Beth Ami Religious School Madriach, Nicholas Alexander, Speaks

Dear Religious School Friends and Families, For 3 years, I served as Madriach in the Beth Ami Religious School, and the whole time, I loved it. I enjoyed not only an amazing set of leaders and teachers but also bright students that were always eager to participate as well as an incredible network of fellow members and parents. Despite my position being most like a teacher’s, there was much learning of my own to be had, whether it was discovering how to make great educational art project ideas for the kids, or figuring out that I was not nearly as adept at the Aleph Bet as I thought I was…
Friends, working as a Madriach was absolutely wonderful, and thanks to all of you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this exceptional community. While this may be the end of my work in the Religious School, I look forward to seeing all of you around Beth Ami while I continue to manage the Social Action/Tikkun Olam position in the Sonoma County USY chapter.
Yours truly,
Nicholas Alexander

…and the floodgates of the sky broke open…” (Gen.7:11)

If you’ve ever visited Houston, TX, you couldn’t help but notice what a great city it is, in size and grandeur. Even its airport displays its importance as a hub for many thousands of travelers who exchange flights there every day. Observing the footage on television of so many magnificent homes with their first floors now sunk in a lake created by the waters of Hurricane Harvey, is a humbling experience. With all the modern resources at our beck and call, nothing could stop the sheer power of such mighty waters.

As a commentator noted: “So many personal possessions – from a child’s drawing on the refrigerator door to family records – have been washed into oblivion.” I think of all the businesses – their inventories and physical plants – destroyed. Above all, there are the lives that have been lost, the families and communities that will have to struggle to rebuild their lives – the universal nature of the destruction that a flood brings.

In the Tanach – the Hebrew Bible – the book of Job discusses the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It describes a righteous man – Job -who suffers tremendously, first in losing his children and subsequently in being afflicted with painful blisters from head to toe. On hearing of his situation, three of his friends come to console him.

The expression “Job’s comforters” describes the attitude of those who would like to suggest that people in distress somehow deserve it.

In glancing at some of the related news items I noticed one that suggested that the Texas floods were a kind of Divine “punishment” for the way in which people voted in the last national election. (Incidentally, this same type of attitude was and is still being used to profess that HIV is G’d’s punishment against the Gay community.)

What this tragedy calls for – beyond all the tremendous efforts of relief workers and organizations – is a sense of compassion for all the loss encountered by the people who experienced this wave of destruction. For the rest of us, who are able to go about our daily tasks, for the most part unaffected, we can only look into ourselves and our own resources and seek ways to offer whatever help we can for those who are suffering.

Living in California, we are always conscious of our own unique ways in which we can suffer at the hands of nature. For us the question isn’t “if,” it’s “when?” Knowing this, we can only open our hearts to those who are currently facing the universal horror of natural disasters. If you’re so moved, please consider donating to the JFNA, Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, American Red Cross or Nechama. All of these organizations are supporting search and rescue and providing shelter, clothing, medications and food to those who need it.


Mordecai Miller

Across the Interfaith Table dinner 

Dear Congregants and Beth Ami Nursery School Families, below is an announcement about Across the Interfaith Table 2017 that will occur on Sunday, August 27th from 3:30 PM – 7:30 PM. This event is a once a year opportunity for individuals from all faiths to learn more about other religions and to build new relationships.
Beth Ami is a co-sponsor and Beth Ami’s involvement expresses the Congregation’s commitment toTikkun Olam, Healing the World. By building bridges with other faiths we strengthen our community and united we make a statement that divisiveness and hatred have no place in this community. We all hope that peace and respect are the hallmarks of the Sonoma County Community. However, in the unlikely event, that any one faith is attacked, all faiths standing together make a strong statement that hatred has no home in Sonoma County.
In the 1960s the African-American Community Baptist Church was torched by racists. Congregation Beth Ami and specifically the late Benny Friedman and Everett Shapiro were present the next day to offer and provide support. Community Baptist Church was able to conduct worship services the following Sunday including a new piano with Beth Ami’s help. The incident was unfortunate but it forged a strong bond between the two communities.
Please join me and Rabbi Miller and in attending this bridge-building event. If you are able to attend or help volunteer at the event, please reach out to me at or with Rabbi Miller at
May our community be blessed with peace.
Henry S. Cohn
Across the Interfaith Table 2017
On Sunday, August 27th, from 3:30 PM – 7:30 PM, the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County (ICSC) will offer the opportunity for all faith communities to participate in Across the Interfaith Table 2017.  The program will take place at:
Center for Spiritual Living
2075 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa
Food for the Soul and Food for the Body!
Outline of Activities
  • 3:30 – 4:45 we will gather for a brief welcome and introduction.  Participants will be able to learn about and actually experience the worship practices of any one of several religious groups.
  • 5:00 – 6:15 we will gather together for a unique presentation representing most, if not all, the diverse religious groups participating.
  • 6:00 – 7:30 we will be able to enjoy a vegetarian potluck buffet feast, again representing a whole array of cuisines. (After all, “you gotta eat!”)
The Interfaith Council of Sonoma County (ICSC) is a voluntary, individual membership organization uniting people of many faiths – both laity and clergy living or worshiping in Sonoma County, California.  Anyone who supports ICSC’s mission is welcome.
ICSC Mission Statement
Affirming our vision that humanity is of One Soul, we, of many beliefs, join to celebrate our diversity and organize for peace and unity through humanitarian activism.
For more information about Across the Interfaith Table 2017, contact the Event Planning Committee at 707-494-2464 or

Rosh Chodesh Av

All Rosh Chodesh women… Hannah Caratti has agreed to host “Welcoming Rosh Chodesh Av with Hebrew Chanting and Yoga” on Monday, July 24! 
Wear comfortable clothes that you can stretch and move in. We’ll be in Hannah’s studio 7:00-7:45pm. Be sure to bring “layers” and some snacks to share as we talk about Rosh Chodesh and sing some of our songs on the back patio (7:45-8:15pm)
All Jewish women are welcome, regardless of affiliation (or not) … Our gatherings are always uplifting and often inspirational. Please join us!
Note: Parking is very limited so we’ll need to carpool. RSVP to, if you plan to participate and if you could be a driver. Bonnie Boren and I will tally up the numbers and send out a final notice next week. (We’ll need to leave Beth Ami’s parking lot by 6:45pm)
Suggested donation per participant: $5-10 (but no one will be excluded!)
Hannah says, “I look forward to sharing this special “Rosh Chodesh” song with you….I learned it from the Jewish Women’s Group “Vocalot”…..”
–Patty Bernstein

From Our New President

It is the day after the Annual Membership meeting and my election as President of Beth Ami for the 2nd time in my life. The first time was almost 20 years ago—the 3rd year after becoming a member of the shul. I appreciate the confidence and support of the many members who encouraged me to become President again. Being President of the shul brings challenges and responsibilities, but at the same time it is rewarding. My first experience as President was wonderful and deepened my connection to Beth Ami and its members.
Many of you know me and others may not. So, for my first article as President, I am sharing a bit about myself.

I was born in San Francisco and was the third of 4 children. I have lived in San Francisco and the North Bay for my entire life, except for the years I served in USAF. My parents, Willy and Carol z’l, fled Germany separately to Shanghai, married there, and lived in the poorest of conditions for almost 10 years. I never got to know any of my grandparents—my paternal grandfather died in World War I and my paternal grandmother was murdered at Trawniki—one of the lesser known concentration camps near Auschwitz. My mother’s parents were divorced—my maternal grandmother fled to Shanghai with my mother and came to the United States with my parents. She died when I was about 2 years old so I have no memories of her.

Many years ago a book was published entitled Twice Blessed—On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish. I am a proud American Gay and Jewish man. If you were fortunate enough to attend our Sukkah of Shalom about 1–1/2 years ago, you would have heard about my journey as a Gay man. I may be thrice-blessed because I am also a vegetarian.

I attended the University of San Francisco and graduated summa cum barely with an Accounting degree. I was one of the about 6% of CPA candidates who pass the entire exam at the first sitting. I attribute my academic success to my mother who became involved in setting me on the correct path in my early grammar school years when, suffice it say, I was not the most diligent student.

I have worked in public and private accounting for a Fortune 500 company and smaller companies. I was also fortunate to work for almost 4 years in the non-profit sector at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Now, I am approaching the twilight of my career and if all goes as planned, I will retire in February 2018.

I am a classic social introvert. For those of you familiar with the Meyers Briggs Personality test, the scale does not extend far enough to measure my level of introvertedness. It is a challenge to be an introvert in an extroverted world. In social settings, I may at times appear aloof when in reality my introverted personality has taken a dominant role.

Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. I own more books than I will probably ever read in this lifetime. I enjoy outdoor activities. On my recent vacation to Kauai I hiked, kayaked, snorkeled and went zip lining. Among the outdoor activities I enjoy is gardening and the rose is my favorite flower. No genre of music moves me more than opera.

I was a raised in a religiously-observant home, but not to an excess. Candles were lit on Friday nights and periodically we would attend Shabbat services. Keeping us home from school on both days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to attend shul was the norm regardless of what may be happening at school. Our family belonged to a congregation founded by German Jews who immigrated to Shanghai. The congregation had a large elderly population. My parents were part of the younger generation. We were one of the few families with young children. The Rabbi was advanced in years and had been tortured by the Nazis. He preached in German. I understand and speak German, but not the type of German that is used in sermons. Whenever the Rabbi preached, it felt like an eternity. I remember on multiple occasions my father standing up in the middle of the Rabbi’s sermons and waving his finger communicating to him that he had talked long enough.

My Jewish education was virtually non-existent. Our Sunday school had 6–8 students—we were all taught in one class. There were 2 students, and I was not one of them, who excelled in Hebrew and received more attention and praise than those of us who really needed more help in learning.

My Bar Mitzvah was literally a traumatic experience on multiple levels and left a lasting scar that still causes me pain to this day. My only desire was to get through that day and then run away as far as possible from the synagogue. My only participation for many years was attending the Yamim Noraim. It would be 30 years, until I arrived here at Beth Ami that I would stand in front of the shul and lead a portion of services. I owe a debt of gratitude to Rabbi Slater for creating a safe environment and encouraging me to slowly peel off the scar tissue.

I never ceased being Jewish, although no one could have faulted me if I has chosen to never again have association with a synagogue. What pulled me back to eventually become President of Beth Ami and now to do so for a 2nd time? There are 2 teachings that stand out in my mind. I was exposed to the lessons of Rebbe Levi Yitzak of Berditchev—one of the most pious men who ever lived and most likely one of the 36 tzadikkim believed to roam the world at any time. The other comes from more recent literature and the hands of Elie Wiesel, z’l. On the dedication page of his book, A Jew Today, is a quote from his grandfather Dodye Feig, z’l, who perished in the Holocaust. The words are simple and profound: “You are Jewish, your task is to remain Jewish. The rest is up to G’d.” I hear those words over and over again, almost like a lament. It is a cry from my grandmother and the 6 million who perished in the Shoah to: never forget us. And, I hear the voices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel challenging me to carry and pass the torch of Judaism to future generations.

I hope that in one way or the other you too hear the same lament and that working together over the next two years we establish a path for Beth Ami so that it continues to be a light unto our feet and for generations who come after us.

Henry Cohn, President

Critical Difference

In creating the universe one of the first acts of the Divine Creator is to make distinctions: light and darkness, day and night, heaven and earth, dry land and seas, plants, birds, fishes and animals after their kinds, Shabbat and the rest of the days of the week. On further reflection, it appears that making distinctions is the very essence of claiming to know something. The more you know about a subject, the more capable you are of seeing differences between what’s good and what’s not so good—where others may be oblivious. An expert wine-taster, for example, is so aware of subtle distinctions in the wine that he or she may be able to distinguish thousands of wines one from the other, not only by variety, but by region and vintage. This vast knowledge puts such individuals in a position to rate the quality of these wines. There may well be disagreement between experts when it comes to the finer points, but I would suspect that there is an overall consistency in their judgements.

Obviously, in various degrees, this kind of expertise applies to every discipline: the ability to draw distinctions and set up a scale of values. This is the very nature of judging.

Drawing distinctions isn’t limited to professions and disciplines; whenever we face any kind of decision we are called to make judgements. As we have seen, the validity of any judgment is proportional to amount of information and the familiarity with that information—call it experience—that one has.

At the same time there’s always the subjective side of judging, too.

A woman is speaking to her friend, “I heard both your children got married last year. How are they doing?”
Her friend,“I’m afraid only one of them really did well. Stephen’s wife is so needy. He’s constantly having to cater to her. She expects to eat out three times a week, she sleeps until 10 o’clock in the morning and then spends the rest of the day shopping. She’s always buying clothes and jewelry.”
“So how’s your daughter?”
“Oh! She married such a wonderful man. He takes her out for dinner three times a week and she gets to stay in bed until late morning. She spends her afternoons at the mall, meeting her friends and keeping her wardrobe in style. Can you imagine a more thoughtful husband?”
Truth is, it’s so easy to overlook our own subjectivity—regardless of the knowledge we (think) we have.
Some questions:
Am I looking at all or both sides of the situation?
How would I like it if that judgement were made about me?
Do I have different relationships with each of the two (or more) sides?
How do I react if someone disagrees with me?
As I’ve said so often,“I’m an expert when it comes to everyone else!”

May your summer be safe and enjoyable!
–Rabbi Mordecai Miller

Everybody Sing!

Rabbi Nachman said,“Even if you can’t sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing.”
Some Benefits Of Singing
Singing exercises our lungs. It tones up our intercostal muscles and our diaphragm.
It can improve our sleep.
We benefit our hearts and circulation by improving our aerobic capacity and we decrease muscle tension.
Our facial muscles get toned.
Our posture improves.
We can become more mentally alert.
Sinuses and respiratory tubes are opened up.
There is a release of pain relieving endorphins.
Our immune system is given a boost enabling us to fight disease.
It can help reduce anger and depression and anxiety.
Increase in self esteem and confidence.
It increases feelings of wellbeing.
It enhances mood.
Useful as a stress reducer.
It is uplifting spiritually.
It can increase positive feelings.
Encourages creativity.
It can be energizing.
It evokes emotions.
Promotes bonding.
It is healing.
My wish is for everyone to sing and bring out joy in your family and with your friends!
Religious School has a plan to bring special guests each month to teach us songs on Friday afternoons.

Judy Kupfer, Director

Big Israeli Dance News

From Joanna at the Person/ Finley Center: First off, for those who have lost their homes, have been displaced or know those who are impacted by this terrible disaster, I sincerely hope that you are safe and taken care of, my thoughts are with you.  I have been reassigned to an emergency position and that is my top priority at this time.

Please see memo below about the Finley Center:
The Finley Community Center is a designated Evacuation Shelter so any programs taking place at this location will not take place while it remains a shelter. Check for shelter updates.
At this point I don’t know when we will resume normal programming and courses. My guess is that we will remain a shelter for at least another 5-7 days. As soon as I know the exact date I will email you. After things settle down, I will follow up with any refunds to participants or rescheduled dates.


We will dance on a wood floor starting August 30! We’ll be dancing in room 25 in the Person Senior wing of the Finley Community Center.  The Israeli folk dance class is in their catalog, so everyone will have to register and pay for 6 to seven classes at a time with .
The catalog is online and registration is open. 7 sessions every other week from August 30 to November 29, and a winter listing from December 13 to February 21. Classes will range from $17 (for Santa Rosa Residents) to $27 dollars for 6 sessions. Though we are in the Senior Center, all ages are welcome.

Hours are every other Wednesday 7 to 9:30 p.m., with beginner lessons 7 to 7:30.

Starting  on August 30 as an official class at the Person Senior Center at Finley rec center.
You will have to register for the class through Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks, and in return we will get a nice wood floor.

Registration begins August 3. If you’re not registered, you can come to class and register later.
Web page:
pdf of catalog:  we are on page 29

Hope to see you,

Thanks for dancing

May 31 is Shavuot, so the next dates are June 14th and 28th.

Thanks so much to all the dancers who came and danced for and with people at Beth Ami before the Israeli songs concert. I want you to know that singer Achi Ben Shalom, who is a folk dancer, told me, “You must be a good teacher because your group dances well.” Of course I took all the credit and didn’t let on that you were all just good dancers.

Be well!

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