Staff Member Profile : Beth Jones

Sometimes it feels like Congregation Beth Sholom is always changing or trying out new things. We realize there can be mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the idea that our community has been recognized for having some of the Bay Area's most innovative Jewish programming and interesting speakers is exciting, but we know that people also like consistency.

With that in mind, we want to take a minute to appreciate those elements of Beth Sholom that represent our strongest links to the past – and those, of course, are our people!

Today, we invite you to meet (or reconnect) with Beth Jones, a member of our staff for 13 years who now serves as our Director of Membership & Development.


How long have you been working at Beth Sholom?
My first day of work here was December 20, 2004. It was originally a three-month, part-time job supporting the Gesher Campaign, a major fundraising initiative. Since then I have worked in multiple facets at the synagogue including membership, facility rentals, managing events, and as database administrator.

How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
I moved here with my husband, KC, in 1981, and have been happily ensconced in our Bernal Heights home since 1988, where we raised our daughter and son.

Where are you from originally?
Born in Forest Hills, Queens, in New York, although I grew up mostly in West Hartford, Connecticut.

What kind of work do you do?
I know most of the Beth Sholom members, and I’m here to handle or redirect their questions, needs, and concerns. Welcoming new and prospective members is part of my job, and I oversee the annual membership renewal and High Holy Days ticket sales. I support the fundraising efforts of the Development Committee, maintain the membership database, and work with financials and reporting. I work closely with the rest of the wonderful Beth Sholom staff to plan events and be in touch with the community.

Do you have any hobbies or other pursuits that are important to you? If so, what?
Dancing at Rhythm & Motion has been an important part of my life since 1982. It’s a great place and I love the community.

I’m in a new book group which met last night to discuss Little Nothing, by Marisa Silver. The author is a friend of a book group member, so the evening included a phone call discussion with the author. Very exciting!

As a longtime fan of the Golden State Warriors, it used to be a shock when they won a game, now it’s the reverse!

What’s your favorite movie, book, or album? Why?
My favorite movie is Some Like It Hot. I love Jack Lemmon in that film. My favorite book is Atonement, by Ian McEwan; it’s beautifully written and heartbreaking. My current favorite album is side one of Hunky Dory, by David Bowie – it’s just so much fun.

What’s your most meaningful Jewish memory?
The bar mitzvah of our dear family friend, Russell Angelico, who is now 29. We have known him his entire life and he has always been very bright and has a beautiful voice. He did a wonderful job, and it goes down in Jones family lore as the best bar mitzvah ever!

What, if anything, makes Beth Sholom special for you?
It’s a wonderful community filled with a diverse group of interesting and intelligent people. I feel appreciated and very much at home here. The Beth Sholom staff is amazing: a cohesive, talented, and hard-working group who I enjoy spending my days with.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the community?
I’d like to thank the many congregants and all of my colleagues for the warmth, kindness, and support they have shown me as I deal with my very painful loss.

Dance The Pain Away

DancingHasidsIt's easy for us to shirk our Jewish responsibility to wrestle with the more challenging and anachronistic aspects of our tradition. In a few weeks, when we read Parashat Vayikra, we'll reconsider the ancient Israelites' sacrificial practices, which seem quite alien to us today. Yet the psychological distance imposed by time and social change doesn't relieve us of our duty to parse and digest the rituals.

Evan Wolkenstein, Director of Experiential Education for American Jewish World Service (and a teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay), writes,

"Nearly 2000 years have passed since the last turtledove’s blood was wrung against the altar walls, and we are still forced to acknowledge that, interesting as they may be, these verses are relevant almost exclusively through creative hermeneutics. We may look to Vayikra for inspiration. We may find its details somewhat disturbing. But no matter our potential discomfort, one thing is certain for all of us—we would never remove these passages from the Torah."

We would never remove the passages because, as Wolkenstein puts it, "none of us is better off by forgetting any part of the past." To the contrary, the past should inform and improve our present; earnest discourse about (and with) the past makes us better Jews and better human beings. Such soul-searching, though, is often uncomfortable, and few Jews outside of our clergy make a regular habit of it. Those who do and who elect to share their ruminations are too often criticized or ignored.

Case in point: every year, a handful of Jewish writers point out that the Purim story has a "a dark and dangerous underside." Invariably, these voices are lambasted and labelled "self-hating" or "naive." In fact, it is the reactionary critics, those who refuse to reside in the uneasy and uncertain space of Purim, who do a grave disservice to our tradition and, importantly, to our future. Lest this seem like a partisan broadside, however, the Jews at the other end of the spectrum – those who refuse to observe or celebrate Purim because they've written it off as a politically incorrect tale of "bloody revenge" (and even attempted genocide by Jews, not of Jews) – are no less misguided.

Two years ago, writing in The Forward, religious studies professor Shaul Magid, allowed as how "Purim is essentially about the celebration of violence." But he doesn't stop there. He doesn't suggest that Purim should wither on the vine or be reduced to a Disney-fied carnival, an intellectually impotent combo of Halloween and Mardi Gras. Instead, he suggests a way forward by sharing a story. How very Jewish of him.

"If you want to approach Purim with a spirit of open-mindedness this year, I’ve got an idea of how to do it. There is a story about blotting out Amalek told in the name of the Hasidic master Zvi Elimelekh of Dinov (1783-1841). I heard the story from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z"l). During the Purim feast, Zvi Elimelekh suddenly stopped the festivities and said, 'Saddle the horses and get the carriages, it is time to blot out Amalek.' His Hasidim were petrified. 'What could the master mean?' Being obedient disciples, they got in their carriages and followed their rebbe. He rode into town to a local inn where the Polish peasants (the Amalekites of his day?) were engaged in their own drunken bash.

The rebbe and his disciples entered the inn. When the peasants saw them, they stopped dancing. The music stopped. Everyone circled around the rebbe and the Jews as they walked to the center of the dance floor. The room was silent. The rebbe looked at one of the peasants and put out his hand with his palm to the ceiling. Silence. The peasants looked at one another. Suddenly one of them stepped forward and took the rebbe’s hand. They slowly started dancing. The musicians began playing. In a matter of minutes, all the Hasidim and peasants were dancing furiously with one another.

You want to blot out Amalek? [...] Reach out your hand. And dance. That is how you blot out Amalek. Crazy? Ask Zvi Elimelekh of Dinov. That is what it means to take Purim seriously.
"

Put another way by David Bowie (z"l),

"Let's dance -- put on your red shoes and dance the blues
[...]
Let's sway -- you could look into my eyes
Let's sway under the moonlight,
this serious moonlight.
"

This year, maybe, we can dance with one another (and with our tradition), warts, disagreements, and all.

Kezayit (An Olive's Worth): Man As Technicolor Dreamcoat

In the wake of David Bowie's passing, we're sharing another Kezayit feature here. What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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On Sunday, January 10, the world lost a great pop culture trendsetter and zelig, David Bowie (1947-2016).

Bowie, born David Robert Jones in South London, wasn’t Jewish, but he was among the first celebrities to dabble with Kabbalah. In the title song of his 1976 album, Station to Station, he sings,

"From where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Here am I, flashing no color

Tall in this room overlooking the ocean
Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, you drive like a demon from station to station


At the time, even Bowie’s most ardent fans were confused — what are Kether and Malkuth? A clue was provided by the photograph that appeared on the back cover of Station to Station. The picture shows Bowie at his most androgynous drawing the Tree of Life, the diagram representing the relationship between the Ten Sefirot, the Divine Emanations of G-d according to Kabbalah. Kether (or Keter, crown) and Malkuth (or Malchut, kingdom) are the top- and bottommost sefirot, respectively. Bowie’s lyrics seem to suggest that he and his companions "overlooking the ocean" had tapped into some esoteric knowledge that allowed them direct access — “one magical movement” — from the realm of the Earthly (Malkuth) to the realm of the supernal (Kether), a channel not accessible to most of humanity, who need to “drive like demon[s] from station to station.” There are, of course, both healthy and unhealthy ways to tap into mystical revelation, and according to many sources, the Station to Station portion of Bowie’s career was informed by his being “bombed out of his mind on cocaine.”

Bowie’s legacy, though, will not be his flirtation with Jewish esoteric traditions, his battle to overcome drug addiction, or his acting and painting forays. As Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times obituary, "Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His music was always a mutable blend: rock, cabaret, jazz and what he called 'plastic soul,' but it was suffused with genuine soul. […] Throughout Mr. Bowie’s metamorphoses, he was always recognizable. His voice was widely imitated but always DB-Transformation-Colourhis own; his message was that there was always empathy beyond difference.”

We leave you with an animated representation of Bowie’s metamorphoses by illustrator Helen Green.

Lead image credit: "David Bowie draws the Tree of Life," photographed by Steve Shapiro, 1975