Rocks, Pebbles, Sand

The High Holy Days will be upon us within a few weeks. The month preceding Rosh Hashanah – Elul, the sixth month of the Jewish year – has no special importance in the Bible or in early rabbinic writing. Various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days. Because these days are filled with so much meaning and potency, they require a special measure of readiness. We are called upon to enter them thoughtfully and to consider what they mean. As the Maharal of Prague said, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, look into your souls and search your deeds, that you may make confession.”

Over the next few weeks, I will share some vignettes that may help us all better prepare for these holiest of days. This week’s story is by Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Emerita of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills CA.


Henry S. Cohn

Rocks, Pebbles, Sand

The instructor filled an empty jar with rocks. “Is it full?” Then he poured a pitcher of pebbles into the jar. “Full now?” Next, he poured sand. “Full?” Finally, he poured water. “Now it’s full.” “What do you learn from this?” One student answered, “That no matter how busy you are, you can always fit it one more thing?” “No, the important thing is: you have to put the rocks in first. If you fill your jar first with the pebbles, sand or water, there will be no room for the rocks.”

Put the rocks in first, those important things that keep you grounded and centered.

I’m the one who thought that you could always fit in one more call, one more meeting. Yet when I fill my jar with what seems urgent but not important, there isn’t room for what I really need: time for my inner life – prayer, study, reflection; and time for my family.

A New Year approaches: it is an empty jar. How I fill it up is up to me. Elul is the deep breath I need to get clear about what my rocks are, and to promise myself to put them in first.

Discovering a blessing in “Adversity”

My Jewish education never included attending a Yeshivah. As a result, I never had the chance to learn how to study Talmud in my younger years. In fact, while my father had introduced me to the tractate “Ta’anit” when I was in my teens, it didn’t include studying Rashi’s commentary. Additionally, the content consisted mainly of “Midrashic” interpretations (Agadetha) as opposed to “Halachic” or legal analysis (Hil’cheta).
(In all honesty, I probably was too immature at the time to appreciate any of this material – even if I’d had the opportunity.)

This all changed when I attended HUC-JIR in Cincinnati to pursue a career as a rabbi. I was in my mid twenties and became fascinated with the smattering of Talmud that we were exposed to. As a result, I decided to pursue learning Talmud myself upon graduation. I came across the Steinsaltz edition of tractate “Brachot” and found myself able to follow the discussions in Aramaic, with the help of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Hebrew translation and annotations.

Years later, I discovered “Talmud tapes” and just a few years ago, “Podcasts” led by various scholars who would give a lesson on each page of Talmud.

What an amazing convenient resource and blessing! I would download the podcasts onto my iPhone and use the “Bluetooth” in my car to listen to the lesson while driving. Whenever I would walk the dog, I would take advantage of the opportunity to listen on my iPhone.
It’s amazing how the hours accumulate and how many pages of Talmud you can cover! (I’m pretty sure I’m on my “second tour” at this point!) Of course, I’ve forgotten more than I remember, but that’s why one reads the material over and over!

More recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a thumb drive with the entire series of lessons on the Talmud included. I have a port on my car that accommodates the thumb drive. To this point I had never taken advantage of it; preferring to rely on my iPhone.

One day, much to my chagrin, I discovered that I’d omitted to download a podcast page to my phone. Attempting to download the podcast, hook the iPhone to my computer and sync it so as to include the page didn’t seem worth the time it would take experimenting. Then it occurred to me, “Use the Thumb Drive in the car!”

I hooked it up to the car and in 20 seconds I found the page I needed and began listening to the lesson.

Of course, it turned out that this was a much better system than the one I was using to this point!

To me it felt as if HaShem had engineered the whole episode, using the initial challenge and “adversity” to assist me in coming up with a beautiful result! It feels like a sweet and elegant example of chasdei haShem (God’s love)

My heart is elated!

Rosh Chodesh Elul

Hello Moon Mavens! The month of Elul begins Saturday and Sunday (August 11 and 12) … just in time for us to celebrate the ending of one year and prepare ourselves to enter a new year.

This is a good time for us to plan our Rosh Chodesh gatherings for 5779. So, let’s bring a “lunchy” kind of treat, our calendars, and ideas for activities.
Join me on Sunday, August 12 at Congregation Beth Ami at 11:30 a.m. to eat, to plan, and to prepare ourselves for the coming High Holy Days.
All Jewish women are welcome, regardless of affiliation (or not).
Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein ( or 953-4385)

Fight EcoTerrorists! Help Israeli Victims of Hamas Arson

Hamas mobilizes Arabs of Gaza to reject peace and burn nature sanctuaries and farms in the Jewish homeland.

Donate at

Our Community knows the harm of Fires.  Hamas terrorists are starting fires in Israel to destroy nature preserves and farms. For over 130 days, Israelis in southern Israel have faced not only massive rocket barrages from Gaza, but now also thousands of kites and balloons laden with explosives to start fires. Hamas states “Our goal is to burn Jews and the land of Israel.”  Please help.

So far, over 1,000 separate fires have scorched over 30,000 dunams (7,400 acres), destroying huge portions of nature reservations, killing animals and wildlife in the area, and decimating the farming crops of Israelis throughout the south.

You can help the Israeli farmers who have lost their land and their crops!  The fires greatly impacted their livelihood.

Help us support the families of southern Israel as they seek to rebuild their communities and repair their land. Join us in making the desert bloom again! 100% of your donation will be divided among the farmers and families most impacted by this form of terrorism. Thank you in advance for your urgently needed help!

Fight EcoTerrorists! Help Jewish Victims of Hamas Arson  

Donate at

Shopping for the Kosher Symbol

To me, the game of hunting for the Kosher Symbol has become a real life sport. One thing I’ve learned is how to read labels on foods. The art of label reading is an education in itself. I laugh (laugh) at the serving portions listed in that tiny print in the Nutrition Facts section (…really? 9 chips per serving, HAH! ). I am not amused at the tiny, tinier, and tiniest print one must be able to read on those labels.
But, I digress. We are discussing the art of finding Kosher Symbols. This takes practice, good vision, helpful friends, and the phone number of your local Rabbi. We who look, have been fooled by many creative symbols which aren’t Kosher Symbols. On the food package there are many different symbols that need interpretation. For example, you might find symbols for…vegan, vegetarian, Halal, allergen (i.e., gluten), irradiation, organic, heart check, corporation logos, to name a few. I have discovered that some manufacturers don’t want their packages to have big bold, prominent displays of their kosher symbol (I mean really, does it have to be tinier than the registered trade mark symbol?) I also remind myself, that just because it was once kosher (or is that a hopeful memory) doesn’t mean it is still kosher. Yes, life does change, and so does manufacturing practices, locations and ingredients; alas, make no assumptions on this hunt. Is the brand always consistent, really? Nothing is 100%. Remember, just because one product by that brand is kosher doesn’t mean all the products by that brand are kosher. Now, if you wish to review what are the Kosher Symbols and what do the various symbols mean there are many websites that are good resources, or you could read the back page of the Food and Potluck Guideline (available on the CBA website or you could ask at the office). Remember, life is uncertain, so you really might want to eat dessert first. And for those of us who partake in the hunt for Kosher Symbols, it might as well become a game, it makes it more enjoyable and amusing.

Jeffrey & Janet Stein-Larson

From Carolyn Metz, VP Administration

Dear Friends, If you missed the Annual Meeting on June 10, you missed a opportunity to mingle with members, elect new Directors to the Board, celebrate highlights of the year past and debate the benefits of a membership dues increase. You’ll get an update in the Membership Renewal letter which is in the mail – look for it to arrive any day now and please respond at your earliest convenience – Thank you!

Of special note is the wonderfully successful year that the Friedman Center, under Andrea Nett’s direction. You’ll hear more about that, too, in the future.
It’s Summer Solstice, the longest day-light hours of the year! And that means vacation time for Rabbi Miller, Elizabeth Jarlsberg and Judy Gunnar. Check the latest Cybershul for exact dates.

The new Board of Directors meets with the “old” on June 26 for a transitional meeting, closing 2017-18 and embarking on our new fiscal year. You can always contact one of us with questions, concerns, ideas and good news! Enjoy your summer.

Shabbat shalom, Carolyn Metz
VP Administration

Social Action News

This has been a very difficult year for Sonoma County. The fires have had a huge emotional, financial, and physical toll on our Beth Ami community and the larger community. We have tried to address some of these needs in our efforts to make for a better world. Thanks to our members Susan Miller, Cheryle Miller, Karen Herskovic, Ellen Mundell, Carol Swanson, Tish Levee, Judi Hyman, Bobbie Rosenthal, Lyla Nathan, Lenore Holloway, and Judy Gunnar. You all have done a remarkable job.
Here is a list of highlights from this year.
We began serving dinner to the residents of The Palms every other month. The Palms is subsidized HUD housing that serves previously homeless veterans and Catholic Charities clients. Our last dinner was in June. We served over 60 people. It was a huge success.Great thanks to Bernard and Maria Soltes for providing the most delicious hot pasta entree.
We continue to provide food for Jewish Family and Children Services. Thanks to everyone who fill our bins with healthy food. Because of the fires there is greater need at the pantry.We are now going to the food bank twice a month to get needed staples for JFCS clients. Their clients truly appreciate the extra fresh produce and dairy products.
Our monthly Wednesday mornings at The Redwood Empire Food Bank haven’t been very successful this year. However, their needs have increased due to the fires. We are hoping to change the time to afternoons and early evening to increase attendance. We perhaps could go out for a simple meal afterward. More information to follow.
We collected many warm items for the winter clothing drive. We did not partner with Shomrei Torah this year as many of their members lost their homes. Most of the clothes were given to the homeless.
We also collected many toiletries and gave out bags to those in need. Thanks to all Beth Ami members and nursery school families for your generosity.
We had a nine-month series called Community Conversations. We learned and practiced techniques in listening. We made new friends and we had very meaningful conversations. The last meetings dealt primarily with the issues that arose from the fires. We are thinking about another series, possibly on Older and Growing.
We hosted speakers from The Palms to discuss the many problems that homeless veterans encounter in our county.
We participated in the Gay Pride this year. Everyone loved the colorful parasols.
We are always looking for people to join the committee.
We also appreciate any help that you can provide on an occasional basis. Our next dinner at The Palms is Wednesday, August 15.
Again, Todah Rabah to the Beth Ami Kehilla. You all help repair the world (Tikun Olam).

We have a new logo for our Religious School! Lev Simcha translates Joyous Heart! Thanks, Leanne.
Please welcome our new usy advisor, Jeremy Lipsin.
This year we also have a new Youth Commissioner—welcome Laura Alexander!

Lev Simcha Religious School will be on Tuesday afternoons from 4–6 p.m. Parents are encouraged to join us the first half hour in the Sanctuary for songs and prayers with Rabbi Miller.

Welcome Back Apple Festival for parents & kids on Tuesday, August 28th from 4–6 p.m.

Join our Family Friendly Shabbat
3rd Friday of each month with Rabbi Miller and Lisa Iskin. Nursery School Families are coming for a (bring your own) picnic dinner on the lawn at 5:30 p.m. The interactive Shabbat begins at 6:30 p.m.
July 20th
August 17th
September 21st
October 19th
November 16th

Vacation date changes

Lots of people are on vacation around July 4th. Instead of the July 11 class, I scheduled a make-up class August 1. That means Israeli dance on July 25, August 1 and August 8. Yep, three weeks in a row! All 7 p.m. to 9:30 in room 3 of the Person Center wing of Finley Rec Center. I will be back for these dates.
After that the new session starts.

While I was in Wisconsin, I went to a folk dance festival with an Israeli dance class. They taught a few new dances and reviewed a couple of old ones… one was the Russian march,
Kulanu B’Mitsad, which I think some remember,
and a really adorable 1995 dance that I’m going to teach because it’s a sweet song… El Elohay Shamaim.

The new dances, which I see they do in the east bay, are
Ma Asita B’Chayim
Linshom Kitzat
Bevo Yomi

Have a good summer,

Menachem Av

Our next Rosh Chodesh gathering will be on Thursday, July 12 at Congregation Beth Ami. We’ve had a bit of a break in our monthly gatherings for several reasons. Now, we’d like to get back on track. The new Jewish month is Menacham Av (Av the Comforter). The rabbis named this month Menachem Av because the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av begins seven weeks of special haftarot in which prophets offer the mourning Israelites words of consolation.
We all sustained a great loss when Barbara Boren left us on June 12. May her memory be for a blessing! I’m hoping that we can talk about the Jewish rituals associated with mourning, and specifically how Jewish women mourn. I have some exercises we might engage in … as well as our regular Rosh Chodesh rituals and songs.
Please join us on Thursday, July 12 in the Multipurpose Room at Congregation Beth Ami at 7pm (Rabbi Miller will lead a brief Mincha prayer service at 7pm that will include the Mourner’s Kaddish).
Bring a snack to share, a memory of Barbara (if you like) and ideas for rituals/traditions that Jewish women might observe when mourning.
Questions? Contact Patty Bernstein,, 546-6043.
As always … all Jewish women are welcome regardless of affiliation (or not).
Please join us!