resources
Thursday, August 14, 2014 | return to: supplement, readers' choice awards


Share
 

Readers’ Choice 2014: Synagogue Life

Follow j. on   and 

Innovative Programming

Whether Orthodox or alternative, with memberships of a few dozen to more than 2,000, Bay Area synagogues pride themselves on inspiring programs, connecting Jews with age-old traditions, welcoming newcomers and serving the greater community.

Congregation B’nai Emunah, a Conservative synagogue in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood, was established in 1949, welcoming survivors and refugees. Continuing in that spirit, the synagogue launched the “Sunrise, Sunset Café,” a Shabbat group “where we build community, one cup at a time,” writes Jeffrey Dielle, the synagogue president. In a synagogue blog, Rabbi Mark Melamut calls it a “culturally Jewish startup,” a response to newcomers who often say, “ ‘Rabbi, nice to meet you, but I’m not religious. I like Jewish culture but the rest of it doesn’t work for me.’ ” Café programs include live music, talks and discussions accompanied by coffee and home-baked goodies. B’nai Emunah offers individualized b’nai mitzvah instruction for special learners, annual retreats and a variety of interest groups, including a technology havurah and a Havdallah happy hour.

San Francisco’s 164-year-old Congregation Emanu-El, the largest Reform congregation in Northern California with more than 2,100 member-households, prides itself on marrying tradition with innovation, commissioning new works of music and sponsoring cultural programs and lectures that draw the wider community. A group for teens connects them one-on-one with Holocaust survivors. A synagogue museum has hosted exhibits by internationally renowned artists and, more recently, by residents of the city’s Jewish Home.

 Kehilla Community Synagogue was launched in 1984 by politically progressive individuals seeking a spiritual home of their own. Today the Jewish Renewal synagogue in Piedmont prides itself on welcoming interfaith families and those of all colors, genders and sexualities. Worship and celebration are participatory and may include meditation, dance, contemporary chants, Hassidic and neo-Hassidic melodies — as well as Pop-Up Shabbat, an alternative Shabbat evening at the food trucks. Kehillat Ha’Adamah, part of the youth education program, combines urban organic farming with Jewish teachings about caring for the earth and pursuing food justice.

Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, with a membership of 1,600 households, is a diverse Reform synagogue that welcomes newcomers to Judaism, interfaith families and learners of all ages. Saturday morning Torah study draws more than 200 each week, many from other spiritual communities who are seeking in-depth looks at ancient Scripture. Friday night musical celebrations held outdoors in the summer, rabbi- and lay-led traditional services, kid-friendly services and an alternative Torah service round out the worship opportunities.

Chabad is dedicated to reaching out to Jews with all levels of knowledge and observance. With that mandate, Chabad Jewish Center of Novato offers what it calls “Digestible Judaism,” including Shabbat dinners accompanied by songs and Hassidic stories, a Sunday men’s tefillin and biking group, women’s celebrations and “Sushi in the Sukkah.”

According to its mission statement, Congregation Kol Shofar is “rooted in the enduring values of Jewish traditions while embracing innovations that enrich contemporary Jewish life.” The Conservative synagogue in Tiburon “both invites and allows for people to experience different aspects of Judaism and connect to the community in a myriad of ways,” says Nancy Drapin, executive director. With that in mind, it offers a variety of worship services and adult classes. Kol Shofar is a founding member of the Marin Organizing Committee, working with other groups to shelter and feed the homeless and effect social change.

San Francisco

Congregation B’nai Emunah

(415) 664-7373

www.bnaiemunahsf.org

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

 

East Bay

Kehilla Community Synagogue

Piedmont

(510) 547-2424

www.kehillasynagogue.org

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

 

North Bay

Chabad Jewish Center of Novato

(415) 878-6770

www.jewishnovato.com

Congregation Kol Shofar

Tiburon

(415) 388-1818

www.kolshofar.org

 

Adult Education

In the Bay Area, where many come to Judaism from a variety of traditions and levels of Jewish literacy, synagogues fill the hunger to continue learning. That’s why so many offer adult Hebrew and b’nai mitzvah classes as well as Introduction to Judaism courses. Our readers chose the following synagogues for providing outstanding programs.

Congregation B’nai Emunah offers “Judaism University” in collaboration with Congregation Beth Israel Judea, Congregation Ner Tamid and Or Shalom Jewish Community. Taught by several rabbis, classes have included lessons from the Talmud and the sages. Rabbi Mark Melamut also holds a monthly Musar group, where participants examine ethical issues, individualized spiritual direction and a “Holy Rollers” group, teaching Torah maintenance.

Beyond the introductory classes, Congregation Emanu-El’s Tauber Jewish Studies Program offers a two-year, in-depth look at Jewish texts, thinkers and ideas. In addition, smaller groups can choose their own areas of study. Lunch and Learns in downtown San Francisco offer a welcome break during the work week. Scholar-in-residence Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s recent series “Holy Language: Holy Letters,” a course in reading Hebrew, taught not only the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet but also the legends and mystical power behind them.

Kehilla Community Synagogue provides a range of educational experiences each semester that value Jewish tradition and history while inviting exploration by a diverse community of learners. “From a basic ‘Doing Jewish’ class to a ‘Queering the Torah’ inquiry, to an extensive team-taught study of the Prophets, the offerings appeal to many interests and backgrounds,” says Sharon Grodin, a member of the adult education committee. “The lineup for the fall includes an in-depth and interactive look at mystical, cultural, spiritual, philosophical, political, historical and musical aspects of Shabbat.”

In addition to classes in Torah, Talmud and Hebrew for adults, Congregation Beth Am has offered classes in modern Jewish literature, co-facilitated by a rabbi and a Stanford professor, and “Making Prayer Real,” which focuses on the skills and techniques to make prayer more meaningful. Weekend scholar-in-residence presentations, guest lectures and a film series are among the offerings. Every summer, Beth Am holds an adult study retreat at Asilomar. This year the focus is “Exploring the Prophets and Prophetic Judaism for the 21st Century,” which is Beth Am’s education theme for 2014-15.

Chabad Jewish Center of Novato’s “Judaism 101” provides a five-week crash course on the basics: Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, the reasons for kashrut, the meaning and purpose of prayer, and Jewish lifecycles. Previous offerings have included “Five Books of Moses in Five Hours.” Programs on the teachings of Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson round out the offerings, providing ways to incorporate his teachings to lead a more purposeful life.

San Francisco

Congregation B’nai Emunah

(415) 664-7373

www.bnaiemunahsf.org

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

 

East Bay

Kehilla Community Synagogue

Piedmont

(510) 547-2424

www.kehillasynagogue.org

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

 

North Bay

Chabad Jewish Center of Novato

(415) 878-6770

www.jewishnovato.com

 

Interfaith Programming

Beyond reaching out to non-Jewish spouses and family members, these congregations were chosen by readers for their outstanding interfaith programs. They collaborate with neighboring houses of worship in social-action projects, invite clergy from other faiths to speak and foster ongoing relationships between their congregants and those of other faiths.

For 25 years, Congregation Emanu-El has joined forces with Third Baptist Church in pulpit exchanges as well as Back on Track, a tutoring program for disadvantaged students. Congregants also participate in an interfaith discussion group with Christians and Muslims at Pacifica Institute in Burlingame. Emanu-El also hosts programs for interfaith families, including a picnic this fall.

Kehilla Community Synagogue is part of a faith trio with the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California and the Montclair Presbyterian Church, participating in art, educational and cultural activities as well as volunteer projects. In addition, through its social-action programs, Kehilla participates in a number of interfaith volunteer projects in the Oakland–East Bay area.

Congregation Beth Am recently launched “Opening Doors: Dialogues with Our Neighbors,” inviting clergy from community churches to discuss their faith. Through Building Bridges, a lay-led group created by married congregants who belong to Beth Am and All Saints Episcopal Church, Christians and Jews shared potlucks, discussed Scripture and attended services together. A Mothers Circle provides education and support for women of other faith traditions who are raising Jewish children.

Temple Emanu-El of San Jose, with a diverse membership that includes interfaith and nontraditional families, has a strong commitment to interfaith activities and relations, and Rabbi Dana Magat currently chairs the Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice for Santa Clara County. The synagogue participates in People Acting in Community Together, an interfaith, grassroots organization of more than 20 congregations. Through PACT, people from different ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds work together to solve pervasive social problems.

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

 

East Bay

Kehilla Community Synagogue

Piedmont

(510) 547-2424

www.kehillasynagogue.org

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

Temple Emanu-El

San Jose

(408) 292-0939

www.templesanjose.org

 

Social Action

Jews are commanded to repair the world and care for those in need, which is why synagogues take on environmental cleanup, hunger, housing and literacy projects. Our readers gave high marks to the following congregations.

Congregation B’nai Emunah not only collects food year-round for the SF-Marin Food Bank, but a group of volunteers assists each month at the food bank’s warehouse as part of a communitywide Apple Corps Program. The Shalom Bayit Adopt-a-Family program pairs congregants with a family in need recovering from domestic violence. Through Project Homeless Connect, a communitywide project, volunteers donate food, goods and services.

Long committed to social justice, Congregation Emanu-El is involved with a number of projects under the rubric of Project HELP: Hunger, Environment, Literacy and Poverty. The congregation’s greening project earned a Conservation Champion Award from the Union of Reform Judaism and a Green Oscar from Interfaith Power and Light. Congregants help provide respite care to homeless single mothers at the Star Community Home in the Richmond District and serve as tutors and mentors to disadvantaged students.

Congregation Sherith Israel members share a commitment to repairing the world by feeding the hungry, teaching children to read and supporting the troops. Every Sunday morning since 1993, children and adults at the San Francisco Reform synagogue have prepared, packaged and delivered meals to families at shelters. Chicken Soupers volunteers  prepare and deliver monthly meals to homebound seniors and people with disabilities. Others work with the Jewish Coalition for Literacy and read to at-risk elementary schoolchildren. Through the San Francisco Organizing Project, an interfaith network, congregants are improving programs in the San Francisco school district and supporting elderly congregants and their caregivers.

Working with the Alameda County Food Bank, members of Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El engage in annual High Holy Day food drives as well as Thanksgiving turkey drives. The Reform synagogue also partners with Full Belly Farm to have boxes of locally produced fruits and vegetables delivered to the congregation, enabling members to support community agriculture through their purchases. Meanwhile, once a month, volunteers prepare and serve multicourse dinners to 125 to 200 homeless people. “This activity engages Beth El members of all ages in a hands-on tikkun olam activity,” says Debra Massey, director of education.

Since its founding, social and political action have been a vital part of Kehilla Community Synagogue’s mission, with projects ranging from environmental cleanup and climate concerns to measures combating racism and supporting human rights. Through Rebuilding Together, members work with other congregations and organizations to provide home repairs for low-income households in the Oakland area. Congregants work with Shalom Bayit to prevent and respond to domestic abuse in their own community. Members also participate in Oakland Community Organizations, a multifaith, multiethnic organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Oakland.

Temple Sinai in Oakland “strives to be an accessible congregation, welcoming those with physical and learning disabilities,” says Lisa Hanauer, membership and communications director. She said it has also been the single-largest contributor to the Alameda County Food Bank for several years. Activities include an annual Freedom Seder, a Social Action Shabbat, community organizing with Oakland Community Organizations, and the People of the Book Literacy Project. An employment initiative helps members and others in the community to find jobs, and Out & About events, geared for LGBT members, welcome nonmembers as well. On an environmental note, Sinai’s new building is Silver LEED–certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

At Congregation Beth Am, “social action has been part of our DNA since the 1960s, when our beloved Rabbi Sidney Akselrad marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery,” says Loree Farrar, president-elect. The Tzedek Council provides opportunities to repair the world, ranging from hosting homeless families in the social hall in partnership with Home and Hope, to working to put an end to human trafficking in the Bay Area and beyond. A new community organizing initiative is focused on addressing income inequality and the need to expand affordable, high-quality early childhood education.

Chabad Jewish Center of Novato is “not a temple but a center,” Rabbi Menachem Landa emphasizes. “The idea is around people helping people, [building] ties to the community.” The teen club prepares and delivers chicken soup to infirm and bereaved congregants as well as those in rehab centers. In addition, the group did a charity drive for orphaned youth in Israel. Meanwhile, younger kids made cakes for Berkeley homeless shelters and visited youth in Children’s Hospital Oakland. “The lesson we are trying to teach is about bringing happiness to other people, and knowing that in Judaism giving is very important,” says Landa.

San Francisco

Congregation B’nai Emunah

(415) 664-7373

www.bnaiemunahsf.org

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535

www.emanuelsf.org

Congregation Sherith Israel

(415) 346-1720

www.sherithisrael.org

 

East Bay

Congregation Beth El

Berkeley

(510) 848-3988

www.bethelberkeley.org

Kehilla Community Synagogue

Piedmont

(510) 547-2424

www.kehillasynagogue.org

Temple Sinai

Oakland

(510) 451-3263

www.oaklandsinai.org

 

South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

www.betham.org

 

North Bay

Chabad Jewish Center of Novato

(415) 878-6770

www.jewishnovato.com

 

Readers’ Choice 2014: Time to roll out the red carpet

Readers’ Choice 2014: Community

Readers’ Choice 2014: Culture

Readers’ Choice 2014: Seniors

Readers’ Choice 2014: Have a Nosh

Readers’ Choice 2014: Time to Celebrate

Readers’ Choice 2014: Shop Till You Drop

Readers’ Choice 2014: Health, Beauty & Fitness

Readers’ Choice 2014: Business & Professional

Readers’ Choice 2014: House & Home



Comments

Be the first to comment!




Leave a Comment

In order to post a comment, you must first log in.
Are you looking for user registration? Or have you forgotten your password?



Auto-login on future visits