New Years greeting from Rabbi Mark

By Rabbi Mark Melamut

Shalom Friends,

I’d like to share a story with you about a child of a certain Rabbi who used to wander into the woods. At first the father let the child wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous and he didn’t know what lurked there.  He decided to discuss the matter with his child.  “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?”  The child replied, “I go there to find G-d.”  “That’s a very good thing,” the father answered gently. “I’m glad you are searching for G-d.  But, don’t you know that G-d is the same everywhere?”  “Yes,” the child said, “but I’m not.”

It’s that time of year again when we prepare to greet our Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe and the New Year 5776.  We pause at this time of year to celebrate, pray, hear the shofar, sing, fast, toss our crumbs into the ocean, nosh on apples and honey and reflect.  While the days of the Jewish calendar are the same each and every year, in many ways, we are not.  Just as the child in the story acknowledges, we aren’t the same as we were last year because life has changed us.  What are the changes we’ve endured, undergone and celebrated since last Rosh Hashanah?  Have we accomplished the goals we set?  What has occurred in our work, family and personal lives since we were last at this meaningful crossroad in Jewish time?

For some of us life simply flies by, while for others time moves at a much slower pace.  My kids asked me on our recent vacation flight to Newport for a family wedding, “Why is it that when we look out the window the plane seems like it is moving slowly?  Isn’t it flying really fast?  Are we moving slow or fast?”  True, when I tapped the touch screen in front of me it reported that we were moving at a clip of 493 mph, yet out the window it looked like we were just gliding along slowly above the puffy clouds.  Rather than providing my kids with a scientific answer in that moment (which I admit I’d need to google later), I simply answered their question of slow or fast, saying, “Yes.”  Isn’t that how life sometimes feels though, moving simultaneously full speed ahead, yet somehow slowly as well.

The holiday liturgy gets this feeling just as we do.  That’s why we say word after word (after word, after word, as these are the longest services of the year after all).  Since this is the nature of life, one of our tasks is to make the most of it that we possibly can.  After all, the ultimate purpose of the great trifecta of “tshuva, tfillah and tzedaka/change, prayer and charity” is to get us to slow down, be introspective, and make change, all in order to better appreciate our lives.  This central mantra is about living and bettering life.  What better way to do this than to gather together as a community in order to support, accompany, celebrate and enjoy each other’s company along the way.

When we walk together into the “woods” to greet the New Year, we acknowledge what has changed, for better or worse, and we simultaneously prepare ourselves for what is to come.  So, grab your walking stick, any provisions you may need and a loved one or friend, and let’s saunter together along the path of life’s new year.

N’siyah tova/A good and meaning-full journey for all of us,

Rabbi Mark

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Reverie by Naidia Woolf

Congregant publishes new book

Congregant Naidia Woolf publishes memoir from WWII.

Congregant Naidia Woolf publishes memoir from WWII.

In her memoirs, Naidia Woolf describes her childhood in England during WWII. She was evacuated to the countryside, the week-end war was declared on Germany, along with a group of students and teachers from the Birmingham Hebrew School. The book also provides background on her first generation English-Jewish family, including her father’s early years in Birmingham and the back-to-back (tenement) housing many poor working-class (mostly Polish) Jews and their families lived in during the early years of the 20th century.

The author reports on the unjust internment of Jewish refugees by the British government during the Second World War. Thousands of Jewish refugees were also sent to Australia and to Canada – to be held in detention camps there for the duration of the war. One of the ships was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland and sank. 690 of the passengers drowned. The WWII internment in Britain of aliens classified as threats to national security was an ugly reprise of what happened during the early years of the First World War. Naidia’s paternal great-grandparents, who had been living in England for 40 years, were interviewed by the police as possible security risks but then let go. The same happened with her paternal grandfather who had left Poland for England in the mid-1890s (at age 18), most likely to avoid being drafted into the Russian Army.

The author’s English-born grandmother had her British nationality revoked because she was married to an alien: a draconian measure, unfortunately not uncommon. In one of the closing chapters she reflects on what it meant to be Jewish during WW11 and the cool reception accorded German Jewish refugees by the long-established mainly second-generation Anglo-Jewish community in their home town of Birmingham. She also writes about the experiences of English Jews who served in the British Army, among them a stretcher bearer in the British Army and who witnessed the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. In the final chapter of her memoir she describes going to Poland in 2007. While in Poland she visited the former death camp at Treblinka where thousands of Jews perished. In the center section there’s a memorial slab memorializing the Jews from Karczew, the town where her maternal grandparents once lived. As far as she knows only two or three members of that family survived the Holocaust: a couple named Borenstein who were in a DP camp in Berlin in 1946 then allowed to immigrate to Israel, and a woman who converted to Christianity and lies buried in an untended grave, somewhere in Poland. “Reverie: A Jewish Childhood in War-Torn England”

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Southside Jewish Collaborative Tikun Olam Work Featured in Jweekly

The July 31, 2015 issue of the J Weekly featured B’nai Emunah, one of the partners in the Southside Jewish Collaborative’s Tikkun Olam project of feeding the hungry.
The lunch bag preparation work that is featured in the J Weekly’s article occurs every month after the “Lunch and Learn” program.  We also make lunch bags every other month on the first Sunday for family participation.  The Collaborative Tikkun Olam Committee is chaired by Lori Ganz of Beth Israel Judea with members Bonnie Lindauer and Sharon Bleviss of B’nai Emunah; Steve Roditti of Beth Israel Judea; Al Scion and Ruth Maginnis of Or Shalom, and Gerry Spindel of Ner Tamid.   Kudos to all the volunteers who have helped make sandwiches and donated funds or jars of peanut butter, jam, and bread — especially Flori Green who donates nearly all the bread.
We also want to thank Shais St. Martin who records the financial donations and keeps the accounting.  Keep the donations coming in for this project!
Click here to read more.
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Mattot Masei and the challenge of connection

Community Dvar Torah by Andrew Nusbaum

Throughout the summer, community members from B’nai Emunah have been invited to present their thoughts on the weekly Torah session. A longer version of this drash was given in the middle of July by CBE Treasurer Andrew Nusbaum.

We are almost at Tisha B’Av, when we traditionally mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as other assorted tragedies that have occurred in Jewish history. One of the central questions of Tisha B’Av has been what the Jews did to “deserve” these punishments, and the rabbis identified “baseless hatred” as the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple. Hatred of whom? Of fellow Jews.

Andrew Nusbaum

Andrew Nusbaum, treasurer and board member at congregation B’nai Emunah.

Where does this kind of hatred come from? I would suggest it comes from a lack of understanding and a lack of connection. Once you don’t feel connected to someone, it is all too easy to find the bad in everything they do.

The parsha for this week illustrates this dynamic as well– both how easy it can be to lose connections, as well as how one has to work to keep them intact.

Moses and the Israelites have camped near the Jordan river and are making preparations for settling the land once they cross into the Land of Israel. He is approached by representatives from the tribes of Reuven and Gad, who tell him that they have decided that they would like to stay where they are, to take advantage of the good grazing land. In effect, they are asking to be the first Diaspora Jews.

This is rather surprising– to Moses, and to us! After all that they’ve been working for, all the wandering, all the struggling, now right before the last big push, Reuven and Gad want to opt out! Much like a friend or relative of someone who undergoes a major life shift, or the parent of a child who decides that they would rather do something other than what others might have considered “destined” for them, Moses is left confused and, we sense, a little hurt.

His first reaction is to become defensive and antagonistic, accusing them of selfishness, of not only abandoning their fellow Israelites right before their next campaign but also dishonoring God, repeating their ancestors’ sins of not being committed to settling the land promised to Abraham. The rabbis go one step further, attributing the request from the two tribes as being primarily motivated by greed and a desire for material wealth. This seems to be a classic case of people going against the ethic taught in Pirkei Avot, “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

And yet, the point made by Reuven and Gad is not entirely without merit: while Israel may be the land promised to the Israelites, the land they are standing on in Jordan is no less a gift from God, no less part of God’s creation. In a way, the two outlying tribes seem to be asking a very modern question: Is it possible to do God’s will in an unexpected way, or an unconventional place? Are the people of Reuven and Gad any less a part of the Israelite nation if they live on one side of a river versus another?

After a longer conversation Moses’ position seems to soften. In exchange for taking on more responsibilities, for agreeing to serve as “shock-troops” for the larger community and not resting on their laurels while letting their fellow Israelites do the heavy lifting, Moses agrees to the tribes’ request– with a few key adjustments. First, the rabbis note that he rephrases the chieftains’ promise: rather than building stables for their sheep and towns for their children, Moses tells them to provide for their children and then their sheep (emphasizing their obligations to their families, and by extension, the other Israelites, rather than just their economic prosperity, represented by their sheep and cattle).

The second adjustment is the addition of the half-tribe of Manasseh, who have not been mentioned in the conversation up until this point. One interpretation of this change comes from R. Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, the last dean of the famous yeshiva of Volozhin. Rabbi Berlin points out that the two tribes have already shown a tendency towards separating themselves from the rest of the community, first, by requesting to be physically apart, and second, by the implication that they value wealth over loyalty. R. Berlin argues that by assigning Manasseh, a tribe who did not ask to stay behind, to the same territory, Moses is trying to keep the two tribes connected to the larger nation, both culturally as well as spiritually.

How do we stay connected to each other? How do we deal with the reality of divergent goals, priorities or beliefs, and yet still try to remain united as klal yisrael? Especially now when, like Reuven and Gad, we are all in some way “in the wilderness,” being pulled in myriad directions by other claims to our time, beliefs or resources?

Responsibility is a funny thing. Lots of times, people only see it through the prism of a deficit. We notice when someone else is not living up to their responsibilities, but very rarely do we look at it through the other side. The Talmud says, “Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh”, all of Israel are responsible for each other. While this principle can sometimes be used to justify criticism of those we disagree with, I’d like to challenge us to look at it through a different lens: rather than thinking of it in terms of what someone else is doing wrong, what if I took it instead as a reminder for myself? What if when I thought about someone I disagreed with or who I felt was falling short of their responsibilities I tried to remember that, as a fellow Jew, I also have responsibilities towards them? If not to agree with them, then to at least try to understand or connect to them?

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend Bay Area Limmud, a three day Jewish festival of learning. Over that weekend, and particularly during Shabbat, I got to see real inter-denominational engagement in practice. It’s all well and good to talk about Jewish unity in theory, but going to a place like Limmud helps you see how much actual work and thought it takes to make it happen on the ground.

During that weekend I wound up connecting face-to-face with lots of different Jews: I helped make an Orthodox minyan; I ate meals with people who practice Jewish yoga and celebrate Shabbat with guitars and chanting; I attended text study and philosophy sessions where I saw kippot of every size and shape (as well as plenty of people without them). On the last day, I heard a panel of Israeli activists from across the religious and political spectrum talk about using text study to break down boundaries between them, as well as their ongoing work to help Jerusalem’s various communities stay connected with each other despite growing tensions.

I believe the key to Limmud’s success is that they deliberately operate with an atmosphere of openness and nonjudgmentalism. No one group “owns” the knowledge or authority at Limmud. That’s not to say that there aren’t stark differences in beliefs or practice. But by deciding to spend the weekend together, the participants agree to enter into a tactic agreement to prioritize connection with each other versus demanding the right to be correct.

These notions of mutual obligation and responsibility are not always fashionable in our modern age of individualism and our increasing tendency towards ideological uniformity, but I think they continue to be relevant, particularly for us as Jews. We all operate with a multiplicity of identities, loyalties, and beliefs, and it would be dishonest, to say nothing of unrealistic, to ask people to ignore or shut off parts of themselves in the name of unity or loyalty. It is not appropriate to demand that everyone pray the same, vote the same, or, say, live in Israel– After all, not even Moses demanded that!

But, at the same time, we must work against the all-too-easy temptation to let individual autonomy become a cover for self-satisfaction or isolation. Not only does considering other perspectives help us stay connected, it also benefits us by keeping our own views and practices from becoming rote or stale. If we want to fight for our right to live and think as we wish, we must also be committed to engaging with those who live differently, even if– perhaps especially if– that requires us to push ourselves little bit on our end. We can remain on our side of the river, but not at the expense of forgetting about those on the other side. As we finish the book of Numbers, I would like to encourage us all to continue reaching out and stay connected with each other.

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Volunteer at BE

As in most families, there are usually one or two members who do everything! You know you can always count on them to be available to help when needed. But… about the rest of the family? They may also have much to give, yet don’t always know how to be of assistance.

volunteer.pngAs part of our new volunteer program, we have created a system to make sure that all who are able, and who want to help out, can! Please click on the link below to reach our questionnaire that asks a few basic questions regarding your interests, skills and when you may be available. Providing this information does not obligate you to volunteer in any way. You can change or remove your information by reaching out to me by phone or email. Even if you have already been volunteering, please fill out this form so that we can have all the information in one place.

Do you have young children? Please fill one out for them as well. I know that my 7 year old son LOVES to help out when I do. It is fun to do a mitzvah together!

Thank you so much for your time, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at

Thank you!
Lisa Karpanty
Volunteer Maven


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LIMMUD 2015 at Sonoma State University

Kolot Plenary 2

Plenary Session with Speakers from Jerusalem’s Kolot.

It was another excellent Limmud (Jewish Learning) conference held at Sonoma State University, Friday, June 26 – Sunday, June 28.  New this year was a full Shabbat from erev to Havdallah.

Attending from B’nai Emunah were Bonnie and Martin Lindauer and Andrew Nusbaum.  We stayed in the dorms so we could experience the full range of programming from 9:15 am through 9 to 10:00 p.m. Andrew presented two, well attended sessions:  “Messiahs and Messianism in Jewish History” and “Jewish Gangsters in Europe and the Americas.”

What makes Limmud unique is the diversity of sessions to choose from in each of the four time blocks and the Jews attending: all ages and types, with Orthodox studying alongside with non-observant as well as Reform and Conservative Jews.  Of course, there were separate services offered but everyone was welcome at any of the three.  For those not interested in attending services, one could choose a guided morning walk, a session on yoga and meditation or Andrew’s session on Messiahs.  Bonnie split her Shabbat morning between Andrew’s session and the egalitarian/Conservative davening.

Bonnie’s favorite sessions included:  “Resilience in the Face of Extremism:  Mishna, Maimonides and Heschel” (offered by Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan); “A Constitution for Israel,” “The Kotel — The Symbol of Unity or Division”? (both offered by Gilad Kariv,  rabbi, politician and head of the Reform/Progressive movement in Israel); and a Jewish yoga class.  Martin enjoyed the session on Jewish Ethics, offered by Rabbi David Kasher (one of the founders of Kevah) and “American Jewish Music in the Space Age.”

In addition to 90+ learning sessions to choose from, there were films, art activities, dance and poetry sessions, as well as three plenary sessions.  The Sunday plenary was a fascinating panel of 30-something activists in Jerusalem (organized by Kolot), who are working to “lead a social and cultural renaissance in Jerusalem and developing a new vision for the city.”  The kids had their own camp so that parents were free to fully participate, but families came together for the delicious meals catered by Dina’s Kosher Catering.

Andrew Nusbaum writes, “It was a real treat to experience the excitement, creativity and engagement during the three day Limmud Bay Area conference. Highlights for me included discussing engagement strategies (and pitfalls) with Jewish teens, studying Jewish philosophy with several notable teachers from Israel and the Bay Area, listening to a panel of speakers from Jerusalem talk about how to cultivate intra-Jewish dialogue, and of course, seeing my own two teaching sessions on Jewish messiahs and gangsters get so many attendees that we ran out of chairs!   I was particularly impressed by how hard Limmud has worked to develop a space where all Jews (and non-Jews!) can feel comfortable, regardless of their political or religious perspectives. By offering a wide range of Shabbat worship opportunities as well as volunteer-driven programming (I am living proof that all that’s required to teach a class is an idea, some nerve, and access to a copy machine), Limmud helped encourage a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere that nudged people to push their personal boundaries while also giving them autonomy to craft their own experiences.”

Limmud will most likely be in June next year and at Sonoma State University, so start planning ahead for this extremely worthwhile learning community!

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Spirituality Photo Project about Rabbi Mark

The Spirituality Photo Project produced by Drake Newkirk, with Rabbi Mark Melamut as the subject

This  photo story documents a person’s spiritual life, how it influences them, and how they share it with others in the community.

These images will be published on along with other photo stories capturing spirituality, religion, and faith around San Francisco.
Rabbi Mark says, it was a pleasure to work with Drake and to share his personal practice and community involvement and leadership with him through photography.
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