Readers Choice 2013: Synagogue Life

Innovative Programming

Steeped in tradition, these synagogues strive to meld a rich heritage with modern life, connecting congregants with one another and the greater community — with the ideal of repairing the world always at the forefront.

Though San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El has a large membership, a great effort is made to include congregants at all stages of life and at all levels of Jewish knowledge in varied areas of study, including music, characters in the Bible, sacred texts, conversion, interfaith families and rites of passage. In this way, small groups learn about and celebrate Judaism and Jewish life. In addition, numerous opportunities exist to engage in progressive programs in outreach, social justice, advocacy and community organizing.

Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation offers learning opportunities for all congregants — from infants to the elderly. Classes for adults explore a range of subjects, from Jews in film to women’s Talmud study. Shabbat University covers a diverse array of topics, including current issues such as universal health care in Jewish law. From Tot Shabbat to Sunday socials and Shabbatons, programs for children are fun and engaging as they impart a sense of community responsibility and Jewish tradition.

Spiritually oriented and politically progressive, Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland, a Jewish Renewal congregation, continues to innovate in the tradition of its roots in the 1960s and ’70s. Rabbi David J. Cooper says the multigenerational congregation’s deep commitment to tikkun olam is “reflected in the work of our many communities … both in the larger world on peace and justice issues and also those that support the needs of members of the synagogue.” Rabbi Cooper says the congregation is “an institution that continues the spirit of innovation … without becoming staid or stale.”

In Los Altos, Congregation Beth Am spotlights lifelong learning, spiritual growth and service to others. Executive director Rachel Tasch says, “Our congregation is at the forefront of the Reform movement in offering a rich variety of educational opportunities for children and families and for adult learning at many levels.” Based on that commitment to excellence in Jewish education, she continues, “we are in the process of reimagining our entire youth education program.” Board president Ben Lloyd says, “Beth Am has always been very good at innovating — in programming, worship, etc. — in balance with tradition.”

In San Rafael, Congregation Rodef Sholom has developed numerous programs to engage congregants not only in taking action throughout the community, both locally and globally, but also in creating a sense of community within this large congregation. The synagogue has been recognized by the National Organization on Disability for its efforts to involve congregants with disabilities through its Kulanu/ Inclusion of Those with Disabilities Committee. Learning is not limited to school-age children; opportunities cover every segment of the congregation, from infants and toddlers through the elderly, who play an important role in congregational life.

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

(415) 751-2535


East Bay

Beth Jacob Congregation


(510) 482-1147


Kehilla Community Synagogue


(510) 547-2424


South Bay/Peninsula

Congregation Beth Am

Los Altos Hills

(650) 493-4661

North Bay

Congregation Rodef Sholom

San Rafael

(415) 479-3441