MAZAL TOV! Sigal Plotkin Bat Mitzvah!

Debbie Zimelman B Mitzvah pic
MAZAL TOV to the entire Plotkin-Kozolchyk family and to their friends and community on the Epic December 31st 2015 Bat Mitzvah of Sigal Plotkin atop Mount Massada. Sigal did a REMARKABLE job leading the entire service and chanting all three aliyot (the second in unison with her mom, Shaun). Her dvar Torah was creative and inspiring – on the Women of the Exodus -and she included a visual Midrash, a song as well as a rich and powerful teaching. This GREAT picture was taken by the talented Modi’in based, freelance photographer, Debbie Zimelman.

Mazal Tov to Bar Mitzvah Zev Haworth & family!


MAZAL TOV! On Thursday morning July 2, 2015 Zev Haworth became a bar mitzvah at the Davidson’s Archeological Park of the Western Wall, an egalitarian section of the Kotel, the holiest site in Jerusalem and in all of Israel. His family was there to celebrate this special day with him – his mom, dad and younger sister all beamed with pride. Zev chanted beautifully and skillfully from the Torah, from parashat Balak in the book of Numbers, and he delvered a spontaneous dvar Torah about what he had learned while studying. It was a beautiful, cool summer morning and everyone was uplifted and moved by this special and historic moment and experience.

Shabbaton: Music, Study & Celebration

Sing and learn with Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto, CA

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

7:30 PM Friday July 15th

This Erev Shabbat service with drum accompaniment promises to be a lively, inspiring and energetic musical Tefillah experience. In a Dvar Tefilah (teachings on prayer) I will discuss some of the ideology and theological concepts that have motivated liturgical changes to the Reconstructionist siddur, particularly the Aleynu.  An oneg Shabbat and shmoozing will follow.

9:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Torah Study on parashat Pinchas will include a discussion and exploration of teachings by the late Slonimer Rebbe (d. 2000), who took a hybrid Hasidic-Musar approach in his Torah Commentary, Netivot Shalom al haTorah.  We may also explore other contemporary scholars.

10:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Shabbat Morning Services will include vibrant and harmonious singing, meditative niggunim, Torah chanting and special group aliyot with blessings coordinated to the verses of Torah, a celebratory aufruf,  reflections on the Parasha and a brief concluding service.  Services will be followed by a light Kiddush luncheon and a meet and greet / shmooze and cruise.

8:00 PM Saturday July 16th

Our Shabbaton wraps up with a Melavah Malkah Experience – a delightful storytelling and uplifting musical and rhythmic sing-along event for the whole family.  It includes dessert and music-making  indoors and concludes with Havdallah and smores under the stars in the shul courtyard at 9:45 PM.

Please join us for this spiritually enlightening and uplifting Shabbaton.

Come along and bring a friend.  Everyone is invited!

Making Our Days Count

Once again it is time to count the omer, the forty-nine day period between Pesach and Shavuot, the latter of which is named for the seven weeks between the two festivals.  

Many customs are associated with the count and as the practice builds in popularity, new methods and tools are created.  You can use an omer counter with a scroll that turns daily to display the precise combination of days and weeks that have passed.  You can purchase or design an omer calendar (there are almost as many choices as there are hagadot) or find one on the Web.  

Traditional Olive Wood Omer Counter
Traditional Olive Wood Omer Counter

The pages of an omer calendar can include space for notes, artwork (with or without color-it-yourself charts), spiritual teachings, or pithy aphorisms. Some calendars denote the sephirot of the kabbalistic tree which assign a different spiritual quality to each day. Others list a middah  (ethical attribute) that can be developed through mindful attention on ones actions throughout the day.  Some print mishnayot, verses from Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Sages) for reflection. (Traditionally, one of its six chapters is studied on each of the six Shabbatot between the spring holidays.) And true to the times, there are omer counting apps you can download from the web!

The count begins on the second night of Pesach, so I’m sure I recited the omer blessing at the family seders of my youth.  But it wasn’t until an 8-day Pesach meditation retreat I attended in my late twenties that I learned of the practice and discovered its potential for spiritual transformation.  Similar to lighting the Hannukiah whose flames are supposed to be observed and not used for any other purpose, the secret of the omer practice lies in its simplicity. The recitation of the traditional blessing and count are meant to bring us into squarely into the present; no retelling of the past, no prayers for the future.  It’s just a “be here now” moment.

When former JCCSF Executive Director, Rabbi Jason Gaber z’l was battling AIDS, a story about his omer count that year was published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin (now the j).  Jason, who had been ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi a few months earlier, described it as a daily practice in making each precious day count.

Psalm 90 reads, “Let us number each day that we may gain a heart of wisdom – limnot yameynu keyn hoda v’navi levav chochma.”  Each day we count the omer we pause and simply dwell in full awareness of life’s blessings. The true wisdom, however, comes in making a daily habit of counting of our blessings and not waiting for the omer or until we’re staring face to face with our mortality.

Northern California Rabbis Meet with Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall, Jerusalem

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman of WOW at IRAC Headquarters in Jerusalem, January 28, 2011. Rabbi Moshe Levin of Congregation Ner Tamid peeks in from behind.


[From the WOW Facebook page 1-30-2011; See also J. Cover Story 2-11-2011] Northern California Rabbis Support Women of the Wall January 31, 2011 From January 24-29, a delegation of 30 Rabbis from Northern California various high-ranking officials in Israel. The delegation, which was arranged by Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor, included Consul Tor and Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements.

As participant Rabbi Rosalind Glazer explained, “Our joint participation is a model of Jewish diversity in the U.S. We hope that our unified voice can make a powerful statement about the underlying value of, and need for, religious pluralism in Israel. As American Jews, our voices need to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The Rabbis met with M.K.’s Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and Nachman Shai (Kadima), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Supreme Court Justices Elyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran, and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky.

The delegation spent Friday, January 28, in the Old City of Jerusalem visiting the Kotel tunnels, Robinson’s Arch, and the City of David. The day began with an early-morning meeting with Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, who shared the group’s political and legal history. Hoffman said, “Israel could choose to be a leader in the Jewish world. There could be a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.” The rabbis flooded Hoffman with questions and snapped photos of her wearing a Women of the Wall tallit and head covering. Hoffman encouraged supporters to sell the Women of the Wall tallit in their gift shops, invite congregants to write letters to Israeli government officials, and bring their synagogue trips to Women of the Wall services on Rosh Hodesh.

Many of the rabbis in the delegation have been long-time supporters of Women of the Wall. In October 2010, Bay Area Rabbi Pamela Frydman and Rabbi Menachem Creditor launched an international campaign called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.” Over 600 Rabbis, 85 Cantors, 60 organizations and 1000 individuals have since signed a statement to Israeli officials demanding that that they define a time or place at the Kotel where women are allowed to lead worship, wear a tallit, wear tefillin, hold the Torah and read from the Torah.

Rabbi Frydman, who participated in the January delegation, presented a packet to each government official (and Head of External Affairs Natalie Kimchi on behalf of the Supreme Court Justices) containing the statement and accompanying signatures as well as a new set of letters signed by hundreds of rabbis, cantors, rabbinic and cantorial associations, social justice organizations, congregations and individuals. In addition, Rabbi Glazer presented a letter from Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall.

In addition to the letter-writing campaigns, many congregations participated in Women of the Wall’s photo campaign last summer, when thousands of women all over the world were photographed holding a Sefer Torah. Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, President of Congregation Chadesh Yameinu in Santa Cruz said of the photo campaign, “Women were in tears. Many of them had never held a Torah before, because they had never been invited to do so.”

Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah of Congregation Kol HaEmek in Mendocino County, participated in the January delegation. She was present at Women of the Wall’s second gathering in 1988, and participated regularly until 1995 when she moved to the U.S. Rabbi Devorah remembers the tear gas used by police during one of Women of the Wall’s services in 1988, and said she felt like she was “at a civil rights protest in the U.S. in the ‘60s.” Devorah, who became a Rabbi at the age of 59, recalled fondly that “Women of the Wall was very important in my own spiritual development. It was the first place that I put on a tallit.”

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer of Congregation Beth Judea Israel in San Francisco is an International Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and also serves on the Steering Committee for Friends of Women of the Wall, a San Francisco Bay Area group of women and men who advocate for the acceptance of all streams of Judaism in Israel. Rabbi Glazer was in tears as she spoke about women at the Kotel, “Mayor Barkat told us that the Kotel is for all Jews. But, that is not true today. Jews in the diaspora want a place to be spiritual. It is the first place they go and it is the first place they get slapped in the face. The message that they get on their first experience is ‘you’re not equal; you’re not welcome.’”

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco recently joined Glazer and twenty-one others as an International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. Explaining his decision, Pearce said, “I am thrilled to help pursue a sense of justice. The struggle of Women of the Wall is a model of how Israel can learn to compromise and pursue conflict resolution in other areas.”

Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel also recently became an International Vice Chair, joining Rabbi Andrew M. Sacks, Director of the RA in Israel, one of the original Vice Chairs. “I feel that it’s a very big z’chut [privilege] to serve” said Balter of his new role.

It’s Not Easy Being Green – But it is a Mitzvah!

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community powerfully influence our personal habits and choices.

Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel.  July 2010.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel. July 2010. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

The Talmudic rabbis wisely warned their generation, “If we destroy our world, there will be nobody to repair it after us.”  Far more than those who came before us and with all we have learned in the era of globalism, our generation can fully appreciate this message.  We’ve witnessed many environmental disasters in our lifetimes and have come to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of global warming.  We know that ours is a delicate and fragile planet; that it is vulnerable to ignorant, greedy and destructive human actions. Yet individually and collectively we’re still struggling to incorporate pragmatic and effective habits into our daily lives.  The first Earth Day in April 1970 introduced the world to the 3 Rs of caring for the earth; Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Yet in the 40 years that have ensued we’ve witnessed the devastating impact of increased waste and overconsumption.  It’s particularly evident in the US where per capita use of the world’s resources is grossly out of proportion.  

Echoing the Talmudic sages, preeminent scholar, authority on Jewish mysticism and author of the book Radical Judaism, Rabbi Arthur Green regards our need to embrace a sacred relationship with the earth as THE critical spiritual challenge of our time.  While this is a universal spiritual issue, Jews are already called to engage in the mitzvot of tikkun olam (repairing the world), bal tashchit (preventing needless waste and destruction) and tzar ba’alei chayim (protecting living creatures).  Thus it should be no surprise that Jews are at the forefront of the environmental movement.  More than a dozen new Jewish initiatives (and growing) have enthusiastically embraced the issue.

At Beth Israel Judea we’ve also taken up the challenge.  Over a year ago we added an Eco-Kashrut clause to our kitchen and food policy.  When sharing meals at BIJ, we encourage the use of dishes and silverware over disposables and we advise careful conservation of water.  When purchasing single-use items we recommend eco-friendly products.  With the help of Karen Kerner, we recently purchased and now display sets of clearly marked blue bins for recyclables and green bins for compostables.  And we use non-toxic, eco-friendly products for most of our cleaning and custodial needs.  

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community influence our personal habits and choices.

After recent screenings of the new environmental documentary, “Bag It,” several BIJers told me they are now making a greater individual effort.  While this pleases me, I hesitate to say dayenu because I know it is possible to do better. Recycling is good, but reducing and reusing should precede it.  And a fourth R – redesign – is more critical than ever.  As consumers we should vocally reject manufacturers ‘planned obsolesce’ and insist that electronics and other big ticket items be built–to-last rather than designed-for-disposal.  We can no longer purchase goods wrapped in heavy plastic packaging and simply assume it will all be recycled.  Like other viewers of the film, I was stunned to learn that the large majority of the items I place in my curbside recycling bin are shipped by barge for sorting by impoverished workers in China!  Other plastic items are incinerated to toxic smoke or dumped into the ocean to become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing island of plastic larger than the state of Texas. Our relative affluence offers freedom and power, but it requires that we exercise greater responsibility.  Just because we can buy more, doesn’t mean we should. The acquisition of knowledge is far more valuable, but it also increases our obligation to act. 

The “Bag It!” film emphasizes the impossibility of throwing things away.  There simply is no such thing as away!  For the 16th c. Kabbalists, the smallest act or decision had spiritual consequences.  Let us embrace the challenge and do right – for our planet, for ourselves, for one another and for future generations.   Keyn yehi ratzon – So may it be.

What is Sacred Hebrew Chant?

A form of individual Jewish spiritual practice and communal worship, the repetitive chanting of simple biblical Hebrew verses from psalms or other sections of siddur is being incorporated into congregational worship services and the pratices of contemporary Jewish seekers alike.


Jammin at Kehilla.
Jammin at Kehilla.

A form of individual Jewish spiritual practice and communal worship, the repetitive chanting of simple biblical Hebrew verses from psalms or other sections of siddur is being incorporated into congregational worship services and the pratices of contemporary Jewish seekers alike.

Accessible and Participatory

For Jews and other seekers who have minimal or no traditional or religious Jewish background but want to embrace a Jewish spiritual life and practice, sacred Hebrew chanting is simple and immediately accessible. The repetition of short, individual Hebrew verses renders liturgy far more approachable than lengthy Hebrew prayers that fill the traditional siddur (Jewish prayerbook). Shorter prayers that contain single themes make it easier to maintain kavannah, spiritual intention during prayer.

Rather than being overwhelmed or intimidated by the liturgy, those who lack basic Hebrew fluency can quickly learn the meaning of the Hebrew words and the pronunciation of these verses. While initial experiences of Jewish communal worship may feel daunting or inaccessible, chanting simple Hebrew verses in sacred community offers an opening to the larger world of Jewish spiritual practice.  These chanting services are therefore much more participatory. Everyone’s voice is invited into the mix and the blend create a harmonic chorus that envelopes the group and shapes everyone’s prayer experience. A sense of connection and spiritual community is felt immediately as each individual’s experience is enhanced by the group.

Melodic, Harmonious and Rhythmic

Traditional nusach, melodic scales for reciting long Hebrew prayers are employed less frequently in communities where congregational singing of prayers and guitar and keyboard accompaniment has become more common. But songs written in the folk or rock style, or classical choral pieces do not appeal to all worshippers. New musical compositions bring a revitalizing and energizing dimension to communal and private prayer. Exciting chants often used in sacred these services have been composed by Rabbi Shefa Gold, Yofiyah, and Rabbi Andrew Hahn and others. These chants fill the worship space with layers of harmony and rhythm. As was historically true of Jewish music, some of the new chants borrow from musical worship of other cultures and spiritual traditions, such as kirtan, a Hindu form of musical worship which utilizes a pattern of call and response. Accompaniment by drums and other types of percussion makes chanting services more celebratory and uplifting.

 Embodied, Contemplative and Integrated

Some sophisticated spiritual seekers may have already explored movement forms from zikhr or Dances of Universal Peace from Sufism or the ananas and flow sequences of Yoga. These seekers want a less “heady” and more “hearty” spiritual practice. Inviting the embodied self into prayer makes chanting more spiritually fulfilling. Those who are accustomed to contemplative practices like meditation and mindfulness will appreciate the periods of silence that follow extended chants with dramatic rhythmic and harmonious waves of sound. The balance of active ecstatic outpourings of song (with or without accompanied movement) with periods of quiet receptivity allows time for integration and reflection.

Join us at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco, at 7:30 PM on the fourth Friday of each month, for our Erev Shabbat of Sacred Hebrew Chant and Drum Service. Please bring a treat for the Oneg Shabbat Shmooze that follows. Check for more details.