David Malman, Calligrapher & Mensch

Facebook_DavidMalman_SiddurMinyanBookPlate_GronowskiFamilyChapel_CBS_August2016In February 2016, our twice-daily egalitarian minyan was featured by J Weekly. The article emphasized just how important our CBS minyan is to the larger Bay Area Jewish community.

"San Francisco is home to about a dozen egalitarian congregations, yet Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue in the Inner Richmond, is the only one that provides the essential community service of a daily minyan. I say it’s essential because of the Jewish practice of saying Kaddish daily for 11 months after the passing of a loved one, a practice more common among liberal, egalitarian Jews than one might assume."

We’re proud of our minyan. Many members describe it as our congregation’s "beating heart." Our regular daveners (prayer participants) join the minyan because they want to be there for every person who needs to pray, recite the mourner's Kaddish, or recall the anniversary of a loved one’s passing with communal support. CBS is the minyan's home, providing space, financial support, and leadership, but the minyan is literally and figuratively "made" by those who participate – people like congregant David Malman.

Years ago, David and his wife, fellow congregant Ellen Shireman, read an issue of CJ Voices, the magazine of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), that included a feature about an East Coast minyan that presented a personalized siddur (prayer book) to individuals who came regularly to say Kaddish for a loved one. Ellen and David were inspired by the lovely tradition, and decided that CBS should and could offer the same.

Facebook_DavidMalman1_SiddurMinyanBookPlate_Boardroom_CBS_August2016Facebook_DavidMalman2_SiddurMinyanBookPlate_Boardroom_CBS_August2016"The people who come [to say Kaddish] do it to honor their parent or loved one," David told me recently, "but the rest of the minyan deeply appreciates it. It’s a kind of symbiosis – the minyan supports the mourners, but, through their regular presence for those months, the mourners support the minyan."

In 2008, David approached Rabbi Micah Hyman, then the spiritual leader of CBS, and proposed that CBS adopt the siddur gifting tradition. Once Rabbi Hyman was on board, David bought a calligraphy pen and obtained a number of siddurim and label stickers from the CBS office. The next step? Learning how to create calligraphy for the bookplates David would place in the front of each siddur.

"When we read that [CJ Voices] article, I thought about it and said to Ellen, 'I know how to do this!' I’ve been fascinated with letters since I was a kid." As a teenager, David practiced writing calligraphy in English and even dabbled with some Hebrew. Later, in his twenties, when the art career of David Moss took off, he was reminded of how moving calligraphy and Judaica can be. "I was looking at these insanely beautiful ketubot…and [the work] broke my heart." David considered picking up the practice again, but his calligraphic impulse lay dormant until he and Ellen decided to get married in 2005. "When I started thinking about our ketubah," he recalled, "I felt I should do it – create the calligraphy." And so he did. Today, the ketubah that David created, which incorporates both English and Hebrew text, hangs in their home. "I guess it worked out!," he said with a smile.

Facebook_DavidMalman3_SiddurMinyanBookPlate_Boardroom_CBS_August2016The labels David used for his first CBS siddurim bookplates were small, and fewer lines of text could fit; as a result, only English text was included. As his calligraphic confidence grew, so, too, did the label size. Today, each bookplate features an English inscription as well as the name of the memorialized individual in both English and Hebrew. The date on which the deceased passed away is also included, using both the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars. David points out that the date serves a practical purpose – whenever the siddur owner wants to double check the date of their loved one’s Yahrzeit, they need only crack their prayer book.

Since 2008, David has created approximately 20 bookplates. His process and specific approach continue to evolve. Currently, David is trying to find the ideal label stock. The original, smaller labels took the ink well, with little bleeding. He hopes to find a larger label that does the same. The personalized siddur gifting practice has also spread; David and Ellen are evening minyan regulars, but the morning "minyan-aires" learned of the practice through the CBS grapevine and soon adopted it.

Facebook_DavidMalman2_SiddurMinyanBookPlate_GronowskiFamilyChapel_CBS_August2016What hasn’t changed in almost a decade is the bookplates’ purpose and the hand creating them. Each is crafted with care by David, placed in a siddur, and presented to a minyan participant who completes the 11-month period of mourning. (Occasionally, if the last day of Kaddish is missed, the presentation will occur on the first Yahrzeit of the deceased.) David describes this presentation as “a tiny ritual, maybe 20 seconds long,” but its brevity is not a reflection of its meaningfulness or sincerity.

Each bookplate is a handsome artifact. David, ever humble, attributes this to the art of calligraphy rather than his particular hand. He thinks that the Hebrew letters, in particular, are "extremely beautiful," and not just aesthetically. "We’re the People of the Book. Our letters are the atomic particles of our civilization. When you look at these pieces, you might think, 'Oh, they’re just bookplates,' but they’re not. Each one is a little brick in the greater Jewish building." This is true with respect to language – David points out that including both the English and Hebrew helps Hebrew literacy – but also klal Yisrael (all of the Jewish people). "Fundamentally, this is a community building enterprise. It enriches our community and it enriches the history of these books – it's all about continuity. When these become 'feral' siddurim, set out into the wild, someone will open these prayer books and see names and a date, and know a bit more about where this book lived and whose lives it touched. That’s important."

It is, indeed. Kol HaKavod, David! Thank you for this wonderful mitzvah!

CBS encourages all community members to sustain and strengthen our twice-daily minyan through participation. As David points out, ours is the only egalitarian minyan "between Los Angeles and Vancouver, and perhaps west of the Rockies with the exception of Phoenix [and the aforementioned cities]." Pick one day of the week (or even just one day a month), and commit to joining the minyan for davening in the morning, evening, or both. Not only will you sometimes have the privilege and honor of making minyan when a mourner from outside the community has come to CBS to say Kaddish; you might even find yourself surprised by the value of a regular commitment to Jewish prayer.

Meet Rebecca Goodman

CBS is pleased to introduce our new Director of Youth Education, Rebecca Goodman. Rebecca has been involved as a Jewish educator and administrator in the Bay Area for many years, most recently serving as the Director of Education overseeing the joint religious school program of Congregations Beth Israel Judea and B’nai Emunah. Her passion for Jewish learning and experience in forging connections with the communities she has served make her supremely qualified to lead our Shabbat School program – we are thrilled to welcome her to our sacred community of learning.

Today, we’re sharing an introductory note from Rebecca.

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Goodman_PlaceHolder The Director of Youth Education may be a new position at Congregation Beth Sholom, but I have dedicated the past two decades to educating Jewish youth. After falling in love with Judaism as a child at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, I attended Jewish summer camps, traveled to Israel, was a madricha and President of my United Synagogue Youth chapter. Although I took a detour from my Jewish path to study engineering in college, I remained connected to the Jewish community by teaching religious school. After a couple years, I realized that my passion was much stronger for helping Jewish youth connect to their Jewish heritage than it was to ensuring that the next bridge or building would remain standing regardless of the pressure put upon it.

I graduated from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion with a master’s degree in Jewish Education and a master’s degree in Jewish Communal Service. I earned the title “Reform Jewish Educator” in 2007. This title is granted to those who fulfill “extremely stringent academic requirements in the areas of education, educational administration, and Judaic studies plus a supervised educational internship.” I have worked for the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, served as Director of Contra Costa Midrasha, and as Director of Education at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo and Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco.

I am excited to become a part of the CBS community and to meet you. My hope is that everyone has a good time in Shabbat School – and that they develop a strong Jewish identity and a love of Jewish learning that they will feed throughout their lives, starting here at CBS.

I look forward to sharing with you my vision for the Shabbat School and Hebrew programs in the coming weeks and months. In my first few days, we've finalized the registration forms, the calendar, and the fees for the coming year. Next, I will reach out to last year's faculty and madrichim so that I can meet them and finalize our staff for the fall. The most important thing I need from you is your completed registration form so that we can plan accordingly and make sure we have the right number of teachers, madrichim, and supplies for our students.

I already know that the faculty is fantastic, the members that I've had the opportunity to meet are wonderful, and the staff is dedicated, warm, and helpful. I am very excited to join the team and meet you. If you find yourself near CBS on a Tuesday or Thursday, please take a moment and stop by my office to introduce yourself.

Meet Claire Ambruster, JVS Summer Intern

CBS is pleased to introduce our Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster. Claire is supporting multiple departments at CBS during her internship (June 21 - August 12), including communications. Wearing her communications hat, Claire will learn about thoughtful development and management of social media strategy and also gain blogging experience. Today, we're sharing her first blog contribution.

We've been very impressed with Claire so far, and are fortunate to have her on our team, even if only for the summer!

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My Journey to Working in the Jewish World

Facebook_ClaireAmbrusterLast week, I began my summer internship through the Kohn Summer Intern Program – a project of Jewish Vocational Service. My fellow interns and I met for the first time at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. We enjoyed a tour of the museum, schmoozed, and discussed our goals for the summer. As Kohn interns, we each work separately at different Bay Area Jewish nonprofits. On Fridays, we come together for interesting seminars, during which we discuss everything from Jewish life to job skills. I will be working with Congregation Beth Sholom (CBS) this summer, and am very excited for the opportunity to explore the inner workings of this synagogue – from drafting CBS Facebook posts to managing membership databases. I am also enjoying getting to know the Beth Sholom community. Simultaneously, I look forward to getting to know the other Kohn interns and learning about the different types of work they are doing to invest in the Jewish world.

Although I now am committed to Jewish practice, I did not always envision that for myself. I grew up in a secular home in San Francisco. Although we lit Hanukkah candles each year, we also strung colored lights around our Christmas tree. As I grew older, I wanted to learn more about my tradition, and I asked my parents to enroll me in Hebrew school. Once enrolled, I quickly became inspired by Jewish teachings. When the time came to pick a high school, I decided to further my Jewish education and enrolled in a pluralistic Jewish high school. I soon fell in love with Jewish studies – from Talmud to contemporary Jewish thought. As I grew, I developed confidence in my faith. I began to contemplate taking larger concrete steps towards Judaism, and I pondered the idea of having a bat mitzvah ceremony and eventually going through conversion, as I am not yet considered halachically Jewish.

Last summer, I was given the opportunity to have my long-anticipated bat mitzvah ceremony. I was participating in the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) summer program in Los Angeles, and had spent several weeks engaging in a whirlwind of profound learning with my peers. On the final Shabbat of the program, I stood before a crowded room, eagerly anticipating the ceremony. I read from the Torah, singing notes I had learned only weeks beforehand. Afterward, I reflected on the biblical passage, in which the daughters of Tzelafchad demanded to receive their father’s inheritance, which traditionally went to sons. In the same spirit of the daughters of Tzelafchad, I stood in front of the community to inherit and reaffirm my Jewish identity. After years of questioning my Jewish identity, it was incredibly redemptive and exhilarating to read from the Torah and feel the joy surrounding me.

It is moments like this one – where communities come together in joy and in loss – which remind me how important Judaism is in my life. I look forward to helping build the Jewish world here at Beth Sholom for the remainder of the summer!