“Outrageous Deception”

Over the last four years I’ve come to love the fact that I live in the Golden State – especially Sonoma County. Between the Pacific Ocean, the amazing weather, the beautiful landscape and the overall socially progressive attitudes of its citizens it’s no wonder that California is the most populated state in the Union.

Of course there’s a major “down side”. The larger population puts an upward pressure on the housing market. Recent surveys have shown that even Californians of annual incomes of $100,000.00 and above despair of ever owning their own home. Rents have skyrocketed in Santa Rosa and the Bay Area which have added to the difficulties faced by families and individuals whose paychecks haven’t kept up with the cost of living. In a move to bring some help to people so affected, the City Council of Santa Rosa voted in favor of establishing controls on rent and evictions within existing legal constraints as one way to approach what amounts to a systemic problem.

Understandably this decision doesn’t play well in all circles and it’s quite reasonable to ask if this is the best solution to a very complicated problem. For example, in its present form, is it fair to all parties concerned, especially landlords? Certainly, many questions can be asked such as “In the various communities where rent control has been enacted, what were the results? Has it created a series of new problems and if so, what are they? What kind of index is appropriate in establishing a fair rental policy?”

What I find most distressing is that recently we’ve seen individuals with clip boards, standing outside local supermarkets or other popular businesses, attempting to collect enough signatures to place a proposition on an upcoming ballot.
* I have no problem with individuals or groups using the political system to protect their personal interests.
* I have no problem with paying “professional” signature collectors to do the job of collecting signatures for a petition.
* I don’t even have a problem with these individuals coming from outside the county to do their job.

What I do have a problem with is the fraudulent way in which these signatures are being collected.

Consider the following:
* The sheet that the person is being asked to sign is titled “Petition to oppose vote taken by the Santa Rosa City Council”. (Please excuse my poor memory if this isn’t the exact wording). One thing I am certain of: it doesn’t mention what the vote was that the City Council took!
* The individuals soliciting the signatures only talk about “putting rent control on the general ballot”. Sometimes they gain the person’s interest by asking them if they are “interested” in rent control. Since this is clearly a major issue for so many people, and given that the people being solicited are in the middle of an errand and distracted, they are led to believe that, by signing the petition, they are supporting rent control.
* There’s no doubt in my mind that if people were given sufficient information, they might well refuse to sign the petition. (In fact I encountered someone signing the petition and once I told them that the City Council had already voted in favor of a move to control rents, they crossed off their signature.)
* To this point I have met at least a half dozen people who shared with me that they have signed the petition thinking that they were signing it in support of rent control.
* I’ve been led to understand that the process, if successful, can delay the implementation of the City Council’s resolution, pending outcome of the ballot.

If you are one of those so affected, there is a way to have your signature removed. Information is provided in the following link, http://northbayop.org/2016/09/12/signature-withdrawal-for-anti-rent-control-petition/ and at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6070553-181/signers-of-anti-rent-control-petition, that also provides background information.

You might consider informing as many people as you can about this misleading attempt to undermine the City Council’s decision.

If you have the kishkes (“intestinal fortitude”), you might consider engaging the petitioners and confronting them with the issues. (Of course you should be firm but polite, recognizing that in all likelihood it’s just their way to earn a living).

To sum up matters:
* Anyone who opposes legislation such as rent control has the constitutional right as a citizen of a free country to use any legitimate means at their disposal to have the law overturned.
* Using fraudulent means to achieve this purpose undermines whatever valid reasons there are to oppose the legislation!

As it states in Exodus 23:7, “Keep far away from any false matter.”

– Rabbi Mordecai Miller

Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan

Special Rosh Chodesh Event: November 2, Cheshvan  On Wednesday, November 2, the Rosh Chodesh women are going to the Cinema! The Jewish Film Festival is showing “East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem” at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol. We’ll meet at Slice of Life, vegetarian restaurant at 11:30am then attend the 1pm viewing of the film. Go online and order your tickets now! Then RSVP to Patty Bernstein, basberyl@sonic.net or 546-6043. We can carpool from Beth Ami.

No Rosh Chodesh event for Tishrei– we’ll be celebrating Rosh HaShana. If you’re not a member of Beth Ami, come join us anyway… contact the office for a free ticket.

“Love that Food – Feed that Love!”

We all know that eating isn’t just a matter of survival. Sitting down to a delicious meal in the company of family or friends is a fundamental social act. It helps create community. It advances our sense of well-being. It’s a tangible act of hospitality. If you’re the one who’s prepared the meal, you know that watching your company enjoy eating the food that you’ve made gives you a uniquely intimate sense of satisfaction… and if they ask for more, well, you can’t “fake” seconds!

This Shabbat our Torah reading encompasses a restatement of what animals, birds, fish we can and cannot eat. Many of the laws – or mitzvot – form the rational basis of a just society. The laws of Kashrut, however, that discuss what is and what isn’t appropriate to eat, seem arbitrary, to say the least. Attempts have been made to suggest that they were given at a time when refrigeration was unavailable. In other words, these laws were given for reasons of promoting personal health. Of course, if this is, in fact, the “reason”; given the fact that we now have refrigeration becomes a justification for abandoning these very laws!

The only rationale actually stated in the Torah is that “we are a holy nation to the Lord” (Deut. 14:21; also Lev. 11:45).

So is there, in fact, any rationale for following such laws even today?

I’d like to suggest that those commandments which appear to have no rational or practical basis to them actually do have a fundamental role in helping us understand what a loving relationship demands. Specifically if every time my lover asks something of me, I need a practical reason for doing it, you might wonder whether or not I really love them. It’s precisely those times when I demonstrate the enjoyment I experience in pleasing them simply because they asked me, that I have the opportunity to show them that I adore them.

Given how important the act of eating is, the laws of Kashrut provide an opportunity to put into reality that, Oh so familiar commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”(Deut. 6:5)

It also gives us a living example of how to create loving relationships with our fellow human beings.

Rosh Chodesh Elul

It’s Labor Day Weekend … but that won’t stop the Moon Mavens from welcoming the new month of Elul! Join us on Sunday, September 4 at 11 am for a Potluck Brunch at Congregation Beth Ami. (Our kitchen is kosher dairy, but there are many things that you could bring. Here’s a guide for you … http://bethamisr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Food-and-Potluck-Guidelines.pdf)
We’ll be doing our 5777 planning this Sunday, deciding on dates, themes, trips, walks, and focuses for each event. Please come and participate!
This will be our last gathering of 5776! Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein at basberyl@sonic.net.

“Fearing God”

Unless you’re hooked on horror movies, you wouldn’t intentionally choose to experience fear. Yet this week’s Torah portion states explicitly, “Now Israel, what does Ad-nai your God request of you? Simply to ‘fear’ Ad-nai your God…” (Deut.10:12)
Ironic that the one emotion people might arguably shun the most is the one thing God requests of us! How come?
To understand this we need to dig a little deeper into the notion of fear, and, especially, “fear” when it comes to God.
It’s worth considering – outside the scope of this essay – that emotions in general are necessary for the survival of the species. In essence, fear protects us in avoiding any given danger; which just sharpens the question, “Why would God want us to ‘avoid’ Him?” especially when it appears to be the “one thing” that God is requesting of us!
Of course, we are all aware that we were also commanded to “love God…” back in Deuteronomy 6:4. How does a person combine “love” and “fear” at the same time?
If we were to closely examine our own relationship with a person we love, we might well realize that an important element of our love for them is the degree to which we “fear” hurting them, by engaging in behavior they would find objectionable. One reason that “fear” is an appropriate term is the fact that the actual feeling is identical to our other experiences of fear. In addition, just as our other fears help us avoid danger, this experience of fear helps us avoid the “danger” of destroying the loving relationship we have!
In past generations it was a great compliment to call someone “God fearing”. It was a way of saying that such a person had such high moral standards that he or she would avoid acting immorally even in a situation where there was zero chance of discovery.
As humans we have the distinctive characteristic of being able to control our emotions to a greater or lesser extent. The Talmud notes (b.Berachot 33b), “Said R. Chanina. ‘Everything is under Divine control, except for the “fear” of God, since it states “What does Ad-nai your God request of you? Simply (i.e. “only”) to ‘fear’ Ad-nai your God…”’”

Racial Justice Allies

Hello everyone, Thank you so much for dedicating your time to coming to our meeting this past Wednesday, for your openness to share and to listen, and for your interest in taking action.

I am including in this e-mail: (1) Date and time of next meeting, (2) List of possible next actions to be discussed at the next meeting, (3) Videos that obviously couldn’t be included in the handouts provided but are short and illustrative, (4) Link to Harvard’s implicit project to aid in self-reflection (5) Links to the articles I brought to the meeting in case online is an easier format for you.


(1) Our next meeting will be Wednesday, August 10, from 7-8:30 p.m. in the sanctuary.

(2) Our list:

* Breaking bread with members of other communities – Susan, Jerry
* Contacting church leaders and activist leaders to find out how best we can support the cause – Sylvia
* Learning more, reading – Jenny
* Reflecting inwardly on our own biases – Lyla
* Show up to the next vigil, protest, etc to show support – Bonnie
* Joint services – Barbara
* Bring in the police community (socially or for speaking) – Leah
* Inviting the folks who protect our shul on high holy days to dine with us – Leah
* Prayer and fasting with members of affected communities – Sylvia
* Visit churches – (?)

(3) Videos:

* 4 Black Lives Matter Myths debunked
* Why colorblindness does not end racism
This is both an article and a video:
* Black GOP Senator talks about being pulled over 7 times in one year
(4) Project Implicit self-assessment tests

(5) Articles:
* The next time someone says “All lives matter,” show them these 5 paragraphs
* Nate Silver: For black Americans, US is about as dangerous as Rwanda
* All Lives Matter political cartoon
* 12 Small Steps for White families who want to be a positive force for change on racism
* Facts on kids and race
* 7 Reasons colorblindness contributes to racism instead of solves it
* What you can do right now about police brutality
* This is what white people can do to support #Blacklivesmatter
* The conversation we must have with our white children
* How to talk about race and books that can help
* 100 race conscious things you can say to your child about race (etc.) to advance racial justice
* Black Lives Matter is not a hate group

—Jenny Levine-Smith

Rosh Chodesh women go out to lunch

Instead of the previously listed Thursday night meeting, I am glad to organize a conversation on how we all are doing with our changing world. Let’s meet for an lunch at Dierk’s Parkside Cafe (404 Santa Rosa Ave. tel 573-5955) at 12:45 pm on Friday August 5th. They do not take reservations. Please RSVP to me nursesue@sonic.net by THURSDAY 8/4 NOON or call 707-479-2980

No more Friedman Center

Dancers, the Friedman Center has let me know that they want to charge us $50 an hour. Our small numbers which have allowed us to be flexible and work around Friedman Center events and setups makes it hard to afford this fee of $100 for each dance session.

We can use the social hall as much as we want.

I have reserved the social hall for August 10 and 24, September 7 and 21, and we can dance and discuss what people want to do.
We can have vegetarian snacks in the social hall.

Some possibilities are:
continuing in the social hall
carpooling to other classes in Marin or Kensington
finding another place with a wood floor that we can afford or that will host us for free.

Obviously, these decisions have to be based on the people who come to the dance, and our numbers will have a major bearing on what solution is open to us.
We can collect ideas and possibilities and discuss them at our sessions…

L’hitraot (see you later)

What’s happening to our world?

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “The world rests on three things: on Justice and on Truth and Peace. As it says ‘Judge in your gates with Truth, Justice and Peace.'” (Zecharaiah 8:16)

As summer rolls by it appears that we are living in a world where these foundations are crumbling. In their place we see emotionality, injustice, and violence. It seems as if there is little that we can do as we watch the disrespect for human life continue week by week and day by day.

I believe that somewhere, at the basis of it all, is a sense of fear and hopelessness on the part of a growing number of people. This inevitably leads to anger and desperation. When a person despairs, they are capable of anything, just as a drowning man clutches at a straw! They may believe anything or follow any person – if they think that this will solve their immediate situation.

Trying to take on all the problems in our society may be beyond our own abilities. At the same time, in recognizing the fact that, compared to the vast majority of the world’s population, most of us live lives of privilege, we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to gain understanding and seek ways to begin to seriously address the issues which have led to our current such situation. How do we find ways to stand by our brothers and sisters with black and brown skin who feel that their lives and livelihood are in danger? How can we stand by our law enforcement officials who have chosen a career of service, and a dangerous one at that? How can we bridge the widening gaps between us and start to really support one another?

Can we stop talking over each other’s pain and start listening? Can we stop standing by and start standing up?

How do we begin to address this problem?

I have to thank Jenny Levine-Smith for calling me to a meeting with our executive director, Leah Frost, to share her concerns and to call for action. We contacted Lyla Nathan, chair of our Social Action Committee, who eagerly gave her full support; all with the blessing of our synagogue president Laura Alexander.

Obviously, as a small synagogue community we have to start with baby steps. First we need to gather together to listen to one another; in some cases, hear the pain of those among us and begin to define what are some of the most significant points of disfunction that exist in our Santa Rosa community.

To begin this process for Beth Ami, we are calling on anyone who wishes to consider taking an active role, to a meeting in our Sanctuary, Wednesday evening, July 20th at 7:00 p.m.

RSVP to the synagogue office (707) 360-3000 and let us know if you plan to attend.

I still believe Amor vincit omnia – Love conquers all, and that we can start to rebuild the pillars of Justice, Truth and Peace.


Mordecai Miller,