Dancing With Nature

Moving to California felt like moving to a new country. One impression that has struck me deeply is the sense that there is a certain “untamed” quality about living here. Between the majestic beauty of the mountains, the wild and dangerous coastline and the mysterious vastness of the Pacific Ocean, mother nature has a strong hold over our lives. Maybe that’s why our state has such a pro-active population when it comes to preserving this rugged beauty. Day by day we’re engaged in what might be termed a dance with nature: trying to appreciate this precious partner, to enjoy the beauty of her paces and not step on her toes.

At the same time we live with ever-present threat of the next big one and in recent weeks found ourselves facing the destructive forces of fire driven by strong winds. I’ve since learned that the bone dry conditions of late summer inevitably spark over a thousand fires over California. Under usual conditions we might be inconvenienced when some fire in some remote area gets too close to a highway. It’s a whole different story when the wildfire enters a densely populated area.

I recently traveled through one area affected, I found myself becoming emotional seeing the charred trees, the utter destruction of buildings left with nothing but rubble and twisted metal, and the random way in which the fire selected its victims.
There were two reasons I became emotional. One was the picture of a literal holocaust (the word itself refers to complete burning up by fire). The second was the recognition of the incredible valor of the fire fighters and everyone involved in securing lives in those early horrifying minutes and subsequently attacking one of the largest conflagrations in California history. Just thinking of the combined forces of eleven thousand firefighters attacking the overwhelming forces of wind and flame on dry vegetation and buildings was humbling.

I’m still amazed at the ability and speed in which such a huge number of people were organized sparing thousands of lives. I’m deeply moved by all those families and individuals who lost their homes and all their possessions—many of them family heirlooms and priceless memories—the stories of terror and bravery; the compassion showed to neighbors by people for whom every second counted in attempting their own escape and ultimately, the lives that were lost.

The 911 dispatchers were the unsung heroes fielding hundreds of calls from people screaming for help; telling them that help was on the way; hearing from the firefighters that the flames were making it impossible to break through and staying on the phone until the line became silent.
Is it possible not to be emotional? These are times when the partnership of the dance tragically becomes a need to overcome and take control. Clearly, there’s something to be learned from every experience. These are moments that bring out the extremes of human nature as well. It’s important to reflect on the overwhelming number of acts of compassion and bravery that overshadowed those who choose to profit from the misery of others.

We really are privileged to live in a great state and as we look ahead to the future, may our dances be celebrations filled with tears of joy.

Meeting in Beth Ami Social Hall October 25

Dancers, I don’t see any sign of the Finley/Person Center being available by October 25, so I arranged to dance at Congregation Beth Ami in the social hall, 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.. The floor is not the nice wood floor of the Person Center, but it’s okay. I’m sending this notice to my older lists as well as the rec center roster; anyone can come. We used to charge a $3 donation to Beth Ami, I’ll put the money box out for people who have not registered with the rec center, but it’s optional.
We can meet there again Nov 8 but I hope we’ll be back in the Person Center by then. Purim of Love spiel program 2018
Congregation Beth Ami
4676 Mayette Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95405
I hope we can supply some of those endorphins dancing provides!
Be well,

Coming Together

Dear Members, Nursery School Families, and Friends, Yesterday evening we had a healing service attended by about 100 people. The number of people in attendance was double the number I expected. I express my thanks to Rabbi Miller, Lisa Iskin, and Diana Klein from the JFCS who contributed in making the evening meaningful for everyone in attendance. We concluded with Havdalah, everyone holding hands and surrounding Rabbi Miller and with the lights dimmed. I spoke briefly and multiple people requested copies of my prepared remarks. I decided to share my remarks (below) with everyone since I know that many people were unable to attend because they are staying with family or friends around the Bay Area.

Dan Pine, the J.’s news editor was in attendance. His article including interviews with various members may be found at: Gathering of prayer and healing at Santa Rosa shul.

Shavua tov,

Henry S. Cohn

It has been a trying week for all of us in Sonoma County. Of course, not only Sonoma County has been affected by the horrific fires, but Napa, Mendocino, Solano counties, among others have been impacted. But, no community has suffered the number of deaths and the physical destruction of homes and commercial buildings as much as Santa Rosa. At this Healing Service tonight our focus is the Santa Rosa Jewish Community, although the entire Sonoma County Jewish Community has been affected. The calamity has not been limited to one synagogue. Here at Beth Ami, seven families lost their homes and at least one Nursery School family. At least 25 families from Shomrei Torah lost their homes and at Ner Shalom the mother of one of their members perished in her home.

Never in my life have I been so close to a catastrophe where I personally know so many of the families who lost their homes and where I know virtually everyone who needed to evacuate. In the past week I have communicated with so many congregants either by phone, through text messages, or e-mail. Unbeknownst to the people I with whom I have been contact is that I often had tears in my eyes.

I live in Petaluma and so far we have been spared of any fires, although I am now prepared to evacuate should the situation change. I am neither thankful nor grateful that my home has been spared. I am fortunate, but I can’t feel thankful or grateful when so many others that I know personally have experienced misery. I am thankful that more lives have not been lost and for the courageous firefighters, first responders, EMTs and volunteers staffing the evacuation centers.

I have been contemplating whether tonight was too soon to have a Healing Service while the fires are only minimally contained. I know that many families are scattered around the Bay Area staying with friends and family and would be unable to attend. I decided that if only one person showed up, then holding this service would be worth the effort. The healing process needs to start with someone.

On erev Rosh Hashanah I shared the Midrash that tells us that when the Jewish people came to the shore of the Red Sea, they panicked. Moses began to pray, and as G’d instructed him, he held up his rod over the sea. But the Midrash tells us that the sea did not yet part. In the face of the charging Egyptian army, the Midrash tells us that Nachshon Ben Aminadav, one of the tribal leaders, proceeded into the sea. At that moment, the sea parted and the Children of Israel were able to cross on to dry land. Ad-nai’s intervention only came when G’d saw that at least one person was willing to act.

No one will walk away from here tonight completely “healed.” Healing is a journey that starts with a first step. We live in a world where we are frequently told to keep our suffering hidden-both physical and mental, but especially mental suffering. When we create space in our holiest times and places for our own grief and the suffering of our loved ones, we make individual healing possible.

The Torah itself refuses to shy away from stories of loss and human fragility. In the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) the first chapter begins with the verse: “v’eileh ha’devarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisrael: these are the words that Moses spoke to the entire people of Israel.” Moses begins telling the Children of Israel the narrative of their wanderings, the stories of heart-break in leaving Egypt, the deaths of his siblings, the illnesses that struck his people and his own moments of vulnerability. Moses offers these words on the lip of the Promised Land that he will never enter.

In Hebrew the word devarim, means both words and things. Our words, our stories, are tangible in Judaism. Moses offers his words as a legacy–a concrete way to accompany the people in his absence and to comfort each of us as we continue on our own journeys. Our journeys never follow a straight path, but are come with twists and turns and sometimes heading backwards.

As we start a new week, may we turn our eyes towards our loved ones, members of our community and the parts of ourselves that are struggling with the brokenness of grief and loss. And may we offer each other devarim, words that tell the stories of our pain and sanctify our losses, so that our love might bring one another r’fuah sh’layma–a complete healing and the true wholeness of broken hearts.

After the fires

Dear Friends, At this point, last week seems like a blur. Monday, Tuesday etc. all just merged into “days”. Coming home last Friday and making “kiddush” around the table had a surreal quality to it. “Normalcy” seemed out of place! I continue to be amazed by the efforts of those who combatted these terrible fires and performed all the associated tasks to rescue life and property. As someone said, “They all deserve medals!”

Now comes the time to slowly make necessary adjustments and regroup. It’s been heartwarming to see how the various segments of the community are coming together to support one another. I’m sharing the following items in the hopes that this information will be helpful.

1. I’ve accepted Rabbi George Gittleman’s gracious invitation for us to join Shomrei Torah for their Services this Friday evening at Congregation Shomrei Torah, 2600 Bennett Valley Road starting at 6:15 p.m.

2. Also, this Friday evening Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky and Chabad is hosting a free community dinner at the Flamingo Hotel starting at 5:30 p.m. While this conflicts with Shomrei Torah services, we want to give people the information so they can attend this dinner if they wish.

3. Beth Ami Religious School and our Congregation will be hosting a Family Service of Comfort followed by a free dinner a week from this Friday on October 27th. The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the service, which features the vocal talents of Lisa Iskin. At about 6:15 we will sit down for dinner in the social hall.
Please call the Beth Ami office (707) 360-3000 no later than Wednesday the 25th – earlier, if possible – so that we can plan adequately!

4. Congregation Shomrei Torah is hosting a day camp while schools are out. They are in need of adults who have experience and love working with children (and don’t mind a degree of pandemonium!) to assist them. The camp runs from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. If you in a position to serve as a volunteer, simply stop by Shomrei Torah a little before 9:00 a.m. to sign up.

5. The Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Sonoma County is doing an amazing job in tending to all the needs that have arisen as a result of the fires.

However, please feel free to contact me directly 360-3004, rabbi@bethamisr.org, if you wish. We have received many gracious offers for help – especially with regards to housing and I would be happy to assist you in any way I can.
Important: For those who wish to offer assistance with housing, please indicate how long you feel you can accommodate; how many individuals, and if you are able to accommodate children and/or pets. Having more detailed information will assist us in trying to match a family that requires housing.

6. Finally, I invite you to join me for minyan any regular Monday through Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. for about 45 minutes of prayer and thoughtful meditation. Evenings are at 6:00 p.m., Sunday through Thursday last about 15 minutes. All these sessions take place in our chapel located in the Friedman Center apartment.

Please know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.
I’m honored to serve this wonderful synagogue and community.
May we be worthy of many days of safety, prosperity and joy in the months and years ahead.


Mordecai Miller
Rabbi Congregation Beth Ami

Rosh Chodesh for 5778

It’s Shevat, 5778, and time for us to renew our Rosh Chodesh gatherings once again. Here’s what on tap …

Rosh Chodesh women invite you to mark the new month of Shevat on Wednesday, January 17 with a guided imagery by Michele Baime @ 7pm at Beth Ami.

And mark your calendar for our leading a Friday night service (Friday, February 16) guided by Hannah Carattti. (Stay tuned for the time, please)

Thanks, PattyB

Rosh Chodesh

Dear Rosh Chodesh Women, We are sorry to say that the Rosh Chodesh brunch at Michelle Baime’s scheduled for Sunday November 19th will be canceled due to a number of conflicts. Please put our next Rosh Chodesh gathering (Tevet) at Judy Gunnar’s home on your calendar. It will be Monday December 18 at 7pm: White Elephants and Desserts. Bring desserts, 8 candles, and your Chanukiah.

More information to follow.

B’shalom, PattyB

Calling all honey cakes…

To add more sweetness to our celebration of the High Holy Days, once again we are requesting Honey cakes.
Honey cake is one of our special traditions for Rosh Hashanah and we want to have plenty at Beth Ami for the holiday season, from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot. You can make them at your convenience, bring them to the synagogue, and we will put them in the freezer.
We are requesting that that your recipe be pareve and that you follow the Food and Pot-luck guidelines. No serving plates are necessary and please, do not cut your cake, we will do it for you. Just wrap the cake and label it; “Honey cake for HHD” and whether it has any nut and/or nut by-products or is nut and/or nut-product free. If your recipe is gluten-free, mark that as well.
If you want to help supply, you just need to contact the CBA Office by phone or email office@bethamisr.org; to give our organizers an idea of how many loaves you wish to bake. Then, please, bring the cakes to the synagogue by no later than Monday morning on September 18th. If there is no one in the kitchen, you may bring it to Elizabeth or Judy who has a key to the kitchen. Thank you, we have had some fabulous honey cakes over the years!

Daniel Sherman’s summer experiences

As I prepared to leave Santa Rosa to travel to Poland and Israel, many friends and family members wished me safe travels and an incredible summer across the world.
And an incredible summer I had indeed; I made new friends from all over North America, visited breathtaking historical sites, and experienced the Holy Land’s culture from North to South.
Yet something about leaving the U.S. stuck with me: I felt like most everyone who wished me goodbye focused on my safety. I’m not complaining that people seemed to care about my well-being, but it was peculiar to me that people worried so much about my security in the world’s only Jewish majority state. I’d been to Israel before, although I had yet to lose all my baby teeth at the time. But I’d always hear how people felt safer in Israel than in the States, despite whatever external force the IDF would be fighting off at the time. So I had to find out for myself. And throughout the majority of the trip, I felt just the same as I would at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. So despite the geographical difference, I felt as comfortable as I do every summer. It wasn’t until I went to Sderot, the southernmost Israeli city bordering the Gaza Strip, that this sentiment began to change.
The night before my Israel Advocacy track was scheduled to go there, I heard that a rocket was fired into a rural area just outside the city, which was shocking to hear during a recent period of relative peace. Of course I knew details about the political climate, but you can’t really understand the situation until you see it for yourself.
Touring the city, I began to fully realize how Israel isn’t just about eating schwarma or Chasidim walking to Shul, but that people do live in a constant state of threat and distress. Every apartment in Sderot has an attached bomb shelter. We saw videos of kindergartners walking to bomb shelters like they do it every day. It hit me the hardest when we visited a playground and saw giant caterpillar-shaped tunnels that doubled as a shelter; if kids stood beyond a certain point in the structure, they’d be safe. Yet, despite all that may have seemed life-threatening, what I heard about Israel stood up to the test. Shortly thereafter, my group hiked up a small hill and looked out over a road into Gaza. Just a mile or so away from me was a place where I wouldn’t be able to live as a Jew, to live free of hate and terrorist threat. I turned around, and really felt as safe as I ever had.
And I know I’ll cherish the day, whenever it is, when I get to return to Israel. You won’t need to worry about me then.