Life Cycle Events
Congregation Beth Ami believes that the most meaningful Jewish practices are those rooted deeply in tradition, that express the vitality of our contemporary world and reflect the personality of individuals and families. We are available to help guide you and officiate at your lifecycle events. Please contact the Beth Ami office for information and appointments.
WELCOMING A NEW LIFE: BRIT MILAH AND BABY NAMING
The arrival of a new baby is a cause for rejoicing, not only by the immediate and extended family, but also by the Congregation and the community at large. A new child represents a world of possibilities and promise, and everyone at Congregation Beth Ami is happy to share in this Simcha.
If you are expecting a child, whether through birth or adoption, our staff can assist you with ritual and pastoral needs.
WELCOMING A SON
Eight days after the birth of a son (barring any medical need), parents enter their sons into the covenant between the Jewish people and God through the ritual of brit milah, a religious circumcision. This practice traditionally began with Abraham.
The brit milah is a positive commandment of the Torah, and is carried out even if the eighth day falls on Shabbat, a Festival, or even Yom Kippur. The brit milah (also known as a bris), is performed by a mohel (religious specialist in circumcision) in the home or the synagogue. The ceremony consists of a blessing recited by the mohel upon performing the brit milah, blessings recited by a parent or parents, and a blessing in which the boy is given his Hebrew name. Many families share a festive se’udat mitzvah (sacred meal following a mitzvah or joyous event) after the ceremony.
Following the brit milah, it is customary to invite the family to the synagogue for an aliyah(“ascent” to the Torah), during which time the baby is introduced to the greater community and offered a blessing.
Members may arrange for a Brit Milah for their new son at the family’s home or in the synagogue.
WELCOMING A DAUGHTER
Traditionally, in Ashkenazi communities, daughters were welcomed into the community at the synagogue. A father was honored with an aliyah, a prayer was said for the health of the mother and daughter, and the girl was named. At Congregation Beth Ami, mothers and fathers are called to the Torah for an aliyah with the baby girl. Mothers may also choose to recite birkat hagomel, the blessing said upon coming through a dangerous experience.
Today, there are covenant and naming ceremonies that may be performed in the synagogue or the home that we can assist you with. We encourage families to draw on the wealth of innovative ritual and liturgy available in designing a ceremony that is personally meaningful. There is no prescribed time for holding a covenant ceremony for a daughter; many families choose a time that is most convenient to gather relatives and friends. We suggest that you not wait too long, for this ritual is intended to both name the child and welcome her into the covenant of the Jewish people.
A baby girl’s proud parents bring their daughter to the bimah on Shabbat, for a special blessing and ritual naming by the Rabbi.
Please visit the Education page for this topic .
A Jewish wedding is a beautiful and life-affirming experience. While steeped in tradition, the individual wishes of couples make it extremely important to talk to Rabbi Miller directly rather than going by a list published here. As a member of United Synagogue, Congregaion Beth Ami is not authorized to perform marriages between non-Jews or between a Jew and a non-Jew, but we offer help with conversion as well as general information for interfaith couples, and a warm welcome to all couples both before and after the ceremony. The Celia Gurevitch Library at CBA has an extensive section on marriage and weddings of all kinds. Jewish gay and lesbian couples are encouraged to celebrate their auf rufs (a special honor given to the couple during Shabbat services) and weddings at Congregation Beth Ami. Our congregation has embraced the changes the Conservative movement has made to further welcome gays and lesbians into the community, adopting Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner’s teshuvah, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah” (accepted by The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards [CJLS] of the Rabbinical Assembly in 2006) which argues for the full normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews. Under this ruling, Beth Ami upholds that gay and lesbian Jews may be ordained as clergy and their marriages are officially recognized.
CHANUKAT HABAYIT — DEDICATION OF THE HOUSE
It is a tradition to celebrate a new house with a special dedication ceremony — traditionally within 30 days of moving in.
Chanukat HaBayit ceremonies can be as simple as merely affixing a mezuzah and reciting the requisite two blessings. Or they can involve singing, discussion, and feasting along with themezuzah hanging. Any member of a household can affix a mezuzah alone. However, why not make the occasion a bigger simcha (celebration) by gathering family and friends to mark the moment with you.
CONTENTS OF A MEZUZAH
A mezuzah (which literally means “doorpost”) is comprised of a covering, in the shape of a box or cylinder, containing a klaf, or parchment, on which the following Torah passages are written:
“Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. You shall love Adonai with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your power. These words which I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them to your children and you shall speak about them when you dwell in your house, when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you arise. You shall bind them as a sign on your arm and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your home and your gates.
And it shall happen, if you obey my commandments which I command you today, to love Adonai your God with all your heart and all your soul that I will give the rains of the land in its proper time, the light rains of autumn and the heavy rains of spring, and you will gather your grain, your wine and your oil. I will give grass in your fields for your livestock. You will have enough to eat and you will be satisfied. Guard yourselves, lest your hearts lead you astray and you serve other gods and bow to them. For Adonai will then become angry with you and will close the heavens and withhold the rain, and the land will not produce its bounty. You will quickly be lost from upon the good land that Adonai has granted you.
Therefore, place these words on your hearts and on your souls. Bind them as a sign on your arms and let them be a reminder between your eyes. Teach them to your children. Speak about them when you dwell in your house, when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you arise. Inscribe them on the doorposts of your houses and your gates. So that you and your children may live many years on the land that Adonai promised to your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”
A sofer (scribe) writes the text of the mezuzah in the same way and script as a Torah scroll.
THE MEANING OF MEZUZAH
The meanings ascribed to mezuzot are many and varied. Though there are tales of amezuzah protecting a house, the prevalent view is that it protects us from “missing the mark” as we attempt to live good and just lives. Maimonides wrote, “By the commandment on the mezuzah, man is reminded, when entering or departing, of God’s unity, and is stirred into love for God. He is awakened from his slumber and vain worldly thoughts to the knowledge that nothing endures in eternity like knowledge of the Rock of the World. This contemplation brings him back to himself and leads him onto the right path.”
Today we hang mezuzot to identify our homes as Jewish homes, and to remind us that our homes should be filled with the holiness of Jewish living and of shalom bayit — peace in the home.
ACQUIRING A MEZUZAH
Mezuzot and scrolls are sold in the Beth Ami gift shop, as well as in Judaica stores and online.
HANGING A MEZUZAH
It is customary to hang a mezuzah on the doorpost of the front door, but also on the door of each room in the home and place of business (including the basement, attic, and garage and excluding bathrooms and closets). The following brachot are recited immediately before hanging the mezuzah:
Baruch ata Adonai
Eloheynu Melech HaOlam
asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu likboa mezuzah.
Blessed is Adonai,
Sovereign of the Universe,
Who sanctifies us with the commandment to affix the mezuzah.
Baruch ata Adonai
Eloheynu Melech HaOlam
sheheheyanu vekeyemanu vehigianu lazman ha zeh.
Blessed is Adonai,
Sovereign of the Universe,
Who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.
(Affix the mezuzah)
- The mezuzah is affixed in a slanted position with the top pointed toward the inside of the room, in the upper third of the doorpost on the right as one enters.
- If more than one mezuzah is being affixed at one time, only one blessing is recited.
- If a mezuzah is being affixed in an archway, no blessing is recited.
- Additional blessings, prayers, readings, and songs may be added at this point for your ownChanukat Habayit.
- Ess a bissel. (Eating at this point is not mandatory, but extremely traditional.)
Chevra Kadisha of Sonoma County
“To Honor the Dead and Strengthen the Living”
Providing ritual cleansing and preparation
of the departed for traditional Jewish burial
Shomrim (watchers) also provided
Please note that virtual substitutions for the following practices are in place during the pandemic.
The Jewish way of dealing with death is one part of a larger philosophy of life in which all people are viewed with dignity and respect. Even after death, the body, which once held a holy human life, retains its sanctity. Our sages have compared the sacredness of the deceased to that of an impaired Torah scroll, which although no longer usable, still retains its holiness. In Jewish tradition, therefore, the greatest consideration and respect is accorded the dead.
Jewish law and tradition have endowed funeral and mourning practices with profound religious significance. To this end, Jewish funerals avoid ostentation; family and visitors reflect in dress and deportment the solemnity of the occasion; flowers and music are inappropriate; embalming and viewing are avoided; and interment takes place as soon as possible after death.
Funerary customs are traditionally supervised in Jewish communities by a chevra kadisha, a holy society, comprised of volunteers to aid the bereaved and to ensure that appropriate practices are followed. Assisting in funeral and burial preparations is a highly-valued mitzvah. It is a chesed shel emet, a true act of kindness performed without ulterior motive, for the dead cannot repay this service.
When a member of a community dies, it is the community’s responsibility to lovingly assist the deceased’s family in this final act of respect. A traditional funeral includes taharah, tachrichim, a closed wooden coffin, and a Jewish service devoid of flowers and instrumental music.
Our Sonoma County Chevra Kadisha — made up of men and women from each of the Sonoma County congregations — is prepared to assist families in making arrangements with a funeral home, and to advise them concerning traditional practices and requirements.
Please consider participating. There’s always a need for concerned and interested volunteers to help with:
- Funeral arrangements
- Cemetery arrangements
- Condolence meals
- Shiva minyamim
Please contact us in your time of need:
Nancy Dotti (707) 322-1631
Marc Bernstein (707) 481-0780
Patty Bernstein (707) 953-4385
Beginnings of the Chevra Kadisha in Sonoma County essay by Miriyam Gevirtz: On the Beginnings of the Chevra Kadisha
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