rejoin the group when you’re ready.

There’s a lot of choreography. Moving our bodies is an integral part of Jewish prayer. Throughout the services, I’ll provide cues for when we do what together. Many are also in the machzor. You can sway or dance lightly with the music when it moves you.

Though it is traditional to stand when the Ark is open and during some prayers, you are just as reverent sitting when standing is not possible or difficult for you. Other movements, such as bending forward, can be modified for seated positions.

There is no question that High Holiday services ask a lot of us, especially when it comes to prayer, which presupposes a relationship with God and structures communication in ways that present myriad potential obstacles to a meaningful experience.

I encourage you to let go of expectations based on High Holiday services in years past or what anyone has told you or you think you should be experiencing when you pray. Make these services your own by using the options that best give you access to the benefits of prayer. Among others:

The feeling of release that comes from expressing our deepest truths.
The feeling of wonder that comes from praising from within that which extends infinitely beyond us.
The feeling of awe that comes from acknowledging a Creative power greater than ourselves.
The feeling of rejuvenation that comes from recognizing our proximity to the Source of Life. The feeling of well-being that comes from sensing God’s presence in our lives.
The feeling of joy that comes from recognizing that we are worthy of our own prayers.

Praying as a group and individually together, keep in mind that the goal is not reaching a state of sustained transcendence. None of us can do that, though we can deeply savor any transcendent moments we experience and the process of awakening that may take us there.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that every word of prayer is like a fragrant rose that one has just picked in full bloom from the bush. Whether from the liturgy, our own words, or the yet-to- be articulated yearnings of hearts, may our prayers in abundance, however we offer them this Rosh Hashanah and throughout these Days of Awe, form a gorgeous bouquet expressing our faith in redemption, reconciliation, and the promise of blessings in the New Year.
1 Abigail Pogrebin, Stars of David, p. 5
2 In Stars of David, p. 190
3 Alexandra Moss, “An Atheist’s Prayer for the High Holidays,” September 20, 2022

A Message From the Tikkun Olam Team

08/25/2022 11:41:14 AM


Chaplain Adam Kinsey, MJS, MFA

The High Holidays are a time for reflection--on the year that is passing, but also on the one to come. How might we be more engaged with others? More joyful in our hearts? Have more meaning in our lives?

One path our tradition offers is in the core Jewish value of Tikkun Olam–engaging in activities that heal and improve the world, and right here in our own BIJC community.

As we enter the new year of 5783, I want to encourage you to make a commitment to these activities, by joining our Tikkun Olam Team. 

The Tikkun Olam Team has no regular meetings, no paperwork to fill out, and no spreadsheets to agonize over, and you can participate a lot or a little. Team members will simply be asked from time-to-time to help those of us in our community who are faced with the sort of difficulties we all need a hand with at some time in our lives.

Tikkun Olam Team members will... a friendly face and a listening ear for someone who is convalescing at home or the hospital.
...prepare and deliver a meal for those in mourning or who are ill.
...go shopping, pick-up a prescription, or drive someone for a doctor's appointment. with the arrangements for a shiva.
...walk a dog or feed a cat, do a sink of dishes, help with the garden, or just sit with someone and read out loud.

The BIJC Board wants to create programs where we as members can fully engage in making our community vibrant, relevant, and sustainable. We believe that the Tikkun Olam Team can be a thread of loving-kindness that weaves through all of our lives. When you sign up, you will not only be a part of  building a community of genuine caring and increased connection, you will also help ensure that none of us are alone in our times of need. 

Please send an email to  with “Sign Me Up!” in the subject line, and we will contact you shortly with next steps. 

Wishing you and your family a very happy, healthy New Year.

Adam Kinsey
BIJC Tikkun Olam Team

P.S. No one should face difficult times alone at any stage of life. We all have times of vulnerability, be it due to illness, loss, or major life changes. Sometimes someone just sitting with us offering loving kindness, or helping us finish a chore that is simple but today feels overwhelming, can make all the difference. Join B'nai Israel's Tikkun Olam Team today. 

Tyrants will arise throughout time...

04/13/2022 01:10:08 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Tomorrow evening we will welcome our Festival of Passover. As you are well aware, this holiday and the acknowledgement of the Biblical exodus from Egypt is pivotal in Jewish thought. The notion from the Torah that God wants human beings and, in particular, our people, to be free was a profound recognition of the precarious nature of human existence. That, like Pharoah, tyrants will arise throughout time to exercise their power over others, is a sad acknowledgement of the propensities of human nature.

In today’s world we need not point any further than the immense tragedy in Ukraine and the fate of so many people who have either died or been uprooted. Certainly, Pesach is a joyous celebration of our ancient liberation. It is also an enduring reminder that we, as Jews and as part of the human family, play a role in insuring that freedom and the avoidance of conflict and violence in our world might cease. 

I hope that as we gather with friends and community we will embrace  the gifts we have in our lives and sing the songs of Passover in our yearnings for a redeemed world in which Shalom will reign in the hearts of human beings.

I want to wish all of you a Chag Samayach…a joyous and fulfilling Passover.

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Help for Ukrainian Jewish Community

02/26/2022 08:48:39 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Shavua Tov...a good week to all of you. Needless to say, the situation in Ukraine is dire for the people living there and, particularly, the Jewish community. The history of the Ukrainian Jewish community is fraught with difficult moments and filled with glorious ones. Right now that Jewish community is under threat.

This link will take you to the website of the Jewish Federation which is collecting emergency funds to be directed to Ukraine.

This morning at services, we chanted the song based on Biblical texts...

"Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore"

The Petaluma Jewish Community joins many, many others in hoping hostilities cease. Meanwhile, there has been much harm done and our people need our assistance...

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Donate Here

Yesterday's Events

01/16/2022 07:06:35 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Good evening and Happy Tu B'Shvat - Our New Year of the Trees

It is challenging to celebrate a time of gratitude for the natural gifts which we daily enjoy since our weekend has been marred with the events in Colleyville, TX yesterday. Many of us, I am sure, were glued to the news reports and heaved a sigh of relief when the hostages escaped to safety. While they didn't experience physical injury there is, no doubt, the effects of trauma on them and on their community. If I dare say, the traumatic effects extend far and wide within the Jewish world.

For us in Sonoma County, this was the second targeted occurrence in the past two weeks. A portion of the Holocaust Memorial at the Santa Rosa Cemetery was vandalized. While the police have yet to characterize it as a hate crime, it felt as such to the Jewish community.

Both with yesterday's event and the cemetery vandalism, the outpouring from the general community has been comforting. Certainly the police, FBI, and all involved in Colleyville deserve gratitude for the lengthy and persistent efforts to secure the safety of the hostages. Couple that with the many statements of concern and support from governmental leaders, across party lines, are also a source of comfort.

That being said, we as Jews also know that the ugly head of antisemitism has been protruding more and more into our world as the political and moral divisions within our country deepen. Hatred is on the rise during this pandemic...against Blacks, Asians, the LGBTQ community, and, yes, the Jewish community. At the same time, crime has increased in our nation's cities and more and more people are fearful of venturing out. While we might think that is good during omicron, we would be deluding ourselves to thank the petty thieves and gangs for helping us to keep the infections lower.

What is important during this tumultuous time is to maintain our connections with each other and make sure we are known in our community and concerned about its general welfare. In generations past and for good reasons, Jews often felt it was better not to be out there in the world. I would propose that we need not be a mystery to the world but we need to stand proudly as Jews with our diverse community around us and participate in making our world better. In addition and as we have in the past, we should avail ourselves of the trainings available from our police department and other agencies on how to be prepared for such events.

There is, of course, another level and I am speaking of faith. For those whose hearts and minds find strength in reaching out to the spiritual essences of Judaism and our faith in God, that, too, is a source of comfort and resilience.

In that spirit and with a deep sense of gratitude that the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel found freedom from their torment, there is a blessing we recite upon hearing good news and good news this is:

Praised are You, Ruling Spirit of the Universe, whose presence is integral when good happens.

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Welcome 5782!

09/05/2021 08:12:17 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Why is this New Year different from all other New Years? That sounds like a Passover question to be sure. I grant you that every Rosh Hashana is different because the world and our individual lives are dynamic. We are ever changing creatures who, as Jews, present ourselves at this season as ready to keep changing. That being said, I never imagined last Rosh Hashana that our world would be coping with the challenges we face and that, once again, this Ten Days of Repentance journey would be done online.

Therefore, tomorrow evening we will welcome 5782 with you, hopefully, joining us and looking at your screens while Fredi Bloom, Jef Labes, and I do our thing in front of cameras and microphones. Behind the scenes will be my friend, Lou Zweier, helping with the technology so I can, hopefully, bring our spirits and minds together to connect our community during this sacred time.

With all that we humans and we Jews have on our plates this year—health challenges, fires, floods, Covid-19, antisemitism, white supremacy—I better stop the list, I think we need to be together. The words of our Machzor, our High Holiday prayerbook, provide a way to draw ourselves together to contemplate how we use the gift of life and the gift time in our journey. The universal themes of repentance and renewal have called out over the generations of our history to provide hope and resilience to our spirits. People, inclined by their faith in God, have made these Days of Awe a building block to strengthen their confrontations with the many challenges of life.

All of these Jewish tools are available to us, not just during this season, but throughout our lives. The 1-1/2 years of Covid-19 isolation and the fracturing of our lives have left their toll in our emotional and spiritual worlds. I hope and pray that this Holy Day season will bring us together as as a community of people strengthened by each other and by our faith that as Rosh Hashana celebrates the creation of the world, we can find grateful and hopeful hearts inside of ourselves to jumpstart another year.

Our Board of Directors, Staff and I join in wishing all of you a healthy and happy New Year.

Shana Tova!

Rabbi Ted Feldman

Important High Holiday Announcement

08/09/2021 03:28:33 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Dear BIJC Community,

A few decades ago I lived in the south of the United States and Delta was merely the airline that flew through Atlanta. Now the word delta permeates news pages world-over with more ominous implications. The pandemic that we thought was winding down is now, once gain, roaring in our country and around the world. With it come the donning of masks for those vaccinated and unvaccinated and precautions renewed to prevent the transmission of the virus that has changed our daily lives.

It is with this in mind that the BIJC Board of Directors and Ritual committee met last Thursday to review our plans for the High Holidays, but a few weeks away. After serious and heartfelt discussion and with my support, we have decided that the risks associated with gathering in person are too great. We will, therefore, be making our holiday services available only virtually again this year through the Zoom platform.

While there is disappointment in such an action, the reality of the threat is too great to take the chance. I have been following decisions made by other communities and more and more are shifting their services online. There have been communities which have opened their doors for services and events and seen outbreaks of Covid-19. We choose not to risk that happening here. Please look for further communications in the coming weeks for the changed schedule and access links for the services. Fredi Bloom, Jef Labes, and I will be working to do our best to provide a meaningful experience, albeit in a seemingly unnatural way.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. Our tradition has seen this month as one of preparation for the Days of Awe leading from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. Our season of reflection and renewal comes with the ability to use these days ahead to think about the new year and how would might like our lives to be, recognizing the difference between those parts of life over which we have some say and those over which we do not. The themes of renewal and repentance come with notions of forgiveness - forgiving ourselves and people in our lives who have brought hurt into our worlds.

As the holidays approach, there will be opportunities to learn, contemplate, and prepare for our High Holiday experience so that we may enter 5782 with hopeful hearts and grateful feelings for our blessings.

I look forward to walking this journey of the month of Elul with you.

Shalom and Shana Tova,
Rabbi Ted Feldman

Memorial Day Message

05/31/2021 03:44:36 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Isn’t the greeting “Happy Memorial Day” a bit perplexing? I have been watching a couple of news programs and, sure enough, the greetings have been those words. I won’t even get into the phrase “Memorial Day Sales” as I have in the past. What is on my mind this Memorial Day is the thought that we are remembering all who served our country, men and women, and the sacrifices they made to preserve the ideals enshrined in our Constitution and the basic documents of our democracy. Memorial Day is exactly that, to remember those who gave their lives for us and an opportunity to express gratitude for their sacrifices and for the preservation of American ideals.

Needless to say, the various notions that they were to protect have been under attack and we are struggling as a nation to rediscover what our path is to get back to those ideals. Part of that current struggle is a rise of hatred and injustices against our Black communities, our Asian American - Pacific Islander communities and, now, in particular against our own Jewish communities. There has been a precipitous rise in acts of vandalism, violence, and verbal attacks against Jews over the past few years and, in particular, in the aftermath of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. The mixing of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism further confounds the issues we are facing.

I would like to invite you to a community discussion of these issues on Tuesday evening, June 1, at 7 p.m. The discussion will take place on Zoom. If you would like to participate, send us an email at

The purpose of our session will be to forge our bonds and explore what this all means for us. It is vitally important that we stand as community in face of these challenges. Meanwhile, it behooves us to remember the fallen of our country who gave their lives in service of the ideals which have permitted our people to live freely in this nation and to flourish like never before.

—Rabbi Ted Feldman

Have a Happy Hanukkah

12/10/2020 01:49:52 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Yes, in just a few hours, we will welcome the Festival of Lights. How appropriate that is for us at this season. Not only are our days shorter and the nighttime hours prevail, but our our world is clouded with its daily challenges. The kind of light we need is not the kind that lets us perceive the physical world around us. We need a light that will brighten our hearts and souls, a light that might pierce the loneliness created by the pandemic, a light of hope in the face of the healing needed in our world.

As I, no doubt, point out year after year, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannukkah is a minor festival on our calendar. I must say, that this year, with all that is happening in our worlds, it takes on a different dimension. It is that expanded dimension that invites the holiness of the light emanating from the candles of the holiday. We declare after the lighting that this light is sacred and we only can use the light to be able to absorb its holiness. The light is not for reading or for warming ourselves, but for igniting the spark of life that has sustained our people throughout the generations.

I hope you will be able to join us for candle lighting at 5:30 today. The link is in yesterday's email.

Happy Hanukah to all of you!!

Rabbi Ted

In hopes for a good tomorrow

11/02/2020 09:37:16 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Wow...what a stressful time. I had to stay away from the news for a few hours in order to think about writing these words. Of course, only to discover the reports of the terrorist attack in Vienna. Each day feels so intense in our world and achieving the balance between "normal" life and the fate of our country being in the balance is really a challenge.

On this day before election day I hope that all of you have voted or intend to cast your vote tomorrow. While the national scene is receiving the most attention, please know that your votes on local life make a difference for our communities in which we live.

At our Shabbat services over the past number of months I have been trying to emphasize how important for us to be able to be together as a Jewish community and use words and music to sooth our souls and find the resilience inside to be able to handle these difficult days. Many groups are having Zoom gatherings this week to be able to pray or talk or listen to music in order to navigate this bumpy journey. I would like to offer a time to check in and reflect this Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. If you would like to join the Zoom session, send us an email at

There are a number of reasons for us to come together, perhaps without even knowing the final result of tomorrow's balloting. The number one reason is to be together. Number two, as Jews, last week marked the second anniversary of the shootings in Pittsburgh and this Shabbat will be the second anniversary of the community memorial we held at BIJC. We need to acknowledge how it felt to have all of those people from the greater community surrounding us and trying to bring us support and comfort. Number three, we will begin to know the direction our nation is heading and be able to look for strength together to chart that course. So, please join us, if you can, for a little bit of music, a bit of reflection and conversation.

The Torah describes the people of Israel as a nation that will dwell alone. Indeed, that is the way it has felt at different points in our history. As anti-semitism rears its ugly head, we are reminded of the Torah's teaching. There are other times when we have been united with the communities around us in justice and peace. I hope we can soon return to this latter position and that journey back begins with our being together.

Od yavo shalom alienu...may Shalom soon come our way.

Please keep safe, wear masks, and socially distance so that we can one day come together in person and embrace each other as we had done...


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Join us for High Holiday Services

09/25/2020 05:00:14 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

In a little over 48 hours we will be welcoming Yom Kippur, as we gather in community on Zoom. Needless to say, 5781 has begun with continued drama and challenge. The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the struggle around appropriateness of now appointing her successor, the threat of a non-peaceful transition into a new government... and, yes, lost in that is the saddest news of reaching over 200,000 deaths from Covid-19. We need a day of retreat, introspection, connecting with each other in order to find the resilience to cope. By the way, I left many things out of the list, including our own personal pains and struggles.

In this period of my life I have wanted to see Yom Kippur as if we are all going to a retreat together. When I have looked out at the congregation as we chant Kol Nidre, I have often thought, "We are in this for 24 hours. What a great opportunity we have.” Yes, this year is very different. Just as we were able to come together for Rosh HaShana, I hope we can do even more on Yom Kippur.

The Koretzer Rebbe, a Hasidic master, taught that the Shechina (The Presence of God) does not abide in a place of melancholy. His admonition is there to remind us that the seriousness of self-reflection on Yom Kippur and the sadness of remembering our departed is not meant to result in a state of melancholy, but an opportunity to access a kind of joy that is not necessarily contained in a routine smile. In ancient times, Yom Kippur was viewed as a time of great joy. There was a relief among our people because the High Priest of ancient days would expiate the wrongdoings of the people. As the hours of Yom Kippur waned, there was a certain exhilaration that the new year could move forward in positive anticipation. Our challenge in being together on Zoom is to find the ways to embrace the experience so that the passing hours comprise a journey toward hope and simcha.

The greeting as we approach Yom Kippur and on Yom Kippur is “g’mar chatima tova,”(literally, may you finish by being sealed in the Book of Life). Perhaps we might say, may you truly begin a good year!

I look forward to greeting you for our Yom Kippur observances.

G’mar Chatima Tova.

–Rabbi Ted Feldman

5781 is Different, But Not More Difficult

09/15/2020 12:15:10 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Yes, this Friday evening, as we welcome the year 5781 on the Jewish calendar, we may be asking a similar question to our spring festival of Passover. Why is this year different from all other years? Need I give all of the answers right now? It sure is different, different for our lifetimes and, in many ways, different than the lifetimes of the people who preceded us. Different, I said, not more difficult, except that we are experiencing it now. That's why the colorful greeting at the top of this email...we need some brightness in our lives.

What is, perhaps, historically different is that we won’t be able to gather in the Community Room of B’nai Israel Jewish Center as our community has done since the building was built in 1925. This year we will be looking at faces across small screens and hearing the service piped through the speakers of our computers, tablets, or phones. Recognizing that gathering that way and making the virtual world our sacred space comes with its challenges, services will be much shorter and some or many of the familiar elements will be absent. I would invite you to please join us on time, if possible, following the schedule available through the other emails. The link for the service will work for all of the services listed, including the Family Services. I will be joined by Fredi Bloom, Jef Labes, and Diana Faraone in creating what we hope will be a meaningful experience for you.

Given all that is happening in our world right now, it is so important that we strengthen ourselves by each other’s presence for the holidays. This will be a profound opportunity to pause from the daily confronting of challenges and search inside ourselves for the resilience that permeates Jewish teachings as we face the world.

While the themes of repentance and renewal permeate the liturgy particularly on Yom Kippur, those ideas, if brought into our lives, open our hearts and minds to add kindness, caring, and compassion into life. It is through those vehicles that, I believe, internal strengths are found.

Last year, on Yom Kippur, we bound ourselves together using a long string as community connected to Torah. That connection does not need to go away because we are separated into the safety of our homes. Please join us and help make these holidays not only different, but memorable as a source of strength.

May this be a year of health, safety, resilience, prosperity,…a year of deeply breathing fresh, life sustaining, clean air.

Shana Tova
Rabbi Ted Feldman

Words are Hard to Find

06/04/2020 05:09:15 PM


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.


Rabbi Ted Feldman

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

06/02/2020 07:17:12 PM


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


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


Hillary Fox

Finding Direction by Looking Back

03/26/2020 02:00:51 PM


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


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


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:  You can also see our website for full description of the “regular” program.

💞, Hillary

Thu, March 30 2023 8 Nisan 5783