Food and Celebrations

We travel from Passover to Shavuot in 6 short weeks and we celebrate our leaving Egypt as slaves and evolving to a people as Jews receiving the Torah. Our festivals often include clever bits of role-playing and foods to make these holidays more meaningful. For Passover we share the memories of leaving on a moments notice with feasts of unleavened bread, marror, chazeret, charoset, and more. We don’t eat any leavened foods for the 8 days of Passover. For the cooks in our lives, this is a big challenge because we get to recreate our favorite dishes with matzah products, and not using our usual (and comfortable) kitchen items.
We just finished Passover, and as one of the kitchen committee members, I can tell you that is a lot of hard work. What is traditionally done for Passover preparations in homes across the world is done at our synagogue as well. All of the Hametz and Hametz cooking items are removed, stored away, and sold on contract. The kitchen is cleaned inside and out with everything koshered to make certain all Hametz is gone. Then, and only then, the Passover items are able to be put in the kitchen, and after that, the cooking for Passover begins. Well, you know the results of that. What a wonderful community Seder we had. We also shared a simple Kosher for Passover Shabbat. After we tore up the contract (well actually the next day) everything was packed up and shifted back so that our wonderful volunteers who cook can use the kitchen for preparing for this Shabbat. What a team of volunteers we had to help us do all of this work. They are too numerous to name, but they are all very much appreciated.
From the second day of Passover we begin to count the Omer until we reach the festival of Shavuot. During this time, we will be celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut, May 2nd,which is usually celebrated the evening before with outdoor festivities, parties, and BBQs, and continuing with picnics and other outdoor celebrations during the day (when you plan your picnic, include an Israeli dish in your basket) On Lag’BaOmer, May 14th, you have another occasion for BBQs with bonfires.
On Erev Shavuot, May 30th, we start the celebration of the receiving of the Torah and the laws of Kashrut by serving dairy foods. Shavuot is also the time to celebrate the harvest of the First Fruits of the Seven Species of Eretz Yisroel with colorful baskets of fruit and decorating with greenery; and, the beginning of the harvest of the wheat. Think of the breads we didn’t eat at Passover.
We’re in the beginning stages for Shavuot. Will there be cheesecake or blintzes to share? That night study session can get mighty intense and bring on the need for food for the body as well as for the soul.
May all the festivals and the days between be a time of joy and shalom.

Jeffrey & Janet Stein-Larson

Compassionate Conversations

The first meeting of Compassionate Conversations was held on Sunday, April 23. We were pleased by the large turn out. Seventeen people willingly dedicated their time to learn and practice how to really listen. We listened to each other without interrupting or asking questions. We were there just to hear what someone had to say without the need to give advice or feedback. People were very respectful and brave to share with the group.
As we finished, each person gave a phrase or a few words to explain how they felt. Many people expressed a calm, quiet, hopefulness from the meeting. It felt like a very safe and caring environment. It was a very good beginning. Thanks to everyone who participated.
The next meeting of Compassionate Conversations will be held on Sunday, May 28 from 3:30–5. The subject will be gratitude.
The following meeting will be Sunday, June 11 at the same time. If you didn’t make this meeting, you are welcome to come next time. We will review guidelines and have a brief discussion of the kind of listening we will offer and receive in the group.
If you are interested or for more
information, please contact Rabbi Miller at, 889-6905 or, 526-7438.
Last week I asked for specific items to fill the bin for the JFCS Pantry. I noticed today that the bin was full. Thanks so much to the congregation for such a quick response. Terrific!

Mini-performance May 7

Dancers, we have been asked to demonstrate some dances for ten minutes or less at a free concert May 7 at Beth Ami by Israeli / San Francisco singers Achi Ben Shalom and Noa Levy

PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHO WANTS TO PERFORM/ DEMO May 7. I’m not worried about getting a large group, I just don’t want to dance around all by myself…
The schedule is
2 pm kids’ show
2:30 free refreshments in social hall
2:50 we dance in social hall
3:00 concert in sanctuary.
Our regular dance meetings are April 19 and May 3, before the concert.
After the concert we have
May 17– I’ll be gone and we’ll have to talk about someone else leading, or cancelling
May 31-I’ll be back
June 14 and 28
I’m trying to think of three dances to do from different categories depending on who can come and what dances they know. A few people will do an advanced dance. Here are some possibilities. You can tell me what you would rather dance if you are coming…
somewhat harder but pretty well known:
Advanced (my daughter Ilana will dance this)

Rosh Chodesh Iyyar

Celebrate Iyyar (and the Counting of Omer) with the Rosh Chodesh Women! All Jewish women are invited to welcome the new month of Iyyar on Thursday, April 27 at 7 p.m. in the Congregation Beth Ami multipurpose room.

We’re in the process of Counting the Omer so we have time to discuss the relevance of the ritual and the various meditations and methods of marking the 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot.
Please join us for our ritual candle-lighting and songs … and discussion. A nosh or a beverage would be a nice addition.
See you there!
Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein (

Compassionate Conversations

In my previous article, I mentioned a concern that I share with many in our community. We are all concerned with our sense of security, both public and personal, but we may disagree fundamentally with how to react to the various factors that we feel contribute to this concern. What is even more disturbing is the fact that disagreement between individuals is often expressed in a way which is demeaning, insulting or sarcastic. At a time when it is vitally important to increase our understanding of the problems that beset us; to recognize the ways in which issues can be nuanced or seen from more than just one point of view, communication is breaking down. It is for this and other reasons that the Beth Ami Social Action Committee and I have developed a program which, we believe, addresses this concern. We are calling this program “Compassionate Conversations”.

Why should I come to the Compassionate Conversations?

Here at Beth Ami we hope to offer an opportunity to talk about our thoughts and feelings in safe and non-judgmental gatherings. We will share, heart to heart, about ourselves and our reactions to the dramatic changes in our country. We will listen in new ways that may help to relieve the burdens we carry and as a community we can support each other with caring, uninterrupted listening.

Our meetings will be based on principles of compassionate listening with an open heart. It will not be a time for finding solutions or problem solving, but rather a time to talk about thoughts and feelings and to experience growth and support through deep sharing. Each session will have a focus to consider, such as “Balance” or “Forgiveness”. We will share thought provoking readings and activities. In this safe environment we hope that by practicing and developing the skill of really speaking from our hearts that we will find strength and wisdom.

Our first gathering will be here at Beth Ami on Sunday, April 23 from 3:30 to 5:00. The focus of this meeting will be “Listening “. The sessions are based on a program developed by the Unitarian Fellowship of Albuquerque and the book Heart to Heart by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins.

We encourage anyone to join us to learn and experience community in a safe environment.

If you have any questions please call or email (707) 526-7438 or Rabbi Miller at (707) 889-6905

Dancing in April and May

Dancers, we have been asked to demonstrate some dances for ten minutes or less at a free concert May 7 at Beth Ami by Israeli / San Francisco singers Achi Ben Shalom and Noa Levy

PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHO WANTS TO PERFORM/ DEMO May 7. I’m not worried about getting a large group, I just don’t want to dance around all by myself…
The schedule is
2 pm kids’ show
2:30 free refreshments in social hall
2:50 we dance in social hall
3:00 concert in sanctuary.
Our regular dance meetings are April 19 and May 3, before the concert.
After the concert we have
May 17– I’ll be gone and we’ll have to talk about someone else leading, or cancelling
May 31-I’ll be back
June 14 and 28

Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Monday, March 27 at 7pm

Rosh Chodesh Nissan: Monday, March 27 at 7pm: All Jewish women are invited to celebrate the new month of Nissan at Congregation Beth Ami. We’ll share our favorite Passover readings and songs, talk about the narrow places we’ve visited and what we want to leave behind.

If you have a favorite Passover recipe(s), feel free to bring it to share … and bring a nosh or beverage for the group to enjoy.

Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein ( or 546-6043)

Beth Ami is hosting Sonoma County’s variety show of Israel-Oriented skits, songs, and dance; take part to share your love of Israel.  With you on stage will be two of the most talented Israelis around: Noa Levy and Achi Ben Shalom.

Already signed up are Hadassah, Stand With Us, and the Sonoma County Israel Dance group.  Are you ready to do a 3-5 minute skit or otherwise show your love of Israel?  Contact Eli at
EliCohen@IsraelUpdate.INFOIsrael Celebration 2017 Show Your Talent!

Israel Celebration 2017 Show Your Talent!


In the secular world when one is asked about values one might think of American, family or religious values. As President, I am guided by our Beth Ami values to help make decisions and help guide our Board. I often hear the words “Jewish values” tossed around but what do they really mean? I turned to our by-laws, which are based on the Torah for perspective. Our by-laws list our values as:
Teshuvah (return): We value the opportunity, through careful attention to our lives, to make every moment meaningful and to increasingly avoid harmful acts.

Tzedakah (generosity): We value the opportunity to use our wealth and resources to benefit other people.
Gemilut Chesed (acts of loving kindness): We value the opportunity to perform acts of loving kindness through speech and deed.
Talmud Torah (prayer and learning): We value the insight and inspiration we get through the study of our sacred texts and our people’s culture.
Mishpacha (family and community): We value the strength that our congregants derive from forming relationships with each other and sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows.

Hagim & Simchot (celebration): We value the opportunities to mark together the passage of time, the changes of seasons, the continuing story of our people and the cycles of our own lives.

Tikkun Olam (repairing the world): We rejoice in the role we play in helping to make the world an ever better place.
K’vod Habriyot (care for the earth): We value our responsibility as God’s stewards to protect and preserve all life on Earth.
Eretz & Am Yisrael (the people and land of Israel): We value our participation in the unfolding history of our people, rich in culture, diverse in practice and bound through time by the Hebrew language. We are inspired by the challenge of creating a Jewish state that strives to express the truest values of our people and provides refuge for all Jews.

Kehillah Kadosha (holy community): We are humbled and heartened that through the concrete expression of all our values we can indeed create a community in which holiness can be expressed and brought into the world.
Beth Ami’s stated values touch on the overarching Jewish values that guide us as a community and in particular as a Board to perform mitzvot. In a world where we’re surrounded by “the important thing is to feel good about what you’re doing.” Judaism says, “the important thing is to do good, regardless of what you feel.” Judaism expects us to perform mitzvot even we’re not feeling it, even if our heart isn’t into it. Our values guide us and are expressed through our purpose to foster the growth and fuller expression of Jewish life. By joining as a community to provide a spiritual, nurturing, stimulating and social place of worship, we all benefit from a richer, fuller, religious life and our Jewish values grow. Judaism focuses on relationships and the Torah is the instruction manual of how to have good relationships with others and to be moral and kind people and create a more harmonious society.

As my term as President winds down, I can’t help but reflect on how fortunate I feel to serve our community in this capacity. I am also grateful to our hard working, dedicated and generous Board members who have gone above and beyond to care for our “house of my people.” I have learned so much about myself and our community. The relationships and bonds that I have formed over the years are irreplaceable and have brought a deeper meaning and understanding of Jewish values and purpose on a personal level. Despite the many challenges of the last three years, I am grateful to all of you for trusting me to be your fearless leader and for giving me the opportunity to learn about myself, to grow as a leader and most importantly to give back to our community. For all the challenges and missteps, I have gained so much more and have a better understanding of the true meaning of performing mitzvot. In other words, actions are far more important and speak louder than words.

Synagogue as Sanctuary

While there may be great disagreement regarding the direction in which our country is heading, I suspect that we would all agree that we live in “interesting times”. By and large, higher numbers of individuals are sensing anxiety; some are palpably fearful. “Fear” is a powerful motivator. However it often blocks out “mindful” behavior. It’s easy to forget our ability to express our disagreements with civility and allow ourselves to slip into emotionally couched comments which leave our “opponent” feeling insulted. On an extreme level, this can lead to public expressions of Xenophobia and specifically, anti-Semitism.

There’s good reason to feel strongly about our current political climate and to have a need to share our thoughts and feelings. While our synagogue is subject to sanctions if we officially engage in party politics, the fact that we function as a sanctuary means that we owe it to our members and even those beyond our walls to serve in this capacity. We also have a responsibility to express our religious beliefs and values that are the bedrock of civilization.

Like so many others – including members of our Social Action Committtee – I’ve been motivated to become much more active in serving those in our general community who may be under potential censure and verbal or physical attack. Some months ago I agreed to serve on the “Of One Soul” Committee (referred to as “O1S”). This is a sub-committee of the Sonoma County Interfaith Council which draws together both clergy and lay members from a large spectrum of different religious denominations. “Of One Soul” was formed to combat discrimination against members of our Moslem Community. It aims primarily to educate the general community about Moslems; their beliefs and practices and the degree to which Moslems, like many other minority groups that comprise our country’s population are “humans” like us and that the vast majority – like any other immigrant population – simply want to serve as loyal and productive citizens of our country.

We have formed a sub-committee from this group under the (current) name “Safety Pin Subcommittee” of which I currently serve as chair. Given the heightened sense of division and emotionality in the United States, our essential mission is to develop non-violent ways to prevent bullying in a variety of social settings, regardless of the particular ideology, dress, race or religion of the one under attack. In other words it would include coming to the aid of someone who is being bullied for their support of our current administration. While there is still much work to be done, our committee has provided three workshops to provide training in non-violent intervention. Our hope is to schedule future trainings as long as the need persists.

On a personal note. I want you to know that if you would like to discuss the religious or spiritual dimensions of our current situation to give me a call (707) 889-6905 to set up a time to share and examine the broader issues. In some ways I believe that as human beings, God has tested us from the very creation of humans to see if, despite our differences, we can learn to bear compassionate hearts for one another: to see ourselves as members of a great family.


Rabbi Mordecai Miller