Member Profile : Willy Waks

Today, we invite you to meet (or reconnect) with congregant Willy Waks.

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How long have you been a member of Beth Sholom?
Six years.

How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
Five-and-a-half years now.

Where are you from originally?
France, then Israel, then Dallas. That's the short version, at least!

What kind of work do you do?
I'm retired from my work in IT (Information Technology).

Do you have any hobbies or other pursuits that are important to you? If so, what?
Yes. Road and mountain biking, and also swimming in the Bay (to or from Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge).

What’s your favorite movie, book, or album? Why?
The movie that impressed me most was They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. It's about the plight and injustices inflicted by greed and selfishness.

What’s your most meaningful Jewish memory?
My first son David's bar mitzvah. It was a costume party on Shushan Purim, which can happen only in Jerusalem!

What, if anything, makes Beth Sholom special for you?
Beth Sholom has the right mix of tradition and open mindedness. I enjoy coming and participating in services.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the community?
I already miss Rabbi Glazer. I am sad that he is leaving us.

Photo: Willy is pictured in Dallas, Texas, with his son, David, a Lieutenant in the Dallas Fire Department.

Take Us Out To The Ball Game!

ChristopherOrevReigerNoahPhilippDaleKleisleyKatherineFreidmanBarboniAdinahRatner_SFGiantsJewishHeritageNight_August2016It's that time of the year again!

CBS invites you to join your fellow congregants and other members of the Bay Area Jewish community for San Francisco Giants Jewish Heritage Night on Monday, August 21.


This annual celebration of Jewish identity and heritage is always a home run of fun, and this year the fellas in black and orange need our cheers more than ever! Our beloved Giants are struggling to keep their post-season aspirations alive, and our supportive voices are needed to help Buster, Madison, and company take on a group of Midwestern beer makers (a.k.a., the Milwaukee Brewers) in what may well be an important late-season game.

We'll be sitting in Lower Box Section 135 (Left Field), with an unimpeded view of all the on-field action. This year, as last, we're offering two ticket packages.

The $36 event package includes:
- 1 seat in the CBS section (Lower Box 135 - Left Field) for the game (begins at 7:15 p.m.)
- A collector's-edition, Lou Seal bobble head with a shofar (produced by the SF Giants)
- Admission to the Jewish Heritage Night Pregame Party, 5 - 7 p.m. in Parking Lot A, just across McCovey Cove. (Live entertainment and food/drink specials will be available for purchase during the pregame party, with proceeds partially benefiting local charitable programs in the Jewish community.)

The $50 event package includes:
- All of the above, plus one of our CBS community spirit t-shirts! (See front and back of shirt below. Click on the image to see a larger view.)
Facebook_SFGiantsPromo

ORDER YOUR TICKET(S) BELOW. (Alternatively, you can drop off cash or check in the CBS office. If drop off payment, please email Beth Jones, or call 415.940.7092, to let us know what size t-shirts you would like to reserve. Sizes available are Adult M, L, and XL and Youth XS, S, M, L, and XL.)

Dance The Pain Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to the Executive Order on Migration and Refugees

SS-St-LouisThis Shabbat, from 11 – 11:45 a.m., please join us for a special bimah dialogue featuring Rabbi Glazer, Dr. Lindsay Gifford (Assistant Professor of International Studies and Anthropology, University of San Francisco), and Vlad Khaykin (Associate Director for the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco).

As the world faces the most severe refugee crisis since World War II, affecting tens of millions of displaced people, the current administration signed an Executive Order that halts U.S. refugee resettlement efforts. In solidarity with many leading American Jewish organizations, all arms of the Conservative movement released an official statement condemning the presidential order and calling upon Jews everywhere to advocate for the rights of immigrants and reject the targeting of any individual based on their religion.

In this Shabbat discussion, Rabbi Glazer, Lindsay, and Vlad will explore the urgency of the refugee crisis, how it relates to Jewish values and shared history, weigh security concerns and the refugee vetting process, and look at how tradition teaches us to responsibly respond to these challenges with the ethical imperative "not to stand idly by as the blood of your brother is at stake" (Leviticus 19:16).

Please join us. The interactive discussion will take place from 11 – 11:40 a.m., and will be preceded by our full Torah service (beginning at 9:40 a.m.

Lindsay Gifford is Assistant Professor of International Studies and Anthropology at the University of San Francisco. She has worked on Middle Eastern migration and refugee issues for the past decade, including with members of the Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, and Lebanese communities, with field research experience in Syria, Jordan, and the transnational Middle Eastern Diaspora. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Boston University and was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UCLA. She also volunteers with refugee resettlement agencies in the US, and is a member of GenR, a professional advocacy group for the International Rescue Committee.

Vlad J. Khaykin is a former Jewish refugee and Associate Director for the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco. He holds a degree in Economics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and graduate degrees in non-profit management and Near East and Jewish Studies from Brandeis University, where he focused on Jewish-Muslim relations and the history of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim migrant xenophobia.

Image credit: Jewish refugees aboard the German liner, St. Louis, June 29, 1939. (Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images/via JTA)

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!

Kezayit: Kitniyot

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Kitniyot2CBS prides itself on the relatively diverse make-up of our community but, like the majority of synagogues in the United States, most of our members identify as Ashkenazim or subscribe to Ashkenazi minhag (custom). For observant Ashkenazi Jews, Pesach (Passover) dietary restrictions are especially onerous. Like other Jews, Ashkenazim refrain from eating hametz (leavened foods) during Passover, but they also eschew kitniyot, a catch-all term used to describe rice, corn, soy beans, peas, lentils, and many seeds. All of these foods are off limits for Ashkenaz Jews during Pesach.

In recent years, there's been much debate about the kitniyot minhag. Should Jews of Ashkenaz provenance continue to practice the prohibition? Or is it high time we put tofu on our Pesach menu? Let's unpack this a bit...and maybe settle any disputes occurring in your kitchens.

First, the ban on kitniyot was only codified in the 16th century; it's a relatively recent minhag. There are competing explanations for its origin, but the general consensus is that rabbis were concerned that European Jews would mistake a hametz flour for a grain flour, thereby unintentionally violating halacha. The rabbis banned anything and everything that might confuse Jews during the holiday. Today, when we can easily tell the difference, is there really any need for the custom to continue?

Second, it's important to remember that minhagim should not be confused with mitzvot. A minhag is not part of written or oral law, and might be widely practiced (e.g., the kitniyot prohibition) or confined to one particular family (e.g., that goofy thing your bubbe did that your dad does and you've started doing, too). Perhaps not surprisingly, many Jews prioritize minhag over halacha, especially if the custom was practiced by their grandparents and parents. You know the score – tradition!

But even the most strict among us should keep the principle of minhag avoteinu beyadeinu ("the minhag of our forefathers remains in our hands") in mind. Even if you're reluctant to reconsider long-held customs, our rabbis are doing just that. On December 24, 2015, the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law & Standards adopted two Responsa (sheelot u-teshuvot,) concerning kitniyot. You can read the full papers here and here, but the summaries are supplied below.

The first of the two responsa was authored by Rabbi David Golinkin, the President of The Schechter Institutes and Past President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he currently serves as Professor of Jewish Law. Rabbi Golinkin's paper does not include a formal psak, but concludes that the kitniyot minhag should be eliminated. It was adopted by a vote of 15-3-4.

The second responsa was authored by Rabbis Amy Levin and Avram Reisner, the Interim Rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom (Bridgeport, CT) and Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek (Baltimore, MD), respectively. Their paper was adopted by a vote of 19-1-2. The concluding psak of this rabbinic Responsa is: "In order to bring down the cost of making Pesach and support the healthier diet that is now becoming more common, and given the inapplicability today of the primary concerns that seem to have led to the custom of prohibiting kitniyot, and further, given our inclination in our day to present an accessible Judaism unencumbered by unneeded prohibitions, more easily able to participate in the culture that surrounds us, we are prepared to rely on the fundamental observance recorded in the Talmud and codes and permit the eating of kitniyot on Pesach."

It's none of our business what goes on in your kitchen or dining room, but we encourage you to feast on kitniyot this Pesach...if you want to.