Noa Marks' Bat Mitzvah

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Hello! My name is Noa Marks. I am a seventh grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco, and I am so excited to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Beth Sholom this Shabbat!

Becoming a Bat Mitzvah has been an unexpectedly enjoyable journey. I have learned so much about the Shabbat service and the Torah service. I especially enjoyed learning to sing the prayers and to chant Torah using the correct tropes, all the while treating my family to my many practice sessions.

It has been challenging fitting in my Bat Mitzvah preparation with my many other activities and interests - lots and lots of soccer, surfing, lots and lots of homework, skiing, and our puppy, Khaya. Despite these time consuming activities, my studies and preparation went very well. I can’t believe that in only a few days I will present all my hard work from the last many months and become a Jewish adult!

At my Bat Mitzvah I will be reading from the Torah and sharing my thoughts on the weekly parsha, Parshat Emor. In Emor, G-d instructs Moses to tell the Israelites who can be a Kohen (or priest) and what requirements apply to the Kohanim. I have been thinking quite a bit about why G-d created these requirements for the priests, what qualifications should be expected of priests today, and what my expectations are for my own conduct. I hope you will join me this Shabbat to hear my thoughts on Emor!

As I look forward to my Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, I am grateful for the support of so many people. I would like to thank Noa Bar, for helping me learn to chant Torah, and for guiding me with her beautiful voice through learning all of the prayers. I would also like to thank Rabbi Micah Hyman and Rabbi Dan Ain, for inspiring me and helping me with my Dvar Torah. Thank you so much to Beth Sholom's amazing staff for making my Bat Mitzvah possible. Thank you to my family, friends, and the Beth Sholom community who will celebrate this simcha with me. And, finally, I am so grateful for the loving support of my parents, brother, and puppy.

Americana Jam Band

AmericanaJamBandAmericana is a cholent – a rich stew – of diverse musical dialects and perspectives, including folk, bluegrass, country, soul, gospel, rock, and more.

Like the Jewish experience, though, Americana’s disparate elements work in unison to create an original sound and story that we recognize as specifically American.

Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Derailers, The Lone Bellow, and Son Volt – all of these artists and performers are on the same familiar road, searching for a way back home. We are their fellow travelers.

Congregation Beth Sholom invites you to experience the Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat!

It’s a folk-rock jam session with a Jewish soul, a casual prayer service with country swagger. If you like to sing and/or play an instrument (think piano, guitar, double bass, melodica, harmonica, or vibraphone), pull up a chair and join the jam on select Friday nights in 2017-18. Maybe you won't always play "in the pocket", but that’s not the point – it’s about our journey. Together, we’ll make music in a sacred space and create something new and meaningful as we mark the week’s end and the arrival of Shabbat.

Let's jam on Friday, April 27, 2018! The Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat service is free.

Vayakhel–Pekudei -- Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

The genius of every design by Steve Jobs (1955-2011) was an ability to understand what his community of users really wanted. Jobs was single-minded, and at times ruthless, in directing his designers to respond to community, to "have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Community is founded upon shared values and built upon shared practice. The team of wise-hearted artisans who create the Tabernacle and its furnishings as detailed in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) are truly inspired and devoted. The co-operative nature of this communal art project is inspiring on many levels. The instructions Moses conveys regarding the construction of the Tabernacle require materials in abundance. Once asked, the response is immediate and the materials arrive in abundance: from gold, silver, and copper, to blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, as well as goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs, and precious stones. It is likely one of the only capital campaigns in Jewish history where its leader had to ask the members to stop giving!

"My favorite things in life don’t cost any money," Jobs’ once remarked. Jobs had clarity on the design of life, namely "that the most precious resource we all have it time." With that in mind, the strange opening of this week’s reading now falls into place — Moses' assembly of the Israelites begins with reiterating the importance of observing the Sabbath.

Making time sacred is the purpose of the Sabbath. The map of the soul’s journey, as Rabbi Lew (1945- 2009), z”l, taught, "...is the journey from isolation to a sense of our intimate connection to all being." That journey, unique to each soul, happens regularly in spiritual community. It is only when we are dedicated to a spiritual practice as central as the Sabbath that we can truly build communal institutions of lasting value.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is a depiction of a grape vine trained into the shape of menorah. The picture is inspired by theologian Rachel Adler's commentary on the Mishkan's menorah. She writes, "The menorah is not just any lamp, however. It is a giant lamp of unusual design.... We cannot sustain our presence at the original moment when a startled shepherd sees a terrible and wonderful sight: a tree on fire, unconsumed. We can only make a memory-tree to remind us of that moment, an artifice-tree of hammered gold, which we set afire, not abruptly, but with the choreography of ritual. Our reenactment distorts the story as it enriches it. The memory-tree is no humble wild thornbush, but the richly bearing fruit tree of the promised land, or the utterly stylized tree of modern ritual art." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Announcing Valor Grrrls Kabbalat Shabbat !

Kabbalat Shabbat means "welcoming the Sabbath." More specifically, the Jewish mystics conceived of the Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service as a welcoming of "the Sabbath bride," the Shechinah, or feminine aspect of the Divine. Our new Valor Grrrls Kabbalat Shabbat musical service celebrates this intrinsic feminine nature of Kabbalat Shabbat by spotlighting the music of female singer-songwriters. Through powerful, deeply-felt lyrics and moving melodies, Joan Armatrading, Natalie Merchant, Gillian Welch, and The Wailin’ Jennys help transport us into this other world we call Shabbat. Their beautiful songs inspire in us a commitment to work for redemption by hearkening to a more just and equitable world.

The format of the Valor Grrrls Kabbalat Shabbat service is also central to the experience. We will sit in-the-round so our voices may join together in a soulful core. This "singing circle" arrangement is inspired by Nava Tehila, the celebrated, Jerusalem-based nonprofit dedicated to the creation of innovative and engaging musical prayer spaces.

Each service is co-led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer and Rabbinic Intern Amanda Russell, with musical accompaniment.

Join us for Valor Grrrls Kabbalat Shabbat on select Fridays in 2018. We’ll meet at 6 p.m. for a community nosh and the service will start at 6:30 p.m. The service is free, but pre-registration is required – please take a quick minute to sign up below.

Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat Is Back!

Facebook_FusionFridayKabbalatShabbatCBS is proud to announce the return of Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat service that provides its many participants with a transformative experience that is as moving as it is joyful.

Led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, the Shir Hashirim EnsembleHazzan Richard Kaplan, violinist Lila Sklar, and Sheldon Brown (on clarinet, flute, saxophone, and bass clarinet) – will provide participants with an exquisite Friday night service featuring Jewish sacred music from around the world and drawn from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi traditions. Each Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat will incorporate contemplative prayer, mantra-like tunes, a Jewish/Turkish/Sufi zikr, klezmer and jazz accents, and beautiful Zoharic teachings and meditations by our own Rabbi Glazer. The prayer leaders, music, spirit, and ideas of the Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat series make the vital passage between the rest of the week and Shabbat the extraordinary experience that it should be! Shabbat is a gift. We hope you will celebrate it with us!

Let's sing together on Friday, March 16! The Fusion Friday service is free.

Americana Jam Band Returns!

AmericanaJamBandAmericana is a cholent – a rich stew – of diverse musical dialects and perspectives, including folk, bluegrass, country, soul, gospel, rock, and more.

Like the Jewish experience, though, Americana’s disparate elements work in unison to create an original sound and story that we recognize as specifically American.

Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Derailers, The Lone Bellow, and Son Volt – all of these artists and performers are on the same familiar road, searching for a way back home. We are their fellow travelers.

Congregation Beth Sholom invites you to experience the Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat!

It’s a folk-rock jam session with a Jewish soul, a casual prayer service with country swagger. If you like to sing and/or play an instrument (think piano, guitar, double bass, melodica, harmonica, or vibraphone), pull up a chair and join the jam on select Friday nights in 2017-18. Maybe you won't always play "in the pocket", but that’s not the point – it’s about our journey. Together, we’ll make music in a sacred space and create something new and meaningful as we mark the week’s end and the arrival of Shabbat.

Let's jam on Friday, March 23, 2018! The Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat service is free.

Sukkot, Day Three -- Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

This Shabbat occurs during Sukkot, and we will be reading a special Sukkot selection from the Book of Exodus. The reading provides us with an opportunity to consider the role of strangers in our lives, especially during this time of heightened "othering" in the political and social arenas.

Atop Mount Sinai, Moses is famously granted a vision of the divine, but he is only permitted or able to see God's back. After Auschwitz, the great French Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) took this remarkable moment of Moses' request for a complete encounter with the divine "face" only to be granted a view of "the other side" to teach us that every human encounter with "the other" presents us with a trace of the divine.

- Rav Aubrey

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Exodus 33:22–23: "And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen." Here, we peer from the rock cleft, obliquely seeing some semblance of the Divine. Many scientists, artists, and mystics are drawn to the notion of a hidden God, and frame the "holy" as something that can only be experienced indirectly. The forms that appear in this illustration are particles of coral sand viewed through a microscope. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Yom Kippur -- Leviticus 16:1 – 34

What is the real difference between love and compassion?

Judaism teaches us that love (ahavah) is the inner side of compassion (chesed). Or we could imagine it this way: chesed is "the Love Supreme" above that fuels and fires the ahavah of "the Love Below," that which is shared between human beings.

Or we can learn what it means to love a fellow Jew from two Russian peasants. Reb Moshe Leib Sassover, one of the greatest students of the Maggid of Mezeritch, teaches a remarkable tale about ahavah as the inner side of chesed. He writes:

Once I came to an inn, where two thoroughly drunk Russian peasants were sitting at a table, draining the last drops from a bottle of strong Ukrainian vodka. One of them, in a slurred, drunken drawl yelled to his friend: "Igor! Do you love me?"

Igor, somewhat surprised by the question answered: "Of course, Ivan, of course, I love you!"

"No, no," insisted Ivan, "Do you really love me, really?!"

Igor, now feeling a bit cornered, assured him:

"What do you think? I don’t love you? Of course I love you. You’re my best friend Ivan!"

"Oh, yes, yes?" countered Ivan. "If you really loved me...then why don’t you know what hurts me and the pain I have in my heart?"


It is this moment, when Ivan really sees and feels Igor’s pain in his heart, only then can we ascend from the place of ahavah to the higher point of chesed!

Love is about ME. Compassion is about WE.

This Yom Kippur, we are invited to shift from ME to WE. Let us ponder: What hurts do we want to heal? What worlds will we rebuild this Yom Kippur through compassion?

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: The illustration seen here is an updated version of the original, created in 5776 / 2016 to illustrate Rabbi Glazer's Parashat Acharei Mot Torah Byte. According to the Torah's description of the scapegoat ritual, which we read about on Yom Kippur, the Israelite priests use Azazel’s goat as a proxy, an animal laden with the sins of the community and then led into the remote desert and set free, presumably carrying the people's sins to some distant place. But that p'shat (straightforward) interpretation makes it all seem too easy. Atonement doesn't happen that way. Rather, the goat is released, but roams unseen in the wilds of our psyche, informing our actions in the world until we have courage enough to confront our missteps and failings. Past deeds, for good or for ill, are not erased by primitive magic. The scapegoat’s eyes are always on us, and we are not called upon to be perfect (nor to deny our imperfect pasts), but instead to strive to better ourselves and to make the world better through action in it. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Matot / Massei -- Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

Facebook_CoverDesign_MasseiParashat Matot

The final of the four tangible ways of measuring the intangibles of intentional community that I learned with Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman (Oranim College of Education) during the Rabin Bay Area Leadership Mission to Israel is Meaningfulness: "My uniqueness is an important resource and influence for the group."

As we read this week in Parashat Matot, Moses divides up the community according to tribes, assigning land and leadership roles accordingly as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land. The Torah provides two names for the twelve tribes of Israel, both derived from the imagery of the tree: shevatim and matot. While a shevet is a "branch," a mateh is a "staff" – the former attached to the tree, the other detached. In other words, a mateh is a shevet that has been uprooted from its tree.

The twelve tribes embody this tension between unity and division. Eager to settle in plots east of the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh, demand these plots as their portion in the Promised Land. Moses, initially angered by this special request, subsequently agrees – on the condition that they join and lead Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.

Today, we continue to face this tension in our modern Jewish tribe. We struggle between mateh and shevet Judaism, between denominationalism and unity, and between Conservative Judaism and "Just Jewish."

Both of these perennial tendencies of creating and grouping community are part of the Tree of Jewish communal Life; the question is how we strike a balance between our need for ideological affinity within a given denomination and the need to be a part of a unified peoplehood.

Parashat Massei

"One can find a squalid America as easily as a scenic America; a bitter, hopeless America as easily as the confident America of polyethylene wrapping, new cars, and camping trips in the summer."

For Robert Kennedy (1925–1968), the U.S. Attorney General (during his brother's administration) and U.S. Senator who was assassinated in 1968, camping is a scenic part of our American pioneering spirit (rather than a squalid one).

So when we read this week of the journey of the Israelites and the record of their forty-two station stops in encampments along the way to the Promised Land – from the Exodus to the plains of Moab across the river from the land of Canaan – we would be well served in reading into it a sense of real joy. As we approached our destination, the boundaries of the Promised Land were traced, and more importantly, Cities of Refuge were designated as havens, places of exile for inadvertent murderers. (How telling that the Cities of Refuge, which are an advanced institution dedicated to creating civil society and thus protecting it from the circle of bloodshed that comes with revenge, are referred to time after time in Scripture – here in Numbers as well as in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.)

In the final surveying of laws relating to the land, we confronted the issue of inheritance head-on. The daughters of Tzelafochad – as proto-feminists – decide to marry within their own tribe of Manasseh to ensure that the estate which they inherit from their father should not pass to the province of another tribe.

Throughout the parsha, the land ultimately serves as a horizontal platform for action, one that always binds us in a vertical relationship to what is right, just, and compassionate – the divine. Just as we journey across lands here on earth, we must not forget the journey of the soul.

Although journeys on land may be long and treacherous, there is no greater journey than the turn inwards. Each Shabbat, we are offered this chance to slow down and share in this ongoing spiritual journey with our community.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is concerned with worldly boundaries, the lines we etch into or lay over the landscape to demarcate property and/or spheres of influence. "When you arrive in the land of Canaan, this is the land which shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders." (Numbers 34:2) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Kadima Konvention Recap

Facebook_GroupPhoto2_KadimaKonvention_MarchApril2017CBS is proud to have hosted Kadima Konvention 2017 this past weekend (March 31 – April 2, 2017). The Kadima Konvention is a regional gathering for children in Kadima, the middle school arm of United Synagogue Youth (USY), the youth organization of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). Kids in Grades 6 and 7 from all over Northern California were invited to participate in a special weekend filled with fun activities, learning, Social Action/Tikkun Olam, and much more. CBS Youth Advisor David Agam, pictured above with some of the San Francisco Kadima-niks who attended, provided the following report.


In under 48 hours, our San Francisco Kadima-niks warmly welcomed their peers from all over the region, and bonded with them and with one another through team-building, play, prayer, film, food, games, lectures, intellectual conversation, contests, song, and, yes, even a little sleep.

A whopping 14 San Francisco Kadima-niks participated in the Konvention, representing over one third of the total participant body! On behalf of USY and CBS, I would like to thank the Kadima-nik families for bringing their kids to us and for allowing our event to take off the way it did. This San Francisco group is vibrant, diverse, and passionate; it plainly knows how to learn, grow, and have fun through living Jewishly together. I am so privileged to be a part of it.

Who made this wonderful Shabbaton possible?

· The Congregation Beth Sholom staff and community at large, including our indispensable host families;
· the USY Regional Executive Teen Board;
· the ever tireless New Frontier Regional Coordinator, Sarah Milller;
· USY/Kadima chapter advisors from all over the region;
· and, of course, the San Francisco USY/Kadima families.

I look forward to more such successful events through Kadima and USY with your children.


Check out some Havdalah pictures and a group photo that includes many of the Konvention participants.

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Israel Mission Remembrance (II)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Today, we continue to share participant remembrances with a wonderful report from Lu and Norman Zilber on full, inspiring days in Jerusalem. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.


Facebook_LuZilberPhoto1_JerusalemJerusalem shel matah, Jerusalem shel malah. Jerusalem of the earth, Jerusalem of the spirit. Today, we saw both.

When King Herod (the paranoid) rebuilt the Temple, he first built a platform with arches and a buttressing wall that leans inward to prevent the arches from expanding. All four of these outer walls are standing today, even after 2000 years. The westernmost one was closest to the spot where the Holy of Holies was located, so that’s the one we pray at today. The walls are comprised of gigantic stones weighing 400 tons each. How did they get them in place? They were rolled down from the northern side, which was the highest point.

We visited the Western Wall and said a Shehecheyanu. We then descended below to see Herod’s construction. We walked for over four hours today and are pooped, but Shabbat is approaching, so we meet our group in 15 minutes to walk to shul.

Our guide is fantastic. He is a treasure trove of history (which he calls our collective memory), architecture, and politics. For example, today’s Arab Muslims do not recognize the Jews' presence in Jerusalem because in fact they have no collective memory of our being there.

We climbed up on the roof of the city to see the Muslim Dome of the Rock, built circa 700 CE, the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque with its dome, and lo and behold, the Jews rebuilt the grand synagoge in their quarter with, you guessed it, a dome! Politics.

Norm’s two cents on Jerusalem

To leave the old city from the roof, we walked through a section that was a warren of streets with one room shops on top of each other.

It looked exactly like Istanbul, down to the packets of saffron and other exotic spices. Merchandise here caters to three religions. It's startling to see tallesim (or tallitot) hanging above wooden crèches (Nativity scenes).

Leyning Torah in Eretz Yisrael

We walked over a mile to the Masorti congregation where they generously gave our group a warm welcome and three aliyot. Our rabbi's niece and daughter read the first and second aliyot and I did the third (about Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers). My nervousness was dispelled by the crying babies and chattering congregants.

There was a couple about to get married and the congregation celebrated mightily. Because of this couple, there was a lovely kiddush following services. The food was better than the hotel's!

It's always a pleasure to attend services in another country. The traditions and melodies may differ a bit, but you always feel you belong and most people welcome us. We are having a restful Shabbat afternoon since tomorrow's schedule is another heavy day.

We visited (and had lunch at) the Mahane Yehuda Market, which reminded us of Istanbul, but on a smaller scale. Loads of vendors selling nuts, baklava, olives, halvah, pastries (no ruggelach, but heaps of various sufganiyot donuts), and spices, along with fish mongers and fruit and vegetable stands. We grabbed some delicious fish and chips, and shared a sufganiyah filled with caramel (yum!). We bought a selection of baklava and some hazel nuts and almonds. The baklava is much less sweet than what you find in the US and is chock-full of ground pistachios. We then walked to the "time elevator," a large screen film experience (your seat moves like a roller coaster) retelling the story of Jerusalem from the time of King David. Its all done in 30 minutes and is a bit hokey, but the kids thought it was “amazing."

Our bus then took us to a promenade above the city at sunset to get a view of the "City of Gold." Every couple of minutes, the view changed and got more and more beautiful.

- Lu Zilber

Ilan Salomon-Jacob's Bar Mitzvah

facebook_ilanShalom, my name is Ilan and I’m in the 8th grade at the San Francisco School. I enjoy playing sports, making videos, composing music digitally, and playing drums on my own or in my band. I also like talking, laughing, and hanging out with friends.

My bar mitzvah is this coming Shabbat and, to be honest, I have a whole swarm of butterflies in my stomach! I am very excited to share this day with my family, friends, and members of the congregation.

I will be chanting Torah from Parashat Beraysheet. In it, God creates the heavens and the Earth, along with all living beings, in six days. God then takes a day of rest. On one of those days, God creates Adam and Eve, the first humans, and puts them in the Garden of Eden. When they disobey God’s orders, they are cast out. They have two children named Cain and Abel who don’t get along so well. Cain is jealous and kills Abel. The parsha ends with a recounting of many generations of descendants, and God is unhappy with the actions of many of them. It finishes on a positive note, however, as God finds hope in a man named Noah.

I would like to thank my family for being supportive throughout this process. I would also like to thank my tutor, Marilyn Heiss, for teaching me how to chant Torah, and Rabbi Glazer for helping me write my d’var Torah. Lastly, I would to thank the Beth Sholom community for always welcoming me and making me feel at home.

Max Billick's Bar Mitzvah

facebook_maxbillickMy name is Max Billick, I’m a seventh-grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. I’m interested in politics, history, constitutional law, world languages, Talmud, and cooking.

This Shabbat – on the fourth day of Sukkot Chol HaMoed – I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. On the occasion of my bar mitzvah, I will be recognized as a member of this community and brought into the covenant.

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot we will be reading from Parashat Ki Tissa. In the parsha, G-d commands Moses to conduct a census. After the census, G-d gives two tablets to Moses on which Moses inscribes the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, the Israelites decide to make a golden calf. G-d is displeased about this but Moses is able to convince G-d to not forsake the covenant. When Moses saw this for himself, he was enraged and broke the tablets. He pleaded with G-d again not to forsake the covenant, and again carved tablets that he inscribed the Ten Commandments upon.

I want to thank my tutor Noa Bar, for helping me prepare for my bar mitzvah, and Rabbi Glazer for his invaluable help in preparing my d’var Torah.

VeZot Ha'Berachah -- Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12

facebook_coverdesign_vezothaberachahPlease note that Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah is read during the Simchat Torah service, which will take place on Tuesday, October 25. This Saturday, October 22, is Shabbat Sukkot, during which we read a selection from Parashat Ki Tissa.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) once remarked: "Zion is in ruins, Jerusalem lies in the dust. All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."

How is this redemption achieved? For Heschel, redemption takes place through time, not space. "Quality time" is what matters in our lives, and it is through the Jewish calendar that we "do Jewish," embodying Jewish life and identity.

It is precisely through the appointed times (or moadim) on the Jewish calendar that we are best able to define our Jewish lives. We do so by abiding in the sukkah and taking hold of the four species, as well as by participating in the thrice annual pilgrimage festivals to the Jerusalem Temple during Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot).

And when we "Rejoice in the Torah" during Simchat Torah, we simultaneously conclude and begin anew the annual Torah-reading cycle. Firstly, we read the Torah section of Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah, recounting the Mosaic blessing bestowed upon each of the twelve tribes of Israel before his death. Echoing Jacob's blessings to his twelve sons five generations earlier, Moses empowers each tribe with its individual role within the Israelite community.

What VeZot Ha'Berachah then relates is how Moses ascended Mount Nebo to its summit, taking a peek at the Promised Land without ever entering into it. Moses’ burial place to this day remains unknown and the Torah concludes by attesting that "never again did there arose a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face...and in all the mighty hand and the great, awesome things which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel."

As we conclude the annual reading of the Torah, it is important to remember that every moment is a sacred encounter in the making when we truly value the sacral power of time.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork includes the symbols and colors of the two tribes of Israel that we know survive today (i.e., the tribes that became Jews). The colors and symbols are drawn from Bamidbar Rabbah, part of our rabbinic literature (midrashim). The stones of the choshen, or priestly breastplate, are depicted in white, black, and red here, and represent the Tribe of Levi. The lion depicted on a sky blue ground represents the Tribe of Judah. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

It's Americana Jam Band Time!

AmericanaJamBandAmericana is a cholent – a rich stew – of diverse musical dialects and perspectives, including folk, bluegrass, country, soul, gospel, rock, and more. Like the Jewish experience, though, Americana’s disparate elements work in unison to create an original sound and story that we recognize as specifically American. Woody Guthrie, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Derailers, The Lone Bellow, and Son Volt – all of these artists and performers are on the same familiar road, searching for a way back home. We are their fellow travelers.

Congregation Beth Sholom (CBS) invites you to experience the Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat! It’s a folk-rock jam session with a Jewish soul, a casual prayer service with country swagger. If you like to sing and/or play an instrument (think piano, guitar, double bass, melodica, harmonica, or vibraphone), pull up a chair and join the jam on select Friday nights in 2016-17. Maybe you won't always play "in the pocket", but that’s not the point – it’s about our journey. Together, we’ll make music in a sacred space and create something new and meaningful as we mark the week’s end and the arrival of Shabbat.

Let's jam on Friday, May 26, at 6:30 p.m.! The Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat service is free, but pre-registration is required – please take a quick minute to sign up below.

Mark your calendar for all of the Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat dates:
October 28, November 25, January 27, February 24, March 24, April 28, May 26, June 23, July 28, August 25

Announcing Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat!

Facebook_FusionFridayKabbalatShabbatBeginning in 2014, the CBS community has gathered on the third Friday of each month to welcome Shabbat with uplifting song. This spirited 3rd Friday Musical Kabbalat Shabbat service has grown in popularity over the past two years, providing its many participants with a transformative experience that is as moving as it is joyful.

This year, CBS is proud to announce Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, an exciting new iteration of our 3rd Friday series!

Led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, the Shir Hashirim EnsembleHazzan Richard Kaplan, violinist Lila Sklar, and Sheldon Brown (on clarinet, flute, saxophone, and bass clarinet) – will provide participants with an exquisite Friday night service featuring Jewish sacred music from around the world and drawn from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi traditions. Each Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat will incorporate contemplative prayer, a Jewish/Turkish/Sufi zikr, klezmer and jazz accents, and beautiful Zoharic teachings and meditations by our own Rabbi Glazer. The prayer leaders, music, spirit, and ideas of the Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat series make the vital passage between the rest of the week and Shabbat the extraordinary experience that it should be! Shabbat is a gift. We hope you will celebrate it with us!

Let's sing together on Friday, May 19! The Fusion Friday service is free, but pre-registration is required – please take a quick minute to sign up below.

Welcoming Shabbat Nachamu

Sadly, the time has come for us to bid our all-star Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster, a fond adieu.

For eight weeks this summer, Claire was a welcome addition to the CBS team. Without exception, every member of the CBS staff was very impressed with her and pleased with the work she did. As Rabbi Glazer wrote, "Claire was a pleasure to work with – responsive, responsible, and Jewishly knowledgeable and curious. Her ability to juggle multiple tasks and manage her time is noteworthy as are her people skills. This bodes well for future service in the Jewish community and beyond!"

We wish Claire the very best, and hope to see more of her since she'll just be across the Bay at Mills College. Fortunately for us, she is sharing one final blog contribution, this one about Shabbat Nachamu (August 20).

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Facebook_ModehAni_ClaireThis summer, I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Congregation Beth Sholom through the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn internship. I worked in different departments here at CBS, which allowed me to gain perspective into different types of work — from accounting to communications. I really enjoyed getting to know my coworkers and the CBS community. Thank you to everyone who helped to make my time here full of growth!

Did you know that this coming Shabbat is a special one?

Shabbat Nachamu begins this Friday evening, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. Just yesterday, Tisha B’Av brought a period of intense mourning for many losses, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. However, on Shabbat Nachamu we make a complete shift, focusing instead on hope, healing, and light. Although we fasted and had no celebrations on Tisha B’Av, we have celebrations and weddings after Shabbat Nachamu.

Shabbat Nachamu also begins the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah — marking the start of a journey towards teshuvah and repentance. Despite our feelings of brokenness on Tisha B’Av, these seven weeks symbolize completeness, reminiscent of the seven days of the week or the seven days of shiva. For these next seven weeks, we read a weeky haftarah that provides comfort. On Shabbat Nachamu, we begin the haftarah with the line "Nachamu nachamu ami yomer eloheim," which means "You all comfort, comfort My people, says G-d" (Isaiah 40:1). In other words, "Come together and comfort each other and you will heal."

How does our tradition expect us to suddenly turn from complete mourning, loss, and destruction to comfort, healing, and hope — what really has changed? How many of us actually have the ability to just change our focus when we feel despair? And where does pain go?

In Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, he relates a Hindu parable about a student who frequently complained. To teach her student a lesson, the master told her to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. It tasted bitter. Then, the master told her student to drop the salt into the lake and taste it again. Now, the salt was diluted and the water tasted fresh. At this, the master told her apprentice, "The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things... Stop being a glass. Become a lake" (Nepo 18). On Shabbat Nachamu, we are called to become a lake. Although pain may always exist, we expand our perspective to include infinite sorrows and joys.

No matter the roadblocks, we can possess extensive gratitude — and those "roadblocks" can become "stepping stones" to learning something new. The Hebrew expression for gratitude is "hikarat hatov," literally, "recognizing the good." Each of us has many things to be thankful for — no matter what. In Pirkei Avot, it states, "Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own lot" (Pirkei Avot 4:1). In this way, our choices are what determine our outlook — and that is the wisdom of Shabbat Nachamu.

Artwork credit & note: Claire Ambruster, Modeh Ani, Watercolor on paper, 2015; Claire wanted this piece to accompany her article because the title and first words of our morning prayer, "Modeh ani," mean "I give thanks." That sentiment (and the practice of reciting the Modeh Ani with intention) can help us "become a lake."

A Personal Reflection on Halacha

In early July, we introduced our Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster, to the community with a thoughtful article she wrote for the CBS blog. Today, we're pleased to share Claire's second blog contribution, "A Personal Reflection on Halacha," which is accompanied by her lovely artwork.

Yes, indeed, Claire is one talented intern!

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ClaireAmbruster_Artwork1Like many modern Jews, my practice requires that I embrace a quintessential Jewish struggle. I struggle to reconcile my commitment to religious observance with my commitment to egalitarian values. I also desire to practice regularly and spontaneously.

I recently learned of a Kabbalistic teaching written by Rabbi Hayyim Vital in Sha’ar HaGilgulim. He writes (11:12) that each soul is intrinsically connected to a unique mitzvah. It is the mission of each person to perfect that one act. While practicing all 613 mitzvot also engages the soul, Vital writes that we are most responsible for perfecting our individual, "root" mitzvah.

The idea that one mitzvah is uniquely connected to our soul does not mean we must ignore the other 612, but it does mean that some of the mitzvot might not come naturally, authentically, or easily for individual Jews. We can learn and grow by grappling with even the most personally-challenging mitzvot, but we learn and grow in an equally valuable manner by practicing mitzvot at our own pace, in a way that feels meaningful. Halacha is a living, individual experience.

Recently, I became inspired to expand my Shabbat observance. Although I had not developed a regular Shabbat practice, I attempted to observe one Shabbat completely according to halacha (no driving, no phone or computer, no cooking, etc.). It didn’t exactly work. While parts of the experience were meaningful – especially the break from my computer screen! – my high expectations of a "perfect" Shabbat became a little overwhelming. For me, focusing too much on the "rules" distracted me from my original kavanot (intentions). For the next Shabbat, I vowed to focus more on the basics – to light candles, spend time with family and friends, to rest, and renew.

This struggle between halacha and spontaneity, between tradition and change, is one I choose to embrace. With respect to halacha, I find a kind of magic in speaking ancient prayers and honoring words that have been spoken l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation. There is a magic in connecting to my Jewish family, bound together by the rituals we practice. Yet I sometimes find that focusing on halachic practices can distract from my true desires and kavanot. For now, my goal is to find a balance, stay true to myself, and continuously learn and discover.

Artwork credit & note: Claire Ambruster, Shiru L'Adonai, Watercolor on paper, 2015; Claire wanted this piece to accompany her article because Shiru L'Adonai, or "singing a new song," "references the theme of finding a balance between change and tradition."

Matot/Massei -- Numbers 30:2 - 36:13

Facebook_CoverDesign_MatotMasseiParashat Matot

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), a German-born Swiss author, once remarked: "Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin."

Hesse’s universal vision of human enlightenment requires us to transcend our worldly boundaries. Ironically, religion is sometimes responsible for the very divisions that hinder transcendence into a spiritual realm.

As we read this week in Parashat Matot, Moses divides up the community according to tribes, assigning land and leadership roles accordingly as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land. The Torah provides two names for the twelve tribes of Israel, both derived from the imagery of the tree: shevatim and matot. While a shevet is a "branch," a mateh is a "staff"—the former attached to the tree, the other detached. In other words, a mateh is a shevet that has been uprooted from its tree.

The twelve tribes embody this tension between unity and division. Eager to settle in plots east of the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh, demand these plots as their portion in the Promised Land. Moses, initially angered by this special request, subsequently agrees—on the condition that they join and lead Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.

Today, we continue to face this tension in our modern Jewish tribe. We struggle between mateh and shevet Judaism, between denominationalism and unity, and between Conservative Judaism and "Just Jewish."

Both of these perennial tendencies of creating and grouping community are part of the Tree of Jewish communal Life; the question is how we strike a balance between our need for ideological affinity within a given denomination and the need to be a part of a unified peoplehood.

Parashat Massei

William Henry Ashley (1778-1838), an American congressman and fur trader, once described the pace of his trapping expeditions: "As my men could profitably employ themselves on these streams, I moved slowly along, averaging not more than five or six miles per day and sometimes remained two days at the same encampment."

If the pace of Ashley’s journey seems slow, consider that of the Israelites. Along the way to the Promised Land—from the Exodus to the plains of Moab across the river from the land of Canaan — the Israelites record forty-two station stops in encampments. As we approached our destination, the boundaries of the Promised Land were traced, and more importantly, Cities of Refuge were designated as havens, places of exile for inadvertent murderers. (How telling that the Cities of Refuge, which are an advanced institution dedicated to creating civil society and thus protecting it from the circle of bloodshed that comes with revenge, are referred to time after time in Scripture – here in Numbers as well as in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.)

In the final surveying of laws relating to the land, we confronted the issue of inheritance head-on. The daughters of Tzelafochad — as proto-feminists — decide to marry within their own tribe of Manasseh to ensure that the estate which they inherit from their father should not pass to the province of another tribe.

Throughout the parsha, the land ultimately serves as a horizontal platform for action, one that always binds us in a vertical relationship to what is right, just, and compassionate – the divine. Just as we journey across lands here on earth, we must not forget the journey of the soul.

Although journeys on land may be long and treacherous, there is no greater journey than the turn inwards. Each Shabbat, we are offered this chance to slow down and share in this ongoing spiritual journey with our community.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is concerned with "worldly boundaries," the lines we etch into or lay over the landscape to demarcate property and/or spheres of influence. "When you arrive in the land of Canaan, this is the land which shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders." (Numbers 34:2) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Special Message From Rabbi Glazer

NiceFranceHaving personally delivered a sefer Torah as part of a Masorti Olami mission with my former congregation to seed the newly formed Maayan Or in Nice, France, I once again write to our CBS communal family with a heavy heart. Following Thursday evening’s attack in Nice that left at least 80 dead and countless others injured, CBS, along with the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, released the following statement:

We are stunned and horrified by this latest terrorist attack in France. That this devastating attack came on Bastille Day, a national holiday celebrating liberty, magnifies its horror. Our prayers and sympathies to the families of the victims and the wounded as we once again stand in solidarity with the French people.

We join the international community in condemning this senseless attack, we pray for healing for those wounded, and we demand that all those responsible be brought to justice.

Join us this Shabbat at CBS for healing as we invoke the Hashkiveinu prayer, "May God protect our comings and goings for life and peace, now and forever."

May the memories of the victims be a blessing to those who loved and cherished them, to all of France and to all who seek peace.

Please consider supporting the healing efforts of our brothers and sisters in France here: https://masortiolami.org/one-time-donation/

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer