Introducing David Agam, CBS Youth Advisor

FacebookDavidAgamCBS is pleased to introduce our new Youth Advisor, David Agam.

David recently wrote an open letter to our USY, Kadima, and Shabbat School families. We’re sharing it here so that the CBS community at large can have an opportunity to learn a bit more about David.


Shalom, CBS community!

I am honored and privileged to begin working with your children as the Youth Group Advisor for USY and Kadima. I have been working at CBS as a teacher for years. I’ve always felt a sense of community and belonging here, and I am committed to seeing this congregation thrive. I look forward to meeting you, your children, and family, or getting to know you even better than I already do in the coming months. I am excited by the potential and opportunity our young members have to grow and learn from one another.

In this globally tumultuous time, it is especially important to remember that, particularly in the U.S., our Jewish identity persists through the generations particularly when our youth derive a sense of meaning and purpose from their Jewish experiences, when they develop a strong connection with Jewish roots, values, and ideals. I passionately urge your children to join Kadima or USY, to help see that the future of not just our congregation and the Bay Area Jewish community remains vital, but so that our Jewish practice and peoplehood remain solid and steady in the coming decades and beyond.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or ideas at

See you soon!

The Financial Four -- November 30, 2016

Today, the latest edition of The Financial Four, an update from our Interim Director of Finance, Missy Sue Mastel.

Miss me?

Well, not to worry; things have been hopping around the synagogue, so much so that I haven’t had a moment to do my favorite part of the job – updating YOU, our generous community! But there's lots of good news to share, so let's get to it.

1. Our 2015-16 financials are in the bag. – Closing out the year presented a few challenges, but we were able to get our financials done and through the audit by September; a noble timeframe. The auditors were happy, the bank was happy, and the financials are available to anyone who wants to see them.

2. An unbelievable High Holiday season. – There is very little we could do without you, but this is particularly true of the High Holy Days. The services at CBS this year – joyous, moving, meaningful – were successful because of you. Now, following the High Holiday season, I’m in the fortunate position of seeing just how much you value our services and community experiences: $748,000 in membership dues, $238,000 in Kol Nidre pledges, and more and more of you coming to events all the time! Speaking of...

3. All the ways we celebrate together. – The Americana Jam Band Kabbalat Shabbat was packed this past Friday evening with congregants and amazing performers. The upcoming Hanukkah celebration (Light It Up!, December 15), our b'nai mitzvah and birthday celebrations (mazel tov on your 85th, Norm!), the December 6 new member event, which looks like it is officially "sold out" — all of these are ways we use the synagogue to connect as a community. CBS is not just charity that its members support. CBS is a place to see and rejoice with people we love to see and rejoice with.

4. But, yes, it is ALSO a charity. – We are doing some amazing things with the money you generously donate: we are focusing on improving efficiencies and workflows; finding better ways to engage you, our prized members; and utilizing technology that is creating a better customer experience. Starting this month, a select group of you will be receiving membership statements via email. In the next few months, we will be enabling powerful systems to allow you to make donations from wherever you are. Just imagine it – you see something happening in your world, and CBS can be an instantaneous part of your reaction. You can learn more about it by registering for a class, or you can make a donation that will help combat anti-Semitism, enable a community Israel opportunity, or sponsor a child’s Jewish heritage – all of this while you're on the go, boarding at an airport, in a ride share, or between meetings. We want to be wherever you are.

So...on that note, no need to miss me too much! Stop by the synagogue any time, and let’s discuss all the ways that you and I can make this place sing!

Missy Sue

Dr. E.M. Weitz Breakfast Club -- December 11

ethicalwillOn Sunday, December 11, at 9 a.m., please join Rabbi Aubrey Glazer and CBS congregant and writer, Joan Gelfand, for a workshop on ethical wills. Bring pen and journal to be part of this interactive workshop.

"My father is not dead. My father is a book, and books do not die." What the late Elie Wiesel captured in a few words speaks to us all – the need to find a way to express our values and pass them on to the next generation through an ethical will (in Hebrew, Zava'ah).

An ethical will is a love letter from one generation to the next, hand crafted to pass ethical values l'dor va'dor. In the process of writing an ethical will, each of us is asked to confront the essential truths we have learned as individuals in a lifetime and consider what really counts. Jews from all walks of life have continued to write ethical wills during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the practice goes all the way back to Jacob gathering his children around his bedside, trying to teach them how to live after he is gone. Each of us has wisdom of experience that is unique and worthy of passing on to the next generation.

The Breakfast Club currently meets four times each year on a Sunday with an informal talk on topics of interest to the Jewish community. Speakers have included many community leaders of the San Francisco Jewish Community, along with members of CBS. Meetings are held at 9:00 a.m. and start with a delicious breakfast.

Cost: $80 per couple or $40 per individual for all four meetings; $15 for single session drop-in. You can pay on the day-of or drop off your payment at the CBS Administrative Office during business hours.

Image credit: Photograph by Flickr user Adrian Clark (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Stories A Poem From The Minyan

The beating heart of CBS is our minyan.

We are the only synagogue in the Bay Area with a twice-daily, egalitarian minyan, one in which women and men play equal roles. Morning and evening, we join as one in the intimate Gronowski Family Chapel and carry on our rich tradition of communal worship. We come together to daven (pray) for personal and collective edification, but also because it’s important to us that we are there for every person who wants to pray or mourn, recite Kaddish, or recall the anniversary of a loved one’s passing with communal support.

Ours in a large community, however, and many CBS congregants have not participated in morning or evening minyan services. As a result, not everyone knows how special an experience it is.

With that in mind, we’d like to share the following poem with you, which congregant Stuart Blecher pointed us to shortly before the High Holy Days. The poem's author is Howard Simon, a Bay Area singer-songwriter, businessman, and the Board President of Lehrhaus Judaica. Howard is a member of Congregation Ner Tamid, but he is also a regular participant in our daily morning minyan.

facebook_theark_poemillustrationThe Ark

Ezekiel saw wonders
Wheels of fire, thrones that glistened
Like a thousand suns on the water
But I see only an ark
The upturned sides of this seafaring place
Of this building strong as an ocean

And this small simple room
That sits quietly at her prow
Is a tugboat
And we are the mariners
That each day lead her safely to the sea

And like Noah, the greatest sailor of all
We know how to navigate these shoals
How to save what must be saved
How to keep alive what otherwise would die
In these rough and forgetful waters

But when we are moored
Each kaddish that flows from our mouths and our hearts
Leads the ones we loved
Another step up the ramp and into shelter
Preserving not only their memories
But all those who follow
Even to the tenth generation

And thus we sail
Each day redeeming the world
One floating soul
At a time.

We're a little biased, but we feel the poem beautifully captures the vitally of our minyanim.

Please consider joining us for minyan — and, one day, you’ll have some of your own stories (or poems) to share with the community!

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!

* * * * *

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."

Announcing The Gathering Essay Competition

TheGathering1CBS is delighted to announce an exciting cultural and learning opportunity for families in our community!

Playwright Arje Shaw is generously sponsoring an essay writing competition for CBS teenagers (at or around b'nai mitzvah age). Shaw invites teens who are interested in participating to attend his critically-acclaimed play, The Gathering, during its upcoming run at The Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley (July 21 - August 20, 2016).

After watching the play, participants should write an essay (1,000 - 1,500 words) about how practicing remembrance and tolerance can improve the future for all people. This essay should be composed in conversation/collaboration with parents and other family members.

TheGathering2Although The Gathering deals with the Shoah, the teenage essayists will present their compositions to the congregation during Sukkot 5777 (October 17-18, 2016). Why Sukkot instead of, say, Yom HaShoah? Shaw hopes the process of writing the essay will prompt the participating teens to thoughtfully consider their heritage and how best to honor it (l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation), and the mystical tradition of inviting ushpizin, ancestral "guests," into the sukkah to share space with us is pertinent.

Following the public presentation of the essays, Rabbi Glazer will announce which of the entries he and a committee of CBS member judges deems most resonant. Shaw will make a $1,000 donation to CBS in the author's name.

Shaw notes that The Gathering wasn't written just for himself. It is, as he puts it, "an expression of neshamah, a soulful thank you to my parents for all their sacrifices to rebuild their lives in securing a future for their children. We all have had people in our lives who made that happen, and The Gathering is a tribute to them."

We think that Shaw's essay competition will provide some of our CBS teens with their own opportunity to offer such a tribute.

Photo credits: The Gathering production photos by