For those that missed my Kol Nidrei Appeal, here is a condensed version of it. Well, sort of condensed. I hope that even if you missed an opportunity to give during the High Holiday Appeal, you will consider giving now.

People have asked me, “Why did you volunteer to become President of Beth Ami?” Actually, some people have pronounced it more like— “WHY?”

I am here to tell you why.

It’s true that as a Jew by choice, I have made a lot of choices to get here. But here in the land of the free, as it is said, we are all Jews by choice. I won’t ask you to make all the choices I have made. But I will ask you to make one or two.

My journey began when I met my now husband Abe when we were in our teens. I fell in love not only with him and his beautiful piano playing but also his family. I developed a close relationship with his grandparents, Al & Mildred Hirschman who lived in Bayside, New York. They are an inspiration to me. They fully supported my decision to go through conversion so that their first great grandchild, Nick, would be Jewish at birth. In the summer of 2000, six months pregnant and scared out of my mind that I wouldn’t meet the Rabbis’ standards, I became Jewish. Even then I realized how much I enjoy studying Judaism, and so even though my formal studies were done, I have never really stopped learning. My choices have led me to exactly where I am today and where I want to be—living a full and engaged Jewish life as a member of Congregation Beth Ami.

My first connection to Beth Ami was actually a fluke. As fate would have it, my regular doctor decided to go on vacation on the weekend that I was due with Nick. Since it was my first birth, I’m sure she never dreamed that I would actually go into labor, but as a precaution she had asked Dr. Brosbe to be on call for me just in case. I’m sure you can imagine the rest of the story– that’s right, Dr. Brosbe delivered Nick and eventually Ben while telling me Jewish jokes. After Nick’s birth, we were blessed to have Dr. Brosbe agree to accept us into his practice and he was the Mohel for both Nick’ & Ben’s Brit Milah. Abe’s grandparents even flew all the way from New York to share the simcha with us.

Our family was more formally introduced to Beth Ami by Bernice Fox who invited us to Lauren’s amazing Tot Shabbat services the year before Nick started kindergarten. Bernice had volunteered as part of a Jewish Federation program where she came to our home to teach us about Jewish holidays and traditions; She made us feel loved and supported and encouraged us as we were in the early stages of building our Jewish family life. To this day she is still a significant part of our sons’ lives.

Patty Bernstein has helped my sons prepare for their Bar Mitzvahs with a contagious smile and good humor. Arnold Drake and Rabbi Miller have mentored and counseled me. There are so many generous people here whose example has reinforced for me the importance of reaching out and making connections in the community. Nick and Ben’s Religious School education has expanded our circle of connections at Beth Ami: from teachers to tutors to fellow parents and friends. About 4 years ago Abe and I volunteered to be Co-Chairs of the Religious School Parent Committee and then for the past 2 years I have served as the Chair. As I’ve participated and volunteered, I’ve felt that the community was there for me as well.

Since 2005 when we came to Beth Ami, Abe and I have celebrated our 10th anniversary with a Jewish wedding ceremony under the chuppah in the Beth Ami sanctuary, our son Nick’s Bar Mitzvah last year in 2013, and now we are now preparing for his brother Ben’s Bar Mitzvah in 2015. It’s pretty hard to even imagine the idea of Simcha without community.

So yes, you read correctly, we have a Bar Mitzvah in just 4 short months, and I think I have not yet mentioned that I work full time for Sonoma County Child Protective Services, supporting the social workers as a Spanish bilingual Senior Office Assistant. Which leads us back to the question of why?

It’s not easy to raise a family today. Everything the world throws at us seems designed to send us shooting off in different directions constantly. Beth Ami brings people together. It has strengthened us as a family, and what’s most important, has strengthened our sons as people. At Beth Ami, they are living in a multi-generational world of people who know and appreciate their quirks and talents, where learning, ethical behavior, kindness, and doing good for others are more important than the more usual forms of coolness.

However a group of us thought Beth Ami could do more; that we could have more and different kinds of Jewish educational and social opportunities for more children and families. I am so happy to say that since last Yom Kippur we have indeed done a lot more.

When Barbara Tomin and her assessment committee discovered that working families were unable to join the Nursery School because of limited hours, and a schedule that did not mesh well with public schools, our new director Jenny Levine-Smith worked with Carolyn Metz to provide more child care and a more convenient schedule— and succeeded in doing so while maintaining the excellence the school has always been known for.

Beth Ami & You, the brainchild of Sarah Miller, has created Sunday morning programs for very young children and their families, which, as conducted by Lauren Kalmenson, Barbara McGee, and Ronit Glickman, are so much fun; the kids might not even realize that they’re getting an important Jewish education. Not only that, Beth Ami & You also brought us Rockin’ Shabbat Fridays with guest musicians from reggae to rock to a’ Capella, with concerts for young children, as well as informal dinners and musical Kabbalat Shabbat services for everybody. On October 16th we had Rockin’ Simchat Torah with Ayala Almog and Zim Zum. We enjoyed a delicious spaghetti dinner lovingly prepared by Barb McGee and Fara Elizalde.

The religious school, directed by Pnina Loeb, is small and continues to grow this year. We are buying a partition for room 12/13 since we are using the library because we need more classrooms. Last year, our Bar Mitzvah students didn’t want to leave, so the children and we parents with Rabbi Miller leading us created “The 13th Tribe” a post-Bar Mitzvah class; those young people are now still together in SCUSY– Sonoma County United Synagogue Youth, with their new advisor Alex Mazakas and are also getting more to join. This year the 13th Tribe program has grown to include more post B’Nai Mitzvah students and they are participating in classes with curriculum developed by our very own members & mentors Ron Shelan, Jeff Sheff and Arnold Drake on topics such as Jewish business ethics and investing, Israel and Jewish medical ethics.

We have to nurture these new ideas that are just getting started, and build on the connections we are making among families in the community. I wish I could say, “Okay, we’re done,” but this is a continuing effort.

As part of my role as President of the Board, I have been immersed in learning about and analyzing the financial health of Beth Ami. It goes without saying that the future of Beth Ami depends on a solid budget and financial support by all members to maintain a healthy future. Our finances are stabilizing, thanks to Arnold Drake’s and the Friedman Family’s herculean efforts to refinance and nearly retire our capital campaign debt. However, we do not turn away anyone who wishes to join Beth Ami because they can’t pay full dues, and the dues we get do not cover all of our expenses.

Your Beth Ami Board is also working on several projects where more can be accomplished by more volunteer time than we can accomplish with more money. For example, we’re taking a look at different ways of experiencing Friday night Shabbat and creating a lounge space where shmoozing is comfortable and encouraged.

But there are issues of security and safety we have to address, and our aging building desperately needs maintenance and repairs and that take money. If you have ever been to Beth Ami after a rain storm, you know about the areas that have to be sealed to protect the building. The Board, Richard Kahn, Paul Feinstein and others have been spending countless volunteer hours on these problems as well. But there are problems that volunteer hours alone cannot fix. Funds are needed for future maintenance and replacement of old equipment that are not currently in the budget and we would like to be able to make this year the year that we can offer a full-time paid position to Rabbi Miller.

When I joined the Board, becoming President was not my first thought. However, it became apparent that we needed someone who would step up and represent the future of Beth Ami —the families of Beth Ami. I am here to make a difference for the community and to make sure Beth Ami continues to thrive financially, spiritually and socially. I want to make sure that my children continue to have a home away from home and to feel loved and supported through our extended Beth Ami family. I am here to set an example to my children and to give back in whatever way I can.

Please, support me— and each other. As members of Beth Ami’s community, we have an opportunity to build our relationships and connections in a real and meaningful way. I challenge you to get to know your neighbor, your fellow congregants and your Board. We will be listening carefully to you and paying attention to you, and in turn I invite you to deepen your relationship with Beth Ami by engaging in all aspects of the give and take of a full Jewish life.

We are grateful to all who have already participated in our High Holiday appeal. Todah Rabah!

I am appealing to each and every one of you in our community to donate and contribute to Beth Ami’s continued financial stability by giving generously to our 2014 High Holiday Appeal. Your commitment ensures that Beth Ami will remain sustainable and will continue to flourish. It is never too late to contribute to the Appeal, so if you missed the opportunity during High Holidays, we would be thankful for your donation.

Thank you!


Laura Alexander