Social Action Scoop – May 2013

Shalom Haverim!

First off I would like to thank Karen Gould for all her hard work in preparing the Shofar for these past years. Her professionalism and patience with everyone has been greatly appreciated. I wish her much success in her new endeavors. And now a huge thanks in advance to Irvin Klein for taking on the position of editing the Shofar. Todah Rabah!

Helping the hungry in Sonoma County has been a big part of our work this last year. We have collaborated with the Redwood Empire Food Bank and Jewish Family and Children Services.

We continue to collect food for JFCS. The bins are in the foyer. Please consider bringing a can or two when you come to the synagogue. And also consider the dietary needs of the people. Many are on low sodium diets, thanks! The food bank presented a ‘hands on’ seminar on Hunger. We have volunteered several times there, both in the morning and in the evenings, packing fresh fruit and produce. These events have been well attended. Sometimes they have had too many volunteers and not enough work and we have questioned whether we could be more helpful somewhere else. An opportunity has come up.

Jewish Family and Children Services has asked us to collaborate with them to provide food to their clients. They buy much of their food from the food bank and they also want to give out their free produce. The committee decided that we want to work for JFCS as it is a Jewish organization (although many of their clients are not Jewish) and they really need our help . We are in the planning stages but we will hopefully soon begin a bi-monthly volunteer commitment. However it will only be in the weekday mornings. I know that many people cannot make it in the mornings so we will still do a few evenings at the the Redwood Empire Food Bank. They have moved to a new facility near the Sonoma County Airport. It is much larger than the old one. I will make an evening date soon.

Carolyn Metz and I recently visited the principal at Spring Creek Elementary School ( across the street from Beth Ami). We went to discuss ways in which we could be good neighbors and build community. They have a garden the students work in on Wed. mornings. They also prepare food using the vegetables they pick. It is an organized program but I am hoping that we can join them before school ends in June. I know some people are interested in gardening so hopefully this can grow into something

We continue to try and make our community more welcoming and strong. We will have our next meeting on Thus, May 2 at 6:00 at CBA. We always welcome new faces.

Lyla Nathan
Social Action Committee

Rabbi’s Remarks: A Different Pesach!

I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. No! I’m not referring to Pesach, as the title might imply; it was the thought of returning to St. Louis so that we could empty out the contents of our home and ready it for its new owners. Over twenty years of accumulation required purging. Decisions needed to be made:

  1.  What would we ship back to Santa Rosa?
  2.  What would we try to sell?
  3.  What would we have to have carted away?

Closing was scheduled for March 28th and in looking over our schedule, the only opportunity for Susan and me to fly to St. Louis would be the weekend before, returning late Sunday evening. We decided to take a late Wednesday night flight out of San Francisco which would give us Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and Sunday to try to get the job done. Of course the fact that Monday was erev Pesach only added to the level of stress!

We had advertised an “Estate Sale” in the Post-Dispatch and offered two larger items on Craig’s List. Whatever didn’t sell would have to be carted off or shipped to Santa Rosa, and there wasn’t exactly a “big window” in which to figure which was which.

On Friday, people stopped by in a trickle. At the same time I had to figure what we were going to have hauled off, since we only had Friday and Sunday to do the job. While past experience at these sales had been less than encouraging, I must admit that I did learn two major lessons this time.

A gentleman stopped by to see what we had for sale. In the basement he came across a rusty enamel cabinet that had come with the house when we bought it in 1991. It was so decrepit that I never used it for anything in over twenty years. The gentleman saw me and said, “How much do you want for this cabinet?”

I responded, “What would you say to $20 ?”

Without another word he took twenty dollars out of his pocket and handed it to me.Now it’s possible that I sold him a 2,000 dollar cabinet for $20 dollars, but that’s fine with me. From my “non-expert” perspective the lesson learned was: Never try to guess what anyone might want to purchase! Lesson number two for garage/estate sales was: make sure you have a table or two with nothing marked and let people know they can name their price. (I really think it’s a “control thing”!)

Finally, it really was a tremendous lesson having to send so much “stuff” off with the hauler. He wound up taking four (Yes, four!) cartloads. A lot of the things he took weren’t junk at all; just things we couldn’t take with us nor sell. (A big snowstorm, Sunday, had a negative effect on anyone who might have been curious to see what we had to offer). It made me realize just how ephemeral a hold we have on the material things we think we “own”. It really doesn’t take much at all to lose our grip on them.Coming, as this experience did, on the eve of Pesach, it made me wonder what it must have been like for those Israelites, leaving their homes in Egypt and having to make similar decisions, all for something they believed would be better.

May you and your families be blessed with a relaxing and safe summer.


Rabbi Mordecai Miller

Social Action Scoop – March 2013

The Social Action Committee is growing and thriving. It is wonderful to see our Congregation doing Tikkun Olam at Beth Ami and in the community at large.

We have truly enjoyed our collaboration with Shomrei Torah in the Film Festival. We have had many members attend the first two movies. It is nice to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. The final film “One Day After Peace” will show at Shomrei on Saturday, March 9, at 7:15 p.m. The film is about a bereaved motherturned- peace activist, who looks for solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after her son is killed by a sniper. There will be a discussion after the film. Come early, as it will be crowded.

The Soup Sisters have prepared a new hearty mushroom barley soup thanks to the great organizational skills of nurse Susan Miller. Also a big thanks to Whitey Sterman for giving a generous donation to help with the cost. If you need or know someone who wants soup please call Lizzie in the office 360-3000 and Cheryle Miller will make sure it is delivered.

We are going to the Redwood Empire Food Bank on Wednesday, March 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. We will be packing large boxes so we will need 3-4 strong bodies to help lift. We will need about 15 people total. Please consider doing this Mitzvah. Contact office 360-3000 or Lyla Nathan, 526- 7438

The Social Action Committee is committed to making Beth Ami a welcoming community. We are planning a new format for enjoying our community. In May, the Friday Night Dinner will begin with services, dinner and dialogue to follow. Our first dinner will Celebrate Interfaith Families at Beth Ami. Details to follow. If you would like to join in the planning please contact us.

Thanks for everyone’s support of the JCFS by bringing food to their bins. They have requested that we bring lowsodium foods as many of their cliental are on restricted diets.

Lyla Nathan
Social Action Committee

CBA Hamantaschen 2013 – it takes a community…

Thank you CBA Bakers for your generous donation of time, dough, and filling for making hamentashen for us to celebrate Purim, Shalach Manos, the Purim Festival and the Purim Spiel. From January 6-February 10 we made 1118 hamentashen. Our volunteers ranged from our Religious School students and our Rabbi to our usual volunteers of CBA Bakers. Our fillings ranged from fruit fillings of blueberry, cherry, apricot and diabetic friendly strawberry, to the creative hazelnut- chocolate and date-nut fillings, and to our traditional prune-raisin-nut and poppyseed fillings.

Want to see the kitchen even more accessible to Beth Ami members? Kitchen access is limited only by the number of mashgichim available. Become one! This is not a closed club.

The kitchen committee is developing a workshop for mashgiach training. It will be presented by Rabbi Miller and will feature kitchen and food safety and mashgiach training for maintaining kashrut in the Beth Ami kitchen. Our goal is to present this in June or July.

Whether you are interested in being a mashgiach for Beth Ami or want to review your skills as a mashgiach or wondering what mashgichim do for those who are using the Beth Ami Kitchen, this workshop is for you. Complete our mashgiach workshop and you can become a member of our Beth Ami mashgiach team.

If you are interested, or if you have any questions or input, please contact Janet & Jeffrey at Reserve your spot now.

Rabbi’s Remarks: Modern Priesthood?

After stating the words of the priestly benediction (“May the Lord bless you and guard you…”) to Aaron and his sons, the Torah goes on to state, “Thus they shall link my name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27).

The obvious question is: to whom is the “them” referring?

I still remember my Talmud professor at HUC-JIR, Dr. Bentzion Wacholder, explaining how the Cohanim – the priests – claimed that verse meant that God would bless the priests as a reward for pronouncing the priestly blessing on the Jewish people. The Jewish people, however, disagreed and claimed that the verse came to reassure them that God would put his stamp of approval on the priest’s words. (Whether the priest was worthy or not!)

This tension between “priest” and “people” is something that plays out over the ages with what we might call “organized” religion. If there is a class of individuals who devote their lives to learning all the mysteries of the faith, in some cases, are even “born” into it; does that entitle them to a role over and above the other adherents; or is anyone entitled to roles of leadership as long as they have the basic knowledge?

The book of Leviticus, as the name implies, speaks about many rules and regulations that apply to Cohanim (priests) and Levites. Leviticus 21:5 specifically prohibits priests from shaving their heads, cutting the corners of their beards or making gashes in themselves as signs of mourning. In Deuteronomy 14:1 the law is expanded to apply to the all Israelites. It states, “You are children of the Lord your God. You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead.”

We might note that we have two types of spiritual leaders: priests (Cohanim) and rabbis. To be a priest you have to be a descendant of Aaron through the male line. Being a rabbi requires training and personal commitment.

We no longer have a Temple and an Altar with which to perform our formal daily religious obligations mentioned in Numbers 28 and 29. For centuries, the Jewish people have substituted the “Shacharit,” “Mincha” and “Ma-ariv” services to fulfill this duty.

Just as the priest would approach the altar to minister, so the leader – the shaliach tzibbur – stands at the amud (the prayer stand) to lead the congregation in worship. On the one hand, any one held worthy by the congregation is capable of serving in this capacity; on the other hand, there are various specific melodies and cantillation “modes” which require a level of expertise – as well as a trained voice. We all know about chazzanim who were able to inspire – and are still capable of inspiring – their attending congregation to emotional heights of prayer.

On a personal level, I believe that services are intended to allow members of the congregation to sense their connection to the Creator of the Universe. Everyone has their own “spiritual buttons.” Some find the music a satisfying avenue; others the content of the prayers; still others may find it sufficient to be in a sanctuary in the presence of praying community. Regardless, I believe that anyone who steps foot into the sanctuary has to have some sense of “ownership.” It gives me a sense of satisfaction as a rabbi, to see members of the congregation capable of leading the service for the rest of the community. I would love to encourage anyone who would love to take on this role to let me know if they would like to find someone to tutor them.

I have also learned to deeply respect the spiritual skill and musical artistry that a trained chazzan can bring to the congregation’s experience of the service. I appreciate those times when we are able to add this dimension to our worship experience.

As an Israelite, I also consider it an honor to lead the congregation in worship. It’s always a wonderfully pleasant duty: as a rabbi!

With best wishes for a happy Purim and a Chag Pesach kasher v’same’ach, (A joyous and “kosher” Pesach).

Rabbi Mordecai Miller