Coping with Covid-19: A Spiritual Perspective

 Dear CBA Family, For most of us, the prospect of coping with a pandemic such as the Coronavirus is a totally new experience. We read of the catastrophic consequences of its outbreak and you may have seen the graphs of how the disease originally spread exponentially in China, and, as of this moment, it appears to be contained, while across the world its course remains uncertain.
The degree to which so much is still uncertain: the fact that at this point there is no known vaccine – and it will take anywhere from 6 months to over a year to go through the process of developing one; the phenomenal speed with which the disease can spread; the current lack of adequate testing; the potential strain it could place on our health-care system; the question of sufficiently effective treatment and the potential mortality rate, all add up to raise a sense of alarm, if not outright panic.
However, a panic response is seldom, if ever, helpful in approaching a problem.
From all we know at present, if one is not displaying flu like symptoms requiring quarantine; the most helpful approach in preventing transmission is thorough personal hygiene – especially hand washing or sanitizing – and social distancing.
At Beth Ami what steps are we taking?
– We have, essentially, closed operations for the time being, but in addition:
– Jim Sweeney assisted by Lee Feinstein are in the process of developing a system of “live streaming” which will enable those who have computers etc. with internet-access to view services on Shabbat and Festivals. This would be available in “real time” as well as recorded versions.
– Our synagogue president, Carolyn Metz has been working tirelessly on the various ways in which the synagogue is meeting the current challenges. Additionally, she is putting together a plan which would enable synagogue meetings to take place using readily available virtual media, and I will also look into the possibility of making the classes I currently teach (Midrash, Mishna and TaNaCH/Bible) available on software such as “Zoom” to allow for an interactive experience.
– Paul Feinstein has graciously offered to chair a group of individuals who would make it a point to reach out to members of our congregation who are shut in or lack sufficient resources to take care of themselves adequately under this situation. The scope and task of this project will become clearer as the committee proceeds.
– Since we are probably going to have to cancel our Community Seder this year, Barb McGee who was planning to co-chair this with Judy Gunnar has stepped forward to find ways to provide Pesach supplies to those in our congregation who would face difficulties in this regard. This will be co-ordinated with Paul’s committee.
– I will be personally available by phone (707) 889-6905 if anyone could use my services for spiritual counseling. My email address is
Beyond all these specific identified efforts, there is an important role we can all play.
– Above all, we can try to stay calm under what may well be, very trying circumstances. At the end of this message, I’m attaching an article that Tish Levee posted on her FaceBook page, that has some excellent suggestions.
– As a people, (since the time of Jacob our patriarch), we have a long history of having to deal with trying circumstances. As individuals, life has taught all of us that no-one escapes from adversity with its infinite iterations.
While every situation depends on its specific circumstances and individual personalities, I do believe there is an overall approach that you may find helpful.
The very fact that this situation has forced a radical change to our commonplace experiences can help us realize in a whole new way just how much we take for granted: just how precious every healthy moment turns out to be. How do we transform this realization into what we make of our lives?
Instead of a possible reaction of “Why me?” or “Why am I/we being ‘punished’?” I think a helpful spiritual response is, “What can I learn from this?” or “Is there anything I need to change about how I’m going about my life that can help me cope with this situation?”
We can use these and similar questions to seek deeper insight into ourselves and those around us: to gain depth and purpose: to “grow!”
– Reaching out to those who are disadvantaged in comparison to ourselves.
– Finding ways to connect or reconnect with those in our own circle: in our homes or with friends and family. We currently have at our disposal various media: telephone/cellphone, email, Skype/Facetime etc.
– Pursuing an interest that up to this point we never had the time for: reading, working on a craft, gardening, meditating or praying.
Speaking of which, I can only pray, that the disruption we are all experiencing can come to an end quickly; that the course of life will be restored so as to minimize the current level of suffering. In believing in a loving Creator, it gives me an underlying sense of confidence that the ultimate future remains bright, despite the present circumstances: that, in fact, we can all come out of this with a heightened sense of who we all are as human beings, created in the Divine image.
            Wishing you health and peace: success in all your endeavors,
Article posted by Tish Levee by Melissa Kerr Winchell:
So #coronavirus #COVID19 quarantine is likely coming to Massachusetts. At least, I hope so.
Listen, friends, my son was in quarantine for an entire year while he recovered from chemo and a bone marrow transplant. Before we began, I asked the doctor not how to survive the isolation, but how to thrive in it.
Here’s what I learned during my 12 months of quarantine with him:
1. Protect the vulnerable even if doing so means isolating yourself and re-arranging your plans, expectations, and life. We quarantine for others, not ourselves. Quarantine is your contribution to the public good and an act of love.
2. People may die. All the families we befriended on the transplant’s isolated floor lost their children. All of them. If you are quarantined and have health, be grateful. It really, truly could be worse.
3. Quarantine is annoying & hard & exasperating…but remember: the best you can ever tell yourself, should you be someone who suffers from the virus, is that you quarantined the hell out of quarantine. No regrets. You did all you could. It’s the only peace there is.
4. Establish a routine early especially if you are isolated with a child(ren). Wake up, game time, craft time, reading…create structure within each day out of chores and meals and books and the ordinary. And if like me you’ll be working from home set hours/limits on that too. It makes time a friend and not an enemy.
5. Ask yourself who you want to be while quarantined? And work each day on being that person. Quarantine is an opportunity to start a new habit or return to a hobby or play more music in the house. Be determined to use the time to grow.
6. Turn ordinary into joy. A meal on the living room floor is a picnic. A walk in the backyard is a scientific exploration. A dive into the recycling bin is a craft or engineering feat.
7. Pay attention to your self-talk. Don’t tell yourself it’s never going to end and you’re going to die of boredom or claustrophobia. The circumstances are out of your control, but you can become aware of how you respond and make space to change.
8. Get outside. You can stay away from folks and still walk the dog, build a campfire, visit an urban garden, or sit on your front stoop. Fresh air and sunshine do wonders for perspective.
9. Make plans for the future. Quarantine won’t last forever no matter how often it feels that way. Dream about your next outing, vacation, or day in the office. Envisioning the future is essential to hope.
10. Lean into quarantine. The change could teach you something. What is it here to teach you? What can you learn? How can you carry the gifts of isolation-time with you into the rest of your life? Decide not to resist quarantine, but embrace it. I promise, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Preparations for Passover

Right now is the season of preparations. At the time of writing this article, we are in the midst of preparing Hamantashen for the Purim Spiels, Purim Services and, of course, the Shalach Manos. This takes bakers as well as donors of fillings and dough (all done following our Food and Potluck Guidelines). For all of you who are helping this year with the making and baking of hamantashen, thank you.
Of course, with all this flour being used and with all of the baking being done, we are starting to think about the vast Passover Preparations that need to be done. Below is what we know so far:

Here are some important dates for Beth Ami’s Preparations for Passover:
Sunday, March 29th—Volunteers will be needed to help clear out all of the food and relocate everything else in the kitchen that is movable.
If your group uses the Beth Ami kitchen refrigerator or freezer for storage, this is the time to have all your food removed from the kitchen. Any extra food left by then will be either donated, or composted, or tossed.

The apartment kitchen, refrigerator and freezer will be used for storing food and preparing for the April 4th Shabbat Potluck.
Also during that day the Passover items will be moved out to a special storage area until after the kitchen is koshered for Passover.
From March 30th through Havdalah on April 16th—The Congregation Beth Ami kitchen will not be available except for Passover cleaning and cooking. It will be returned to regular use sometime after Havdalah on April 16th.

On April 4th there will be a simple, regular Shabbat Potluck—but, all of the preparations and cleaning up will be done in the Beth Ami Apartment. Until the morning of April 8th the apartment will remain available for use.

From Wednesday, April 8th through Havdalah on April 16th—After the Morning Davening and the Fast of the First Born is over, all of the chametz and items for preparing chametz will be sold by contract.

This means there will be no access to the Beth Ami apartment, social hall cabinets, or kitchen pantry. [Remember that if you choose to use Congregation Beth Ami to sell your chametz, your form needs to be turned into the CBA office before 10 a.m. on April 8th. This form will be available at the CBA office and on the website.]
Saturday, April 11th—A simple Passover lunch after Shabbat Services will be available.

When we celebrate Passover, there is no potluck onegs or potluck lunches. Volunteers will be preparing and serving the food from the Beth Ami kitchen. All food will be kosher pareve or dairy for Passover.

Friday morning, April 17th—Volunteers will be re-packing the Passover supplies, shifting them back to the designated storage areas , and moving the regular items back to the Beth Ami Kitchen.

After this is done, the kitchen will be available for preparations for the Shabbot Potluck on Saturday, the 18th.

Purpose and Peace

A recent Facebook meme goes, “Religion is a person sitting in a church (substitute “synagogue”) thinking about kayaking; Spirituality is a person sitting in a kayak thinking about God.” During the course of my work as a rabbi starting back in the spring of 1974, I’ve heard so many times, “Rabbi, I just don’t enjoy coming to services! For one, they’re too long; I mean, three hours?!”

And yet, when I reflect on the essence of what makes a synagogue a synagogue, I would have to say, it’s the fact that it’s a place where people can create a community to share common spiritual goals.

Examining the words that inhabit the pages of our Siddur, the Jewish book of prayer, provides a unique opportunity for people:
To gather together to find expression of their deepest spiritual, emotional and intellectual selves and grow through the worship services.

To meditate on the spectrum of existence; examining any element of reality with a sense of wonder and awe at its beauty, complexity or manifestation; from the microcosm eg that a spider is able to perform amazing feats of engineering to the macrocosm: the vastness of our universe.

To discover a sense of perspective. How do I view myself, my life, my successes and failures in the light of infinite time and space?

To develop a sense of duty. How do I account for my presence in this world as I stand before the Force through which I came into existence?

To feel a sense of hope (despite all the challenges to our sense of well-being), that the Universe is in the ultimate control of a Power well beyond our brief sojourn or our ability to comprehend.

It affords the opportunity to shed feelings of loneliness by sharing moments spanning grief through celebration, surrounded by a loving community.
Attending services provides the space and time to give voice to ideas that transcend space and time.

In engaging these ideas and being open to the challenge of combining old and new meanings, the words in our Siddur speak to our own needs.
The ideas above represent one of the approaches we practice here at Beth Ami. It could be termed contemplative or meditative.

There is another approach within the walls of this sanctuary which complements the meditative, we could call it the ecstatic. It involves all kinds of expression. It leans heavily on how the sounds of music speak to our emotions; how it’s capable of lifting our spirits or calming us down.

In this sense, we can observe that even regular spoken language creates a unique set of sounds; over and above the actual denotation of the words. It is another way that people who enjoy our services find great satisfaction in hearing the Hebrew being chanted or sung. They may not understand what the individual words mean, but they are sensitive to the atmosphere; the emotional content of the sounds; the way in which it has been able to survive the millennia; the way it connects us to people recently and long departed. This approach has appeal precisely because of its visceral nature; it speaks in a unique way to our emotional side.

In the ecstatic process, a person tries to lose themselves in the feeling. In the contemplative approach, a person tries to lose themselves in the thought.
Ironically, in losing our ego-selves in these ways, we discover a totally different side to our human personality. In engaging with open hearts in this process, we can approach a profound sense of who we really are—our true inner being. This is where we have the chance of finding purpose and peace.

Common Ground

A dear friend recently sent me an advertisement from the Danish government that challenged people to step outside their defining boxes of us/them.
I found it very intriguing so I thought I would pass this article on to our Kehilla.

As we know it is sometimes very difficult to find things that we, as human beings, have in common. Even though we profess, as Jews, that we are all made in God’s image, we often struggle applying this concept to people we dislike, distrust, are different from us, we are afraid of, or disagree with.
The exercise they show in the video makes it clear to people of very different social and economic strata and politics to see and acknowledge their commonalities rather than their differences.

It starts with a large group of Danes who have different opinions on immigration, religion, those they trust, those they avoid, and those they think they share nothing in common with. Everyone is in their box with a big gap in the center. Starting with questions like, Who of you were a class clown in school? Who is a stepparent? Who was bullied or bullied others? Who works in life saving profession? Teachers? Who is madly in love? Who is lonely? Who is bisexual? And who was lucky enough to have sex last week? Slowly everyone stepped out of their box and everyone was standing in the middle. People were laughing and talking to each other. It seemed liked people realized how similar they are.

This exercise certainly made me think how easily I judge a person and I hope that I can stop and listen to someone else that I disagree with and find common ground. Certainly in these times when the us/them narrative has become mainstream we can try and not get caught up in the things that divide us and notice the many things that bind us as human beings.

I know this isn’t the regular message from Social Action but it is about Tikun Olam, repairing the world.
We will be serving dinner at The Palms on Wednesday, March 18.

JNF is Green, promotes Social Action, and the Beth Ami Tree Garden in Israel

Last chance to plant your trees in Beth Ami’s Tree Garden in Israel. Send your donation to the office or visit to donate $18 per tree.

Yet we learned from Don Schlesinger, JNF’s Executive Director for Northern California that land restoration is only 5% of what JNF does for us. It’s true that it has planted over a quarter of a billion trees in Israel, restoring nature to the once barren land. Even more so, JNF today provides valuable infrastructure investments in newly developing communities north and south of Israel’s congested and expensive central core, enabling Israel’s 21st century pioneers to relocate to and make the Negev and Galilee regions thrive.

As a JNF donor, you support remarkable advances in science, arid-agriculture and technology to benefit people worldwide. JNF responds immediately to aid those suffering from devastating fires and acts of terror affecting communities adjacent to the Gaza border. JNF educates thousands of American Jewish teens at our Alexander Muss High School in Israel and brings to Israel hundreds of non-Jewish campus leaders.

JNF works collaboratively with outstanding partners on the ground in Israel, including:

  • Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brings Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students together to study and tackle significant ecological and sustainable development challenges confronting Israel and her neighbors.
  • ALEH Negev – Nahalat Eran residential village, which offers unparalleled care for Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds suffering with severe disabilities.
  • Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), which has trained tens of thousands of aspiring young farmers from Southeast Asia and Africa to grow crops more efficiently and effectively. AICAT graduates return to and provide their home communities with enhanced food security, while also serving as outstanding ambassadors for Israel.

JNF’s newest initiatives include the JNF Culinary Arts Institute in Kiryat Shmona, ALEH Negev Rehabilitation Hospital and JNF Education Campus at the JNF River Park in Be’er Sheva.

Jewish National Fund is not involved in politics, policy advocacy or lobbying.  It focuses strictly on JNF’s core mission to improve the lives of Israel’s highly diverse population, including its Jewish, Arab, Druze and Bedouin citizens. As we fulfill this mission, JNF is uniquely positioned to unite, inspire and provide the American Jewish community with the opportunity to help build a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

If you care about keeping the earth green or improving the lives of all Israelis, buy your trees now in the Beth Ami Tree Garden.

Moon Mavens

Our Rosh Chodesh Adar gathering, previously scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, has been cancelled because the Purim Spiel has taken priority at Congregation Beth Ami. (I hope you’ll all come to one of the performances on Sunday, March 8 … 1:30pm or 7:00pm … see
The next gatherings are as follows:
*Thursday, March 26 at 7pm @ Congregation Beth Ami: theme is Freedom (Rosh Chodesh Nisan)
*Thursday, April 23 at 7pm @ Congregation Beth Ami: guided meditation (Rosh Chodesh Iyyar)
*Rosh Chodesh Women will lead Friday night services at 7:30pm on April 24 at Beth Ami
*Sunday, May 24 at 11am potluck brunch @ Congregation Beth Ami: Lee Feinstein will explain her Omer Quilt (Rosh Chodesh Sivan)
*Monday, June 22 at 5:30pm walk and potluck dinner at Sugar Loaf (Rosh Chodesh Tammuz)
*Wednesday, July 22 … Rosh Chodesh planning meeting … time and location to be announced (Mary’s Pizza or Boudins?)
*Sunday, August 9 at 10:30am-12:30pm … Yoga and a potluck lunch at Hannah Caratti’s home … carpool from Beth Ami (an early Rosh Chodesh Elul)
Cheers, Patty Bernstein
Please forward to any Jewish woman you’d like to have included (and cc me so I can add her name to our list)

Kool Shul for 4-6 year-olds

KOOL SHUL is a special Shabbat for children ages 4 to 6 (younger siblings are welcome). It is held on the third Saturday of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the Beth Ami Library.
There will be music and Shabbat friendly activities and crafts; we welcome old friends and new faces. The next session is February 15, 2020. Questions? Call Susan Miller at 707-889-6931.

Is Polite Debate a lost Art?

This past September, I pointed out, in my Shofar column, our fascination with conflict. Even a superficial look at society reveals so many ways in which human beings engage in this. From competitive sports to open warfare; from domestic interactions to international relations; from the process of elections to the execution of government; from history to fiction, we have to admit we find conflict “entertaining,” especially if we can stand on the sidelines and watch it’s progression.

There’s at least another side of conflict that goes beyond entertainment, and that’s the process of give-and-take that takes place within a good debate. If we are exposed to both sides of well-argued proposition, it can allow us to get below surface impressions and prejudices and closer to true knowledge. We know that this is the time-honored way in which justice must be administered. Truth be told, anyone who seeks a greater understanding of a given situation requires a mind sufficiently open and, at the same time, critical of relevant information, no matter what side of the debate it comes from.

No wonder then, that so much of the “Rabbinical” material is filled with expressed disagreement between different individuals or groups and the careful, painstaking analysis of the various points of view. No wonder that ancient Greek society cultivated the “Socratic Method.”

All this, nevertheless, requires a tremendous amount of patience on our part; especially when it comes to listening to (or reading) opinions that aren’t congruent with ones own. For example, it just gets so easy to become caught up emotionally – as we can observe on a daily basis – in discussing the subjects that make up the deep political divide we are enduring as citizens of the United States. So little seems “shaded” these days. We either “hate” or “love” our political leaders and, instead of looking at observable facts, calmly debating their positive or negative value, so often I see insulting remarks being lobbed from one side to the other.

The internet and social media have made communication possible between individuals who may be total strangers. In addition, the way this communication takes place on a screen may make us oblivious that there is another human being behind those words. To this point we haven’t developed any etiquette to govern those “screen exchanges.”

However, I’m aware that hurling insults at the person who disagrees with you is an ancient, if not lame, technique of “winning” a debate. It’s called ad hominem when used as a tactic. It’s really a tacit admission that you’ve run out of good arguments with which to counter your opponent. Since you have no chance of proving them wrong by using logic, you wind up denigrating them.

To the extent that I’ve participated in online political debates, I see this constantly. What concerns me more, is the degree to which I hear these ad hominem’s from some of our country’s leaders. Beyond even that; it appears we, ourselves, in the heat of the moment, miss recognizing just how destructive this kind of conflict is, in the quest for wisdom and wise government.

As I remember; my dad loved to say, “Can’t we disagree, without being ‘disagreeable?’”

I look forward to the day when the “Age of Information” can give way to the “Age of Understanding” and even the “Age of Wisdom.”

I pray for the return of vigorous, polite debate!

With warm regards,

Mordecai Miller
Rabbi, Beth Ami Congregation.

Feast of Lights

It’s no coincidence that our festival of Chanukah occurs so close to the winter solstice; the days are short and the nights are long. Darkness is all around. Nature has gone to sleep; in some areas, even a deep sleep. Frost has killed much of the summer’s growth and we have to wait patiently as the days slowly grow longer even as the average temperatures may grow colder.

As a metaphor, winter represents the gloom of death and despair. What better time to be able to celebrate a festival that brings light and hope into such a moment in our lives?

In the course of the eight days of Chanukah, we add another psalm to our morning and evening services: Psalm 30, “A psalm of the dedication of the House – of David.” The word “Chanukah” means “dedication,” and the “House” mentioned here is none other than the great Temple which stood in Jerusalem.

To review the story in brief: at the juncture in history in which the events of Chanukah took place, the land of Israel was under the rule of the Emperor, King Antiochus Epiphanes. He attempted to unite his empire by compelling those under his rule to take on the Greek religion. He transformed the Holy Temple into a shrine to worship the Greek god, Apollo, and slaughtered pigs on the altar. The Jews were forced to abandon the study of Torah and the practice of the Divine commandments. There were those who succumbed to the pressure, but the priest of Modin, Mattathias, along with his five sons refused to accept the decree and mounted a series of guerrilla campaigns against the Emperor and his armies.

Ultimately, the rebels were successful and were even able to enter Jerusalem, only to find the Temple in a state of desecration. It would be necessary to cleanse and rededicate it. The question on everyone’s mind: Would this act be acceptable in the sight of God?

As the Talmud relates: after going thorough all the necessary steps in the process of rededication, it was now necessary to light the great menorah in the shrine. This required the purest of pure olive oil. It was already a miracle that a jug was found containing a small amount of the requisite oil, bearing the seal of the High Priest and still intact. There was little expectation that the amount of oil would even burn for one day.

Miraculously, it burned for eight days. This amount of time allowed the Jews to produce more oil, which would ensure that the menorah could continue to burn. This miracle was evidence that their act of rededicating the Temple was, in fact, acceptable.

In the midst of a dark, bleak period, the light of hope was rekindled.

To cite a small portion from psalm 30 which combines the themes of Divine rescue and dedicating the Temple:

“I exalt you, O Ad-nai, for You have drawn me up;

And have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me.

… You changed my mourning to become my dancing;

You loosened my sackcloth and have girded me with joy,

So that (I might) sing of Your glory and never be silenced;

Ad-nai my God, I will thank You without ceasing.

And may the lights of Chanukah shine forever all your days.


Mordecai Miller.

Rosh Chodesh Women

Our Rosh Chodesh gatherings are suspended until the all-clear sounds! Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein at