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.


Northern California Rabbis Delegation to Israel

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kol Haneshama Jerusalem at Robinson's Arch in July 2010
At Robinson’s Arch, Jerusalem with Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kol Haneshama 

By special invitation from the Israeli Consul General, Akiva Tor, I will be joining a rare rabbinic delegation to Israel during the last week of January as the only female pulpit rabbi from San Francisco and one of only five female rabbis in the 30 member delegation. Encouraged to participate because of my outspoken support for religious pluralism and liberal Judaism in Israel, my role will be to advocate for these through the loosening of the overwhelming influence of the ultra right wing religious establishment (Rabbanut) on the Israeli government.  Why is this important to BIJ? BIJ’s congregants are strong supporters of Israel and are very concerned that there be a future for Reform and liberal Judaism in the Jewish homeland.  Our successful campaign of photos this past Fall for Women of the Wall, WOW, was an expression of this effort.  In December 2010 we  also hosted the launch of the Year of Civil Discourse on Israel (co-sponsored by the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, the SF Jewish Federation and the Northern California Board of Rabbis) to express the urgent need for all members of our communtiy to learn and use constructive tools for sharing concerns about Israel without descending into hurtful, hateful, and distructive vitriol.  As this delegation approaches I will speak about why I am making this trip – with individuals, at services, meetings and events.  While in Israel, I hope to publish daily posts on this blog with comments and observations about my experiences.  I will be speaking about delegation on Friday night February 11, 2011 at 8:30 PM  in the BIJ Fireside Room following the Oneg Shabbat. Who else is on this delegation and why now? Participants from San Francisco and other Bay Area and Peniunsula rabbis from Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal and Post-Denominational streams of Judaism will include Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC Executive Director, Rabbi Eric Weiss, Executive Director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center and President of the Northern California Board of Rabbis (NCBOR), Rabbi Marvin Goodman, NCBOR Executive Director, Rabbi Steve Pearce and Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe, of Reform Congregation Emanu-El,  Rabbi Micah Hyman of USCJ Congregation Beth Shalom, Rabbi Yonathan Cohen and Judah Dardik (both Modern Orthodox Rabbis) and others.  Our joint participation is a  model of Jewish diversity in the US and 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 needs to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people. What is the delegation’s itinerary? This 7-day delegation, with 5-nights in Jerusalem and two days of air travel, is composed of back to back exclusive meetings with high level Israel officials including President Shimon Peres, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other senior staff of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Anat Hoffman of Women at the Wall and Israel Religious Action Center, MK Natan Scharansky and the committee for Jewish identity (conversion, Reform), Supreme Court Justices Michael Cheshin and Justice Yitzhak Engelhard,  and senior research fellows at IPCRI, a joint institution of Israelis and Palestinians dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Please stay posted for more information!

Rebecca Roberts Cohen: Memories of a 23 Year Friendship

Becca Roberts Cohen 5/11/58-11/18/10 from the family collection
Becca Roberts Cohen 5/11/58-11/18/10 from the family collection

Becca Roberts and I became friends when I moved to Berkeley from Arcata in 1987 to study massage therapy and to find a larger Jewish community with whom to connect.  We were students at Gail Stewart’s Re Source School and we spent the year learning our soon to be new vocation.  We seven students were spoiled by the low student-instructor ratio, with a dedicated team of teachers – Gail, Patrick and Jill and another from whom we learned Anatomy & Physiology at her home in Moraga.  We trained in Gail and Harris’ cozy, fireside living room in the Berkeley Hills, behind the Claremont Resort.  Through Re Source we connected with the Bay Area Body Therapy Guild, a network of professional body workers with whom we both stayed connected as we built our careers.

We finished the 200-hour training and were certified in the summer of 1988 and we wondered how we could find bodywork jobs with no experience.  Becca was the first to be hired – at the Albany Sauna. That helped me also get a foot in the door.  When we started they paid $11 per session, and the owner, a creep, made a fortune on us.  The place was kinda run down and the work demanding.  Among the regulars there were a lot of burly guys.  The tables were makeshift and the ergonomics pretty lousy, so I left after each night sore and exhausted.

Soon Becca got a second job – this time at the Berkeley Sauna which was owned by a woman named Elizabeth and her sister.  I followed Becca and started working there too.  It was a much nicer place and it was closer to my home on Ashby Ave.  They also paid better; around $17 or $18/massage and the tips were also higher.  Lot’s of regulars came in so the therapists shared clients.  I worked on Steve and so did Becca and they were married a few years later.

Not long after, I joined the bodywork team at the Courthouse Athletic Club.  I tried to bring Becca aboard, but she wouldn’t go near the place. The owner, an orthopedist, had misdiagnosed a cyst in Becca’s knee several years before and this had ended her professional cycling career.  I went on to build a practice in Kensington with a small group of women practitioners and Becca continued teaching PE part-time at Berkwood Hedge School.  My godson Lev Hirschhorn and his older sister Talia were two of her students.

Becca and I shared a bond in that both of us had degrees in PE and neither of us were at ll embarrassed by it.  Actually, it amused me because between the two of us, Becca was the jock.  I had started out studying music and recreation at Humboldt State while Becca got her undergraduate degree in Adult Fitness from Sonoma State.  I then returned to study at San Francisco State, supporting myself as a body worker and completing my BA. I  took endless prerequisites for a Masters program in Physical Therapy –  Human Anatomy in the cadaver lab, Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology, Adaptive PE and others.  When Becca decided to get her certificate in Adaptive PE at State, I connected her with Dr. Tina Summerford, who had been one of my advisors.  It felt good to finally give Becca a hand up like the many she had given me.

As a transplant from the East Coast, I loved that Becca was practically a Berkeley native. She had grown up here and her mom, Janet, lived close and knew a zillion people.

Becca was on the Aquatic Master’s Swim team and when I moved to North Berkeley I joined the Hopkins pool and tried to do the same.  But I had been injured in a bike accident and that was exacerbated by my Aikido training so Ihad to give up the intense workouts.  Occasionally Becca and I still swam together at the Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area behind the stadium at Cal.

Becca then started rowing crew at Lake Merritt (which was never my thing) but  I was impressed by the discipline and commitment of her teammates – rowing at all sorts of crazy early morning hours!   Once I joined Becca for a killer workout with her trainer at the Berkeley Tennis Club and gave up half way through. When Becca took up Iyengar Yoga I sometimes joined her at the Yoga Room at the Julia Morgan building including some with Rodney Yee.

It’s surprising to realize how many new things Becca introduced to me.  When she took up Macrobiotic cooking, I got seriously interested too.  For a while I cooked Macrobiotic food for our bodywork friend, Joan Marie Passalacqua.  Becca taught me how to make mochi and the last time we pounded rice was at Maryclare’s birthday party a couple of years ago.

Becca knew the guy who started Clif Bars and when she launched her business making Sesame Chews we believed she could be just as successful.  I wholesaled them to the SF State bookstore.  To her increase her business savvy Becca decided to study at WISE, Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, in San Francisco.  When I graduated from State and started a practice in on-site (chair) massage I also took the WISE training and I learned tons about how to be a business entrepreneur.

Becca’s parties were low key with a colorful mix of really interesting people. And because she was a foodie you could count on the yummiest and most nutritious food and drink. Back when thirty was still a big deal I attended Becca’s 30th birthday celebration at her mom’s.  I was at her 40th just before I left for Rabbinical School in Philadelphia and also I also came to her and Steve’s wedding reception in Redwood Park.  I am so glad I made it to her 50th birthday in the back yare of their Derby Street a couple of years ago.  Even though Becca was undergoing cancer treatment by then she looked fabulous in a cropped white wig and sexy black spotted dress.

Other than her knowing  she was born Jewish, Becca was not much into organized religion.  One winter she had a Holiday party at her apartment which was around the corner from my flat on North Street in Rockridge.  Janet had given Becca a pit-fired ceramic Hanukkah menorah, made by my good friend and homeless rights activist Susan Felix.  Hanukkah was over by then, but Becca happily displayed her fully lit menorah on the mantle. I had never seen someone simply bypass the traditions associated with its lighting, but Becca was so gleefully displaying it that I just bit my tongue.

During my rabbinic training in Philadelphia I visited and stayed with Becca, Steve and Abby. I’d been in seminary for almost four years and we’d been lousy correspondents, but when we got to talking it was as if I had never left. We hiked up Claremont Canyon as we’d done many times before and Becca commented on my powerful stride and pace.  Becca was half my weight and althout I’d been living asedentary life, on those steep trails I was somehow able to keep up with her.

Becca told me about her cancer diagnosis shortly after I returned to the Bay Area in the summer of 2006 to begin serving as the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco.  Coming back meant we were able to pick up right where we’d left our freindship.

I am so incredibly grateful for the gift of Becca’s friendship and for being able to enjoy her company during the final years of her life.  There was noone else quite like her – humble, strong, courageous, gutsy, kind and caring – and I am still astounded by the many ways she influenced my life.  I will miss her tremendously and savor the memories.

Spiritual Community and the Generosity of “Strangers”

Ongoing acts of kindness and generosity literally turn strangers into friends and transform a random group of folks into a real community.

“We can only create and maintain community if we share both the dream and the commitment to work for its realization…Community life needs to offer the affection and support that is normally provided by extended family members living in close proximity. ” – Rabbi David A. Teutsch

After helping someone in need recently, a BIJ member told me that the line between giving and receiving had been so blurred that she did not know who had benefitted more. In response all I could say was that to know this feeling is to be truly blessed. Not long ago, I also learned of an informal gathering of BIJers who assembled spontaneously to offer healing prayers for someone who had received a difficult diagnosis. I was deeply moved at hearing this since it affirmed what I know to be true of BIJ: We are a caring congregation. The peer-led prayer circle affirmed my long-held belief in the importance of spiritual community. It further reminded me that while a leader’s role is to serve as a teacher and mentor, acts of leadership both great and small are initiated all the time by members of our community.

According to the Sages, gemilut hasadim, deeds-of-loving-kindness, is one of three categories of mitzvot that sustain the world. Whether it is by supporting a member whose child is in distress, visiting or delivering food to a fellow congregant who is ill, providing a ride to shul for a synagogue elder, comforting the bereaved, attending a shiva minyan, helping an unemployed congregant find a job, assembling and dropping off mishloach manot on Purim or delivering seder sacks on Passover, hundreds of mitzvot are performed at BIJ every day.

These ongoing acts of kindness and generosity literally turn strangers into friends and transform a random group of folks into a real community.

The list of tasks required to run a congregation far exceeds the number of available staff hours. Whether serving on the Board or a committee, helping with administrative duties in the office, planning and organizing special events and programs, greeting fellow congregants and visitors at services, preparing and serving an oneg Shabbat, kiddush or meal, washing table cloths or kitchen towels, selling coffee and bagels at the Micha Mocha café, chanting Torah or haftarah on Shabbat or holidays, setting and cleaning up before and after shul events, kashering the kitchen for Pesach, planting shrubs and new seedlings in our garden, repairing broken or damaged furniture and fixtures, BIJ depends on our volunteers.

The Torah describes a ‘volunteer’ as one who is nediv lev, moved by the heart. The term first appears in Exodus, parashat Vayakheil, during the building of the mishkan (tabernacle) where a call for contributions is answered to such excess that a moratorium on giving is declared. While BIJ has never faced this happy dilemma, our community exists only because our members are continuously moved to give of their resources, time and talent and by so doing have built a spiritual home that this far greater than our numbers betray. At BIJ members feel a true sense of belonging and our palpable warmth and hospitality is what makes our community attractive to potential members and guests.

Thank you for all you do and give to sustain our spiritual home. The generous offerings of the heart that each of you brings to our congregation are appreciated far more than these words can adequately express.

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.


WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision

WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision in San Francisco’s Castro District,  Wednesday August 4, 2010.  I am in the middle with Margee Churchon of the Jewish Community Relations Council on my right, Rachel Biale and Susan Lubeck from the Progressive Jewish Alliance on my left, Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue and Marilyn Golden, Policy analyist Disabled Rights and Defense Fund in front of me.  After the Rally, we marched down Market Street to Civic Center and continued with speeches from local constituents and officials on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall.   A small but significant step along the path to full equality for all, and despite the cold summer weather, it truly was a glorious day.  Hooray for liberty and justice.  Today I am especially proud to be an American!

More Jews for Equality!  Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall
More Jews for Equality! Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall