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Posts from the ‘Holidays’ Category

The Fifth Son and the Power of Community – A Passover Message

by Michal Kohane, Israel Center Director

Studies show that Passover is the most-celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. It offers something for everyone: an extended-family get together, a hearty meal, historical insights, spiritual messages, intellectual exploration—as well as an invitation to strangers, the hungry (whether physically or spiritually), to share our table and our story.  It’s all there: Coming together as one people to enjoy a fabulous story accompanied by a grand dinner.

In many ways it’s a classic feel-good story: few against many, bad against good. One guy, no different that you and me, standing up to an evil tyrant, and although he was not given the gift of speech, he was able to inspire others to follow – and even later to lead an entire nation to the Promised Land.

Of course, along with the joy, comes the oyOy, the amount of cleaning, preparing, shopping, chopping, baking, making. Oy, look, so much food; oy, I’m stuffed….  But then, kvetching can be a good sign: it comes with a certain amount of doing, often in areas that are new, less familiar and challenging. Like Moses, we too are asked to step outside our comfort zone, and act.

The Five Sons

The story of the Four Sons in the Haggadah highlights our need to reach out beyond ourselves. We can see the four sons around us or even within us. We can also see them generationally. Thus, the “wise” are paralleled to the great-grandparents’ generation who came to this country at the turn of the century, a largely traditional community that had no need for books about why keep kosher and what tikkun olam means, because pretty much “everyone knew.” Their children, however, became “rebellious,” mocking their parents for their old, outdated practices: “What is this to you?” they asked, wanting to integrate into the new surroundings, be “like everyone else” and have little or nothing to do with the parents’ way of life. The third generation, the “simple” son, grew up in the home of the “rebellious” son, with a “wise” grandpa who perhaps still upheld some obscure practices, but what and why?

Then one day, the fourth child is born. This generation grows up in the home of the “simple” son with the “rebellious” son for a grandparent. They often know that they had a great-grandparent who was observant or a rabbi, but they already know so little that they “don’t know what to ask.” Regarding them the Pesach story instructs us, the listeners: “You must start him off.” There is no fifth son. The fifth son, symbolizing continuity in the family, depends on us. Already in the Haggadah, some of which was compiled more than 2000 years ago, we, the community, are called to find ways to engage the less engaged. Like Moses of long ago, we too are called to reach out and care. We are called to act.

Taking the Message Home

The power of community is threaded throughout this story.  It is the story of our people – our interdependence, our duty, and the knowledge that when we join together, there is no limit to what we can achieve! We wish you and your family a happy and meaningful Passover!


Pop Up Purim Stores

by Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
Rabbi in Residence at B’chol Lashon

Rabbi Ruth

On the first night of the Northern California Rabbinic Mission of Israel, Rabbi Stacy Friedman opened our Federation sponsored trip by pointing out that just as we have seasonal Halloween pop up stores throughout our region, in Israel there are pop up Purim stores which similarly sell costumes, make up and accessories. For Rabbi Friedman, these stores are a reminder of how public life in Israel moves to the rhythms of Jewish life.

But Purim differs from Halloween. At Halloween, we don costumes to scare others. At Purim, we don costumes to see the world through different eyes. To literally put on a different point of view.

So it is only fitting that this trip is happening in the weeks leading up to Purim. The 17 rabbis traveling the country this week represent the full diversity of Jewish life in Northern California. We have different approaches to religion and observance, we serve big and small congregations as well as non-profits and in chaplaincy.  We have many points of view. By traveling together we are learning to see Israel through each other’s point of view.

We are also “trying on” all sorts of Israeli points of view. Our itinerary is purposely introducing us to many different Israelis, who each tell a unique Israeli story. On our first day alone, we met with the founder of a youth movement for Orthodox gay teens, with the head of Israel’s premier civil rights organization, and with the leadership and students of a secular Yeshivah in Tel Aviv. At each stop we not only saw Israel through their eyes, but also saw the changes they are affecting on Israeli society and culture.

Paintings, too, capture different points of view. We saw the retrospective of 82 year old Naftali Bez. Bez came to Israel during WWII as a young man and has been painting what he sees since his early teens. Even our food came with a story and a new way to look at the world.  Liliyot, a fine dining restaurant, fills its kitchen with an apprenticeship program for at risk youth. Graduating them to full time jobs in culinary arts. Good food and good works.

In Haifa, we learned about the thousands of foreign educational and non-profit leaders who make their way through the leadership training institute founded by Golda Meir. Each teacher from Ghana, social worker from Thailand, or government employee from Ecuador who spends three weeks learning from the best of what Israel has to offer becomes an unofficial goodwill ambassador. At the Technion, Israel’s leading technical university, we learned how the school is committed to reaching out to every sector of Israeli society from the Ultra Orthodox to the kids in crisis. At Beit Hagefen, a center dedicated to religious and cultural dialogue, we heard from a rabbi and a Muslim leader about how religious leaders come together to speak out against discrimination.

But while some points of view are easy to try on, others stretch us and make us see the world from places we may not choose to get to on our own.   On Thursday, we experienced two radically different points of view. First we visited with the settlers in Hebron and had a chance to visit the holy burial site of Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca,  Isaac, Jacob and Leah. We heard from a young army spokesman who is responsible for the security of over 600,000 individuals. And in the afternoon we went on a tour with Ir Amim where we learned about how the current political and security realities are effecting the Arab population. Whatever our points of view, we are challenged to consider opinions that we may have not considered before.

Next week, we return to Northern California to our congregations and organizations. We will be bringing back the new visions and experiences to share. And when Israel or Purim ‘pops up’ we will have a great many perspectives to draw upon.

Purim Fun for Everyone

Purim is just around the corner and there is no shortage of community events for any age group.  Shake your grogger at one or more of these fun celebrations:

Children, Teens, and Families

Purim Shabbat Celebration: Friday, February 22 at JCCSF
Purim Party at Ashkenaz: Saturday, February 23 at Ashkenaz (Berkeley)
Sensory Friendly Purim Carnival: Sunday, February 24 at Peninsula Temple Beth El
Purim Palooza: Sunday, February 24 at Osher Marin JCC
GIANTS-themed Purim Party: Sunday, February 24 at Grattan Elementary School (San Francisco)

Young Adults

Purim Party, Megillah 3.0 with Killing My Lobster: Saturday, February 23 at Intersection for the Arts (San Francisco)
2013 Peatot Purim Party: Saturday, February 23 at Club Fox (Redwood City)

For information on more upcoming community events, check out the JCF online community calendar.

Happy Hanukkah from JCF

‘Tashlique’ Celebrates the New Year with a Twist on Tradition

by David Katznelson, JCF Director of Outreach and Strategy

Tashlique (a play off of Tashlikh) is a long-standing Jewish practice usually performed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and is one of my favorite rituals.  It brings to life all the temple discussions and meditations and pairs them with one of the greatest bodies of water in the world, the Pacific Ocean. For those unfamiliar with Tashlique, it is a time when Jews from all over the world go to a large and natural body of flowing water to symbolically, through a piece of bread,  “cast off” the past year’s previous sins and sorrows.  Whatever you choose to leave behind incorporates into the fibers of the bread, and the ocean envelops it and whisks it away.

Our version of the ritual started with two friends of mine performing the annual ceremony, and eventually others joined. For the last five years, JCF along with the JCCSF and Reboot, have participated, adding a special twist. While holding true to the basic part of the ritual — the bread-water aspect — today there are new additions that are attracting hundreds of non-traditional Tashlique participants to the beach.

This year, 200 attendees gathered around a fire pit by the ocean. People carrying shofars were asked to stand at the front of the group, and mostly children approached, proudly showcasing their instruments. Tekiah Gadolah was called out, and all began blowing the long drone of the shofar in unison. Before their breaths subsided, two bagpipe players from the Irish Pipers band of San Francisco joined in, followed by six members of the Jazz Mafia brass section. It was magical to see this eclectic group of various professional musicians, children, families and adults all gathered to welcome the New Year through the joyful noise that flooded the beach and basked in the partly clouded sun.

After a few minutes of this symphony, the pipers turned and began a procession to the sea, followed by the participants, with bread in hand. The image was divine.  It was a beautiful San Francisco day, and the sun’s warm rays shot through the clouds, while the shore became dotted with families and friends all pensively looking towards the horizon as the bagpipers began to play their version of the Shema. Sticks were passed out so participants could write messages in the sand that they wanted the waves to wash away. The Jazz Mafia players began accenting the pipers melodies and for this magnificent moment, this temporary community was together and alive.

After all sorrows had been cast into the ocean, it was time to enjoy the sweetness of hope and dreams that come with a new year.  The pipers turned to head back to the fire pit, ushering the crowd to follow.  There, they enjoyed smores and fry bread, celebrating the last component of the beloved ceremony.

Ten questions that will get you thinking

Where have you been? Where are you going? What values do you want to take on the journey ahead?


With the value of reflection all too often lost in today’s fast-paced society, here’s an easy way for people of all backgrounds to slow down and examine their lives in a meaningful way.  Reboot and the SF Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund are partnering again this year on 10Q, a project that provides a cutting-edge way to commemorate the High Holidays, and provides an easy way to reflect, react, and renew by answering 10 of life’s biggest questions online. We are inviting the entire Bay Area community to share their views and visions for the upcoming year.

Register now on and starting September 16, 2012, a question will land in your email inbox on each of the following ten days. Respond to each question securely online either immediately or after discussion with family and friends. Each answer gets sent to the secure online 10Q vault for safekeeping. One year later, the vault will open and your answers will land back in your email inbox for private reflection. Next year the whole process begins anew.

Register Now

Yom HaZikaron: Remembering Those Lost and Looking Forward

By Jennifer Gorovitz, Chief Executive Officer

Just three weeks ago, we took a committed and enthusiastic group of lay leaders, our Israel and Global Committee, as well as members of our Board of Trustees, to Israel to evaluate the progress of our grantees in social and economic inclusion and pluralism. We found that our shared dreams have become reality with incredible community development, poverty fighting, education, and social businesses. We were awed once again by Israel’s beauty, its ingenuity and creativity, and its complexity. Together we stand in good times and in sad times, like today.

Yom Hazikaron ceremony at San Francisco based Jewish Community Federation

Community members arrive for JCF's Yom Hazikaron ceremony.

When we met with Amos Oz, one of my favorite Israeli authors, and a person who expresses these dual realities so well, he said: Israelis are a fiery collection of arguers, prophets, prime ministers and missiles all shouting at the top of their lungs to be heard. Ours is a people of doubt and argument, which also makes us a people of creativity and invention. When we solve our two major issues, war and peace, and social solidarity, Israel will truly be paradise on earth. The land of dreams and intentions and master plans that finally come true.

In the meantime, together we work to honor the memories of those lost, help those who were connected to them to go on, and transform our dreams into reality.

Let me tell you one such story: When we were in Israel this time, we visited a trauma center in Sderot, in the south of Israel. Before we could really begin, we needed to understand where the bomb shelter is in this school, knowing that any moment a siren could go off and we would have only 15 seconds to get there.

We got up, we moved in an orderly fashion, and we did not make it in time. Once inside, we were reminded that 12,000 missiles have fallen in this area in the past 10 years. The children here know all too well, and they know that a siren means run, not walk, to the shelter.

The techniques that are applied to the children to teach coping and resilience are now being applied to the soldiers too.

While we were sitting in the classroom, about to hear from a soldier, a rocket landed not far from us I guessed by the way the ground rumbled and the thunderous sound it made. Our hearts raced, our anxiety peaked, yet no alarm went off.

And then we heard Yaron’s story. Yaron is 28 years old. He fought in the Second Lebanon war and was a company commander. He was responsible for 120 soldiers. During his command, a rocket fell on a building they had entered and one of his soldiers was killed and 10 were wounded. His unit was sent by the Army to the trauma center to help them now to lead stronger, healthier lives by processing their experience and their pain. Combat leaves marks, and rather than be diminished by them, there is now growing recognition that with support these boys can grow differently and lead more resilient lives by using the intensity of their brothers in arms for social support. during the program, these combat units visit diaspora cities and learn how grateful we all are. And for many of them, they are realizing, hey I did that for the Jewish People. And their perspective on their experiences is forever changed. Yaron believes that this program is invaluable. The government isn’t so sure. He and others like him are building a movement, one soldier at a time, one memory, one trauma at a time.

Today we join him in remembering the soldier he lost in battle, the innocence he lost in battle and in wishing for him and others that they may transition from the army to civilian life in a way that bolsters them, strengthens them and helps them to lead full lives.

You can connect with Jennifer Gorovitz on Facebook and Twitter.

Contribute Something Big This Passover

Like many of us this Passover, as we join with family and friends at our Seder table to relay the story of our escape from Pharaoh’s servitude, we are not just commemorating an ancient event of liberation, we are bringing the lessons of our history to life for a new generation, making the freedom we were granted thousands of years ago relevant today.

As a deeply valued Jewish Community Federation supporter, you know the incredible things we can achieve when we work together, and we can’t thank you enough for your exceptional kindness and for all you have done to liberate and care for our Jewish family.

Can you imagine Passover without a roof over your head or food on your table? Neither can we. This Passover, let’s ensure that no one in our Jewish community is overlooked. From babies to seniors, your generous gift provides financial assistance, strengthens Jewish identity, and removes barriers to Jewish life.

Donate Now

Saluting Women Who Stand Up for What They Believe

Jennifer GorovitzThat International Women’s Day and Purim coincide is wonderful and symbolic. Our hero of the Purim story, Esther, risked her life to try to prevent the killing of the Jews of Persia. Today, we salute the many women who take risks on so many levels to protect, defend and promote good health, empowerment and equality for women everywhere; women who speak up and continue to speak out despite the uncivil and even hateful responses of men here in the United States; women who fight for equal treatment and religious tolerance in Israel; women who are working on behalf of their children and their families to make life better every day.

On this day, we express our gratitude and our encouragement that you continue to fight for what you believe in and for that which gives your life and your community’s life meaning, value, and goodness. On this day, I salute in particular the women of the San Francisco based Jewish Community Federation, and all Federations, who comprise 80% of its workforce and a fraction of its executive leadership, and praise the wonderful work you do every day to protect our vulnerable, to educate and engage our children, to provide for Jews in need in Israel and wherever they are in the world, and to make the world a better place. I encourage you to seek the highest levels of leadership in our community to help to shape a world that is truly b’tzelem elohim – in the divine image, one that reflects the best in us all.

We have come so far, and yet we have so much yet to do throughout our world to overcome abject poverty, violence, trafficking, other forms of degradation and oppression, religious intolerance, biases in our workplaces and in our societies. Let us seek empowerment, safety, optimum health, financial independence and leadership for all women, that our societies may one day be truly just.

You can connect with Jennifer Gorovitz on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrate Thanksgiving Jewishly this year!

Several years ago, we posted a blog about Thanksgiving and it seems that folks just can’t get enough of it. Here’s some more great holiday tips from Early Childhood Education Initiative Director Janet Harris, who has some fun ideas for how you and your family can enjoy Thanksgiving Jewishly this season. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did! – JCF

By Janet Harris, Director of the Early Childhood Education Initiative

Preparing a festive meal, gathering the family around, and sharing family stories…it could be Passover, Hanukkah or even Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a holiday that many of us, both adults and children, look forward to. Gratitude for the blessings in our lives is something that all Americans share, no matter how great or how small.

Is there such a thing as a “Jewish” way to celebrate Thanksgiving? According to popular historical interpretation, Thanksgiving is modeled on the biblical harvest of Sukkot. The story goes that the Pilgrims, seeing themselves as new Israelites in a new “promised land,” drew on a model well-known to them from the Bible. In the 16th chapter of the Book of Leviticus, G-d commands the Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths (In Hebrew, Sukkot), “to rejoice before Hashem your God” at the time of the fall harvest.

In that light, here are a few ideas to make Thanksgiving even more special for your family:

  1. Say blessings! Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to say 100 blessings a day. Young children experience the world through the lens of wonder. They are fascinated with things we think are quite ordinary. Time for a blessing! The shehechianu blessing is a wonderful reminder for us to express gratitude for having arrived at this space and time. We say it at “milestone” moments, such as birthdays, the first day of school, eating the first fruit of the season and family gatherings.  Here is the Shehechianu blessing:
    Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, She-he-chi-anu V’kimanu V’higi-anu L’zman Ha-zeh.
    We praise the Source of Life who has revived and sustained us.
  2. Tell stories of Thanksgiving in your families’ past. You could use this opportunity to retell your own family saga of how they came to the United States.
  3. Involve your children in preparation for the feast. They can help in the kitchen, or they can set the table and make decorations.
  4. Incorporate the Jewish value of hachnassat orchim, welcoming strangers, and consider inviting someone new to your Thanksgiving table.

As parents, we know that children learn much more from what we do than what we say. Take time for yourself to count your blessings, and your children will count theirs, as well.


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