Yermiyahu Ramos' Bar Mitzvah

Shalom! My name is Yermiyahu Ramos, but you can call me Yehry. I am a seventhgrader at James Lick Middle School and my favorite subject is Spanish. I love to play all kinds of sports, but I most enjoy playing soccer with my friends after school.

This Saturday, December 9, I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. The process of becoming a bar mitzvah has been very exciting. Many at Beth Sholom have said to me that they’ve been waiting a long time for my bar mitzvah. I am always at the Shabbat services and enjoy them going to them very much.

For my tzedakah project, all the money I will receive will go the Yad Eliezer project that helps the poor in Israel and the Magen David Adom. For a long time, I’ve wanted to donate to those in need in Israel and my project will finally allow me to do so!

I will be reading Parsha Vayeishev, which talks about Jacob and his family dynamics. It especially focuses on Joseph, who gets his coat of many colors, has his famous dreams, and is sold by his brothers to Ishmaelites that later take him Egypt. The Parasha Vayeishev reading ends with Joseph being sent to jail because of Potiphar’s wife and then interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker.

I want to thank those who have helped me through the process of becoming a bar mitzvah. I also want to thank those who are coming to share a very important moment for me, as well as my family for helping and supporting me.

Adam Zander's Bar Mitzvah

Shalom, my name is Adam Zander and I am a seventh grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. My favorite school subject is Social Studies. I love playing basketball and watching sports. I also participate in a musical theater program outside of school.

This Saturday, November 25, I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. Exactly eight years ago, on the same weekend, my brother, Danny, became a bar mitzvah at Beth Sholom. Coincidentally, I will be reading from the same parsha as he did. I am so happy that Danny will be chanting an aliyah during my bar mitzvah Shabbat.

Becoming a bar mitzvah has been a journey for me, one of appreciating my Jewish background and culture as well as my Jewish education and preparing for my own future. The studying and preparation have been intense, especially when I try to fit it into all my other activities, but going through this process has given me the opportunity to give back. For my tzedakah project, I chose to volunteer with the Food Bank and cook and deliver meals with the Chicken Soupers program at Beth Sholom. For a long time now, I have felt it was important to help needy people get food; I started volunteering at the Food Bank in second grade. I recently started to bring my apron to Beth Sholom on Sunday mornings and deliver meals in the afternoon to the ill and disabled. Even though the last part always makes me sad, it is truly satisfying work.

I will be chanting from Parsha Vayeitzai in Bereshit (Book of Genesis), which recounts Jacob’s journey from Beer Sheba, the land of his father, the biblical patriarch, Isaac, to Haran, to stay with his uncle, Laban. He leaves a young man, often scared and mistrusting. He has an encounter with G-d in a dream in which G-d grants him lifelong protection. There is a question as to whether Jacob can handle this particular blessing. He labors many years for his uncle, marries his daughters Rachel and Leah, albeit in a different order than he intended, fathers many children, and returns to Beer Sheba a man, with a wealth of animals and riches.

I want to thank Randy Weiss for teaching me how to chant Torah and Rabbi Glazer for inspiring me in the writing of my D’var Torah. I also want to thank Henry Hollander for guiding us through the process and orchestrating everything behind the scenes. I especially want to thank my grandparents, parents, and brother for all the love and support in getting me to this day.

Behar / Bechukotai – Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Facebook_CoverDesign_Behar-Bechukotai"Sowing the seed,
my hand is one with the earth.
…Hungry and trusting,
my mind is one with the earth.
Eating the fruit,
my body is one with the earth.
"

Wendell Berry’s poem "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer" asks us to consider how the farmer is like the farm. Similarly, the strong language of covenantal prohibition in Leviticus calls on each of us as conscious consumers to draw boundaries around how we use and transform the natural world.

Transformative cycles of seven in biblical literature, in general, and here in Leviticus, in particular, recall the grandeur of creation that continues its unfolding revelation daily. That revelation is taking place every seventh year for the Sabbatical year, when all work on the land ceases so that its fruit is free for the taking, for both human and animal kingdoms.

Seven Sabbatical cycles (forty-nine years) culminate in a fiftieth year, crowned as the Jubilee year, on which work on all land ceases, all indentured servants are freed, and all ancestral estates in the Holy Land of Israel that have been sold will then revert to their original owners. Additional laws governing the sale of lands and the prohibitions against fraud and usury conclude the reading of Behar.

The whole purpose of creation is to recognize our complete embeddedness in everything, including all other sentient beings. Lines of filiation run most directly through our own awareness of the transformative cycles that embrace us. If a human intelligence of the earth and sensitivity to its needs is one that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace, then perhaps Wendell Berry’s "mad" farmer is not so mad after all!

It is also illuminating to consider our network of intimate relationships and cycles in the context of charity. If you still haven’t had a conversation with a Mormon, try talking about tithing. Observant Mormons unflinchingly give ten percent of their pre-tax dollars to the church. And Jews? Not so consistent – perhaps this is why Jewish institutions continue to struggle as they do all across America. Why is it that a Mormon feels more commanded than a Jew to fulfill a biblical precept?

Earning material well-being is a necessity for the survival of civilization. But how often do we linger in the passionate embrace of the culture that is the fruit of our labors? Wisdom comes with an ability to both earn and enjoy.

In Parashat Bechukotai, the Israelites are promised that if the commandments are kept, they will enjoy the material prosperity they have rightly earned in addition to dwelling securely in the Holy Land. Conversely, should this covenant be abandoned or abrogated, there is a harsh rebuke, coupled with a warning of exile, persecution, and other manifestations of evil. Here, in Bechukotai, we also encounter a variety of pledges made as divine offerings, as well as the aforementioned spiritual practice of setting aside a tenth (tithing) of firstlings and first fruits.

True wisdom then comes from earning material well-being through civilization as well as the passionate embrace of culture so that we may enjoy in sharing this well-being with others. The understanding that in giving, you receive more than you give could not be more true or urgent today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts the arrival of the Jubilee year. Because the Jewish day begins at nightfall, the land is shown scattering rays of Jubilee joy at dusk. "And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you..." (Leviticus 25:10) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Elise Taubman's Bat Mitzvah

Elise

Elise

Shalom! My name is Elise Taubman and I am a 7th grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. At Brandeis, I enjoy taking electives on computer programming and discussing Shakespeare with my classmates in my English class. The best part of school is that I get to hang out with a great group of friends, some of whom I have known since kindergarten. Aside from school, I enjoy singing with the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco and dancing at my dance studio. When I really want to relax, there is nothing better than spinning yarn on my Kiwi (my spinning wheel). Time with my family is particularly important to me and I enjoy spending Shabbat dinners and holidays, such as Passover, with my family.

Over the last year, I have been preparing for the occasion of becoming a bat mitzvah. I have gained much from my preparation and learned about the struggles of commitment and time management throughout the process. My parsha is Behar, in which G-d describes the rules regarding the Sabbatical years, the Jubilee year and land ownership, among others. I enjoyed reading the different interpretations of Parashat Behar, and particularly meaningful to me was the Jubilee section which acts to remedy entrenched poverty and to restore power to the voiceless in society.

This year in 7th grade, I have been working on my Tzedakah project, alongside my bat mitzvah studies. In this project, two students at Brandeis work together to learn about a charitable organization. My partner and I chose Mitzvah Corps, which provides Jewish high school-aged teenagers with an opportunity to travel to poor communities around the world. Teens connect and learn about those communities and donate their time to help with projects in those communities. From this project, I have learned much about how even teenagers can make a difference in the world and I am looking forward to participating in Mitzvah Corps once I am in high school.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer, who took time to help me prepare for my bat mitzvah. I also would like to thank my tutor Randy Weiss and my Saba for helping me chant my haftarah, maftir, and Torah service prayers. Finally, I would like to thank my parents and siblings for their endless support and nagging. I needed all of it!

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Why Is Gambling Associated With Hanukkah?

DreidelFor American Jews, it’s that time of the year again. Parents of young children are talking about "the December Dilemma,” Jewish a cappella groups are in overdrive, hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) are being pulled out of deep storage, and we’re all drooling in anticipation of latkes, applesauce, and sour cream. Adam Sandler even wrote and performed a fourth version of his beloved “Hanukkah Song." That’s right, friends — Hanukkah 5776 is almost here!

This Sunday evening is the first night of Hanukkah, and a lot of us are planning holiday parties. In preparation, we’re in the market for extra dreidels…because, as Bryan Adams sung, it ain’t a Hanukkah party if the dreidel don’t spin ‘round (did I mishear that lyric?). Yet, although dreidels are considered de rigueur for Hanukkah parties, they typically don’t do a lot of spinning; they’re more often decorative, described by one clever writer as more “party favor than party favorite.”

Even relegated to a decorative role, the dreidel is a staple of Hanukkah. So how did a European gambling game called teetotum become associated with Hanukkah observance in the first place? We know that diaspora syncretism gave us the dreidel and that the rabbis later invented a backstory — the Israelites-played-dreidel-to-fool-the-Greeks-into-thinking-they-weren’t-studying-Torah myth — but why did they link the game with Hanukkah? The answer, it turns out, has to do with rabbinic attitudes about gambling and Hanukkah’s relationship to another minor holiday, Purim.

"C'mon, big money, big money! Papa needs a great miracle to happen here!"

Back in the day (the Mishnah’s day, that is), dice playing, pigeon racing, and other “games” of chance were popular betting activities that the rabbis viewed as inappropriate or unfortunate. So they debated how best to restrict or moderate the degenerate behavior. Different approaches were put forth, but it seems that the rabbis appreciated the need for occasional laxity or release, and the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim seemed like excellent times to look the other way.

Why?

Purim tells the story of the powerless Jews of Shushan defeating their Persian enemies against all odds. Metaphorically, Purim is understood as an overturning of the social order, a day when activities that were forbidden or discouraged the rest of the year were permitted. It’s observed as a carnival with excessive drinking, costumes (including cross-dressing), and, often, lotteries and raffles (gambling!). With the world turned upside down, why not roll the dice? After all, the Jews of Shushan made risky gambits that paid off!

The Hanukkah story isn’t so different, really, as the small-but-oh-so-zealous Maccabean force repels the great army of the Seleucid Greeks and reclaims the Temple. It’s another the deck-was-stacked-against-us tale.

The shared spirit of Hanukkah and Purim presents us with a compelling justification for why gambling is associated with both holidays -- but this is mostly conjecture. There is also an explanation put forth by historical sociologists who insist that the Yiddish version of teetotum, which was especially popular at Christmastime in Germany, was played by a lot of Ashkenazim in December and therefore became attached to Hanukkah by virtue of the Christian and Jewish holidays' proximity to one another. Although this is almost certainly the most accurate account, it doesn’t negate the valuable symbolism of the world-turned-upside-down concept.

So, this year, sure, most of the attendees of your Hanukkah party will be more into playing Exploding Kittens than the dreidel game. And that’s fine…but we encourage you to play both. Buy those dreidels. Spin those dreidels. Bet on those dreidels. Then ask all the players to donate part or all of their winnings as tzedakah — it’s tax-deduction time, anyway!

Hanukkah 5776 -- Rededicating Ourselves

Hanukkiahgt_logo6 Next Tuesday, December 1, is #GivingTuesday.

What is this curious hashtag weekday? Created by New York City's 92nd Street Y, #GivingTuesday is a response to the consumer-oriented shopping "holidays" of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. From the #GivingTuesday website:

"Now in its fourth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. ... Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources."

With #GivingTuesday nigh upon us, we're launching our Hanukkah 5776 Rededication fundraiser! Please read our Executive Director's letter below.

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Dear Friends,

The evenings have again grown dark, and we will soon gather with friends and family to light our hanukkiot. Each year, as we draw those we care about close and recite the Hanukkah blessings, we marvel at the miracle of sustained Jewish peoplehood.

Living in the Syrian Greek Empire, our 2nd century BCE forebears confronted the threat of compulsory assimilation. You know the score: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat (latkes and sufganiyot)! Yet that bite-size summary discounts the Hanukkah story’s complexity. It’s also a story of civil war, a conflict between strict religionists and a secular, assimilated elite. Although the Maccabees saved the day, we’re not about to say the Shehecheyanu – to thank God for sustaining Judaism and Jewish peoplehood – because of their rebellion, but because the rabbis, two hundred plus years later, embraced creative adaptation.

Little wonder that Hanukkah is so relevant to 21st century American Jews! The 2013 Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans indicates that we are in the midst of a demographic decline of what some refer to as “the Jewish middle,” Jewishly engaged/identified individuals outside of Orthodoxy. If present trends continue, demographers predict that the American Jewish future will be dominated by two groups, the ultra-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews with attenuated Jewish identities. Sound familiar?

VolunteerAs engaged Jews and members of Beth Sholom, a community with a history of pioneering regional and national leadership in the spheres of Jewish practice, philosophy, and social action, we can not accept the decline of American Jewish institutions and identity. We must demonstrate how Jewish tradition and the values we treasure can be balanced with the evolving needs of our contemporary lives. This balancing act between the particular and the universal takes place on a high wire — the stakes are huge. So it is once again time for CBS to move boldly forward, to blaze a path and serve as a role model in the changing world of American Judaism.

Your commitment to CBS has made our survival possible and will allow us to flourish going forward. As our Board President, Scott Horwitz, wrote in his note to the congregation in the 2015 Annual Report, “Thanks to the efforts of many, we are poised to start a new chapter. We’ve restored the fields, we’ve planted the seeds, and now it’s time to grow.”

DonationsWith the end of the tax year approaching and Hanukkah’s lessons in mind, now is an opportune time to make a charitable contribution.

What will your generous donation support?

In the past year, CBS has made tremendous strides, energizing our core programs and developing exciting new ones. Our already robust ritual and Shabbat programming has been strengthened by the engagement of a rabbinic intern and the introduction of accessible and spirited alternative services. The CBS Preschool is flourishing under new leadership and, working with our new Music Director, has enhanced its musical offerings. Our Shabbat School grew by 20 percent, we fine-tuned and expanded our b’nai mitzvah program, and our USY youth group was recognized as the most improved chapter in Northern California. We expanded our Lifelong Learning focus by offering regular “mini-courses” taught by an impressive roster of scholars and authors, and we partnered with the organization Kevah to create Jewish learning circles for adults. We also hired an Executive Chef who is regularly cooking up delicious and inventive kiddush menus that receive rave reviews from congregants.

Indeed, it’s been a very successful year at CBS…but this is just the beginning.

static1.squarespaceIn 2016, we will continue to augment our existing programming and services – CBS is here for our milestone events as well as for our daily davening, for our children’s education as well as our own – but we will also launch the innovative and ambitious Center for Progressive Judaism. The Center can be thought of as “a Jewish think tank,” designed to be a vital hub of Jewish life that stands on three pillars: Scholarship, Social Action, and Culture as Practice. Our state-of-the-art campus is the perfect facility to house the Center, and with your engaged participation, CBS and the Center for Progressive Judaism will ignite the Jewish passions of future generations.

We invite you to help us fuel this fire. Together, let’s kindle the Hanukkah lights and rededicate ourselves to the future of Judaism.

Contributions can be made via personal check (and mailed to CBS using the enclosed return envelope you will receive with the paper copy of this appeal) or online: http://bit.ly/1SfUZNn. (If you would prefer to contribute appreciated securities, please contact Ella Smirnova at 415.940.7122, ext. 108 or esmirnova@bethsholomsf.org for assistance.)

Todah rabbah, and Happy Hanukkah!

Sincerely,
Angel Alvarez-Mapp
Executive Director