Vayeira — Genesis 18:12–2:24

To reach the place of infinite earthly delight – that is the true destination of almost any traveler. The essentials that were once needed for any journey and are nowadays taken for granted appear to be alluded to in this week’s reading.

"Abraham planted a tamarisk [eshel] at Be’er Sheva and invoked the divine name there of YHVH, the everlasting God." (Genesis 21:33) While Abraham seeks to find ways to make manifest the divine name, notice the shift that takes place here, whereby Abraham is no longer constructing altars (as he is in Genesis 12:7-8 or 13:4). Now, he is cultivating an orchard whose foundation is the "tamarisk" [eshel].

This tree has many layers as a symbol within the narrative. Early on in the rabbinic imagination, the "tamarisk" [E”SHeL] was read as something more than a pagan site of nature worship; instead, it was understood as an acronym for eating [AEkhilah], drinking [SHtiya], and accompanying [Levayah] another on the first leg of any journey. The tree then fits into the narrative of radical hospitality offered by Abraham to the three wayfarers who approach his tent. One of the three announces that Sarah will give birth to a son in exactly one year, to which she can only laugh.

Later in the narrative, as the remaining two angels arrive in the doomed city of Sodom, Abraham pleads with God to spare the city. Finally and most famously, Abraham’s faith is tested when he is commanded to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), where Isaac is bound upon the altar. As Abraham raises his knife to slaughter his son, a heavenly voice intercedes. Therefore, in stark contrast to the hospitality shown to wayfaring strangers, here Isaac is bound and suddenly unbound only because a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns, is offered in Isaac’s stead. Never has there been so much complexity to a patriarchal figure, and this make-up runs on through the family lineage – the thread of our peoplehood.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork calls to mind a grove of trees with a starry night beyond, perhaps the orchard of tamarisks cultivated by Abraham. In fact, the colors and forms are based on the microscopic cells, vessels, and pores one sees when viewing a tissue slice of Tamarix aphylla, the species of tamarisk tree likely referenced in Parashat Vayeira. Looking at such an image, we vacillate between macro and micro world interpretations; the world within is reflected in the world without, and vice versa – our living Torah. Vayeira! And He appeared! Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Aliyah Baruch's Bat Mitzvah

AliyahBaruchMy name is Aliyah Baruch. I attend Aptos Middle School and I am in the seventh grade. I like playing soccer, hanging out with my friends and family, taking care of animals, and traveling.

On April 22, I will have my bat mitzvah. It is a big milestone in my life that I will be sharing with people from many parts of the world, including San Francisco, Israel, Las Vegas, and New York. No matter how near or far away my guests travel from, I am so thankful that they will share this important day with me.

I think that your bat mitzvah will stay with you for your whole life; it won’t just be forgotten the day after you’re called to the Torah. My parsha talks about how Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, set an alien fire and got struck down because G-d did not instruct them to make the fire. Some rabbis have other opinions about why G-d struck them down; perhaps "they wanted to rise within the priestly rankings and overthrow Moses and Aaron." But I don’t think that is the case. I think the story of Nadav and Avihu is an example of good intentions that backfired because they wanted to be more involved but went about it in the wrong way.

I want to thank my mom and my dad, my brother Myles, my grandparents, and all my cousins, aunts, and uncles for all the love and support they have shown me. I also want to give a special thanks to Rabbi Aubrey Glazer for his help and Noa Bar for giving me the gift of Torah and teaching me how it relates to everyday life. Finally, I want to thank Congregation Beth Sholom for teaching me Hebrew and Jewish learning as well as being the place where I made so many great friendships.

Israel Mission Remembrance (I)

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.

Beginning today, we'll occasionally share participant remembrances on the blog. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.

We're kicking this series off with a lovely note from congregants Robert and Irene Minkowsky.


Facebook_IsraelMission_GroupPhoto_Jerusalem
We came as a group of 30 or so with Rabbi Glazer, some of us totally virgin to Israel and this part of the world.

Avraham Silver, our primary guide, gave us a rich window into the history – or should we say, the memory and spirituality – of our people and into this land of honey and grapes, mountains and valleys, springs and seas, culture, language, architecture, and creativity.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv flanked for us a journey of a lifetime.

We bounced – thanks to our driver, Yosi – over rocky roads, both inland and by the coast (eretz to yam), and moved through narrow streets. We saw the tips of the land, north and east, bordering Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, trying to understanding the borders where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) watch from jeeps idling between mine fields.

We think we may understand now the old and the new, the religious and the secular, the rabbis and the Zionists, the Declaration of Independence and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Yet, as Avraham tells us, the conflict does not define the country; life and beauty define Israel, really.

Facebook_IsraelMission_WortzmanTalk_IsraelMuseum_JerusalemWe got a glimpse into the secrets, the magical, the miraculous survival from the fires, the anti-Semitism, the pogroms, the camps, the isolate dunes.

We saw the proud and beautiful new generations climbing Masada, defending the streets, educating the young, and supporting the aged. We floated in the salt of the Dead Sea and hummed tunes of hope. It was sometimes hard to believe we were alive in the land of our ancestors.

We are about to turn a new leaf in our book, one that includes Israel in every breath of our being. We embrace this exciting new passage in our lives, ready to explore more – so much more! – in the future.

Todah rabbah, Avraham. Todah rabbah, Da’at Educational Expeditions, and to Yosi, our Da'at guide, for the knowledge, the physical experience, and the memories you imparted us. Thank you, Rabbi Glazer, for making it the trip a reality for us, and for adding your knowledge and inspiration.

Make no mistake of it, as Avraham would say, we will be back! We leave our hearts in Israel.

With love and gratitude,
Irene and Robert (Minkowsky) Facebook_IsraelMission_GroupPhoto2_Jerusalem

Shana Cohen's Bat Mitzvah

Facebook_ShanaCohenHello! Hej! Jambo! Hola! שלום! Bonjour! Hallo! Helló!

My name is Shana Cohen, and I am a third generation San Franciscan and a student at Gateway Middle School. I like soccer (I play on SF Sol), reading, spending time with family and friends, animals, horseback riding, art, and being creative. I am bilingual – I speak both Swedish and English – as well as bicultural. I especially enjoy traveling, and have been fortunate to spend summers in Sweden with my family, and to travel and meet people around the globe. Wherever I go, I make friends and have experiences that I will always remember. So many people from my life have made an impact on me that has contributed to my journey towards reaching the age of mitzvot.

On February 25th, I will have my bat mitzvah, a changing point in my life. I will be sharing it with friends and family from many parts of the world including California, Sweden, Germany, and Kenya. No matter how far (or near) you came from, I am so thankful you are here to share this day with me and my family.

In this week's parsha, we learn that all Jews, rich and poor alike, were required to contribute half a shekel for the Mishkan. You will learn more about Parashat Mishpatim during the Torah service, which includes my d’var Torah.

The maftir that I will read describes a census taken of the children of Israel. Everyone over the age of 20 is required to give half a shekel to restore the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a portable structure used until the Temple was built in Jerusalem. The Israelites could bring sacrifices to redeem for sins or express thanks. Later, in the Torah portion Ki Tissa, God calls Moses to Mount Sinai to get the commandments. Meanwhile, the people became impatient and worried. As a result, they make a golden calf to have a substitute for God. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai he sees the calf and breaks the tablets. God punishes the Israelites by making them drink the gold of the golden calf. Moses is mad but tells God to give them a second chance. He then returns to Mount Sinai to receive a new set of tablets.

I want to thank my mamma and pappa, my brother Ari, all my grandparents, and the rest of my family and friends. I also want to give special thanks to Rabbi Aubrey Glazer and Noa Bar for instilling in me the gift of Torah, and connecting it to my everyday life. I also want to thank Congregation Beth Sholom for supporting my ongoing Jewish education, and the opportunity to create lifelong friendships.

It will be my pleasure to see you at CBS this Shabbat.

Arlo Novicoff's Bar Mitzvah

Facebook_ArloNovicoffShalom, my name is Arlo Novicoff. I’m a 7th grader at A.P. Giannini Middle School. In my free time, I like to play sports and hang out in the city with my family and friends. I’m interested in traveling, good food, history, and math. This coming Shabbat, February 11, I will become a bar mitzvah.

In my parsha, Beshalach, Pharaoh frees the Israelites and they journey to the Promised Land. As they approach the Red Sea, Pharoah regrets his decision to release them and commands his army to bring the Israelites back as slaves. With Pharaoh's army behind them, the Israelites cry out to God and fear that they will be captured. Moses reassures the Israelites of God’s support by splitting the Red Sea, and they all cross to safety. Although the Israelites are now free, their journey is far from over. They face new challenges along the way, like lack of food, lack of water, and lack of confidence in themselves. Moses once again reassures the Israelites and God provides for them. As we conclude the parsha, the Amalekites attack the vulnerable Israelites and Joshua leads a small army to defend them.

I want to recognize my family who have supported me on this exciting journey. I would like to thank my bar mitzvah tutor, Noa Bar, for teaching me to chant Torah and haftarah trope and to Rabbi Glazer for helping me to prepare my d’var Torah - the discussions and focus were much appreciated. Thank you to Judy and the Chicken Soupers team, who welcomed me during my volunteer days in the CBS kitchen over the course of this past year – it has really opened me up to the realities some elderly people face in our city. Lastly, I’d like to thank the entire CBS community for being there for me from preschool until now. I look forward to seeing many of you next week at CBS!

Kezayit: Wall To Wall

Facebook_PlacingNoteInWallClose_YomHaAtzmautCelebration_May2016What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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When we reported on the delightfully fun Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration that took place at CBS on Sunday, May 15, we highlighted the handiwork of our talented CBS Family Preschool students:

"Outside, in Eva Gunther Plaza, congregants of all ages added personal aspirations and prayers to an amazing replica of the Western Wall made by the CBS Family Preschool Pre-K class. The students were inspired by photos of the Western Wall as well as memories and stories shared by children in the class who have visited the actual wall in Jerusalem. (The notes added to the replica wall yesterday will soon be carried to the actual Western Wall and placed there!)"

Indeed, this winter, during the Bay Area Conservative/Masorti Mission To Israel (December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017), Rabbi Glazer will deliver all of the notes placed in the replica wall by members of the CBS community to the Kotel. (Todah rabbah, Rabbi!)

So why do we Jews have a tradition of inserting notes into the Kotel? Because the Western Wall is the last remaining remnant of the Second Temple, it is itself venerated as a sacred icon by many Jews -- some even believe it is a direct conduit to G-d -- and the handwritten notes placed in the wall's cracks are prayers or requests made to or of HaShem. Even non-Jews place personal entreaties in the wall, and it's become something of a requisite stop for foreign visitors to Israel, especially political figures.

Facebook_PlacingNoteInWall2_YomHaAtzmautCelebration_May2016According to the Jewish Virtual Library, "the Wall has been a popular place for prayer since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., [and] the earliest example of placing notes at the Western Wall occurred in the mid-16th century. Rabbi Gedaliah of Semitzi visited Jerusalem and the Western Wall in 1699 and wrote the first recorded evidence of prayers being written down and left in the cracks of the Wall. The Wall became a popular destination during the 19th century as technology afforded more people the ability to travel the globe."

Fortunately, even if you're not a world traveler, you can place a note in the Western Wall. You can take advantage of services like that offered by Orthodox outreach organization Aish HaTorah, which allow people who can not visit Jerusalem in person to type in messages that are then printed and placed in the Western Wall by an Aish representative. Alternatively, you can add a note to the replica created by our preschoolers -- the wall is currently installed in the hallway between the synagogue and the preschool -- and know that it will find a home in the actual Western Wall later this year. Our preschoolers recommend this latter option!

Finally, we leave you with a joke: Every year, Shlomo visits the Kotel to place his special appeal in one of the wall's cracks. His petition reads, "HaShem, please help me win the lottery this year." Year after year, however, Shlomo fails to win any lottery prizes. Finally, after many years of this, as Shlomo departs from the Kotel, he is addressed by G-d. Startled and trembling on his knees, Shlomo looks toward the source of the incorporeal voice and asks, "HaShem, what do you ask of your humble servant?" G-d replies, "Nudnik, will you go and buy a lottery ticket?"

Travel To Israel With The Intergenerational Communal Family Mission!

DaatHeaderCongregation Beth Sholom and Congregation Kol Shofar invite YOU to join us for an unforgettable Israel adventure!

CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission To Israel 2016
December 22, 2016 - January 2, 2017


The itinerary for this exciting and edifying trip was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider, who worked with Da'at Educational Expeditions to create an adventure that will provide spiritual, emotional, and educational nourishment to each and every participant. Pre- and post-b'nai mitzvah families may be especially interested in the group Torah service at Robinson's Arch in Jerusalem, a remarkable opportunity to celebrate Masorti/Conservative Judaism and Bay Area Jewry in Eretz Yisrael!

The icing on the cake? Abraham Silver, the lecturer who visited CBS in February and proved incredibly popular, will be our tour guide!

Together, we'll visit Jerusalem, the Golan, Tel Aviv, Masada, the Dead Sea, and much more. The complete trip itinerary is available as a digital catalog here and is also viewable as a simple list on the Da'at registration site.

The cost of the trip is $3,179/person, and that includes:
•9 nights of hotel accommodation, with late check-out on last day
•7 days of touring in a luxury, air-conditioned bus with a licensed, English-speaking tour guide
•2 walking tours with an English-speaking guide on Shabbatot
•1 group transfer and assistance from/to the airport
•All site entrance fees and program fees as per itinerary
•Meals: daily breakfast, 3 lunches, and 5 dinners
•Portage at the airport and hotels
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REGISTER NOW FOR THIS EXCITING OPPORTUNITY!

Call the Da'at Customer Service Center:
888-811-2812 x 1

Visit the Da'at website and register online:
Da'at registration page

If you opt to call, please note that Da'at phone lines are open Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time). If you register online, once on the trip's webpage, click the "Register Now" button to finalize your booking online.

In order to finalize registration, all participants will be asked to pay a $300 non-refundable deposit. Final payment is due 60 days prior to departure, and all travel documents (with e-ticket information, if applicable) and contact information will be sent to each participant approximately 3 weeks prior to departure.

Two Exciting Israel Opportunities For Teens

A visit to Israel is a key stepping stone in a Jewish American teenager’s journey of Jewish discovery. As part of Congregation Beth Sholom's ongoing effort to help all Bay Area Jewish teens connect and identify with Jewish peoplehood and practice, we're highlighting two exciting Israel travel opportunities here.

giftofisrael_2014_600x200pxGIFT OF ISRAEL
CBS is one of a number of Bay Area congregations supporting the Jewish Community Federation's Gift of Israel program. Gift of Israel serves Bay Area Jewish families who would like their children to have an affordable opportunity to connect to Israel as teens. Children in 3rd - 7th grades are eligible for enrollment. Sound intriguing? Click through to learn more about this remarkable opportunity!
Insider.Icon.OnwardIsrael
Onward Israel
Bay Area students and young professionals between the ages of 19 - 27 are eligible to apply for Onward Israel, an exciting, Tel Aviv-based internship program. Participants work 4 days/week at a Tel Aviv office and are immersed in contemporary Israeli society one day a week with a cohort of other young adults from the Bay Area. For details, please visit the Onward Israel website.

Julia Yasser, CBS Communications Coordinator, Birthright Trip

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