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Torah Commentary

What is Jewish Identity?

03/21/2017 04:54:46 PM

Mar21

March 21, 2017
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

In the past few weeks God has painstakingly outlined to Moses what the Mishkan looks like and how the priest vestments should look. When I wonder what this had to do with the (Jewish) Identity of the Israelites I think about what Jewish Identity means today and how we develop our Jewish Identity and how it may differ or be similar to the Israelites in the desert.

When we went down to...Read more...

Expressing Solidarity

03/14/2017 02:42:02 PM

Mar14

March 14, 2017
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

Last week, I received the following letter and wrote the response which also follows. I share the letters because they are meant to communicate a collective message between communities, rather than only a personal one. I hope that you find my letter a worthy response on your behalf.

Dear Rabbi Saxe-Taller,

Sholem...Read more...

Purim is coming! Purim is coming!  

03/07/2017 04:32:56 PM

Mar7

March 7, 2017
by Rabbi Jessica Graf

Purim is coming! Purim is coming! But there is another day of commemoration on the Jewish calendar this week.  (There are two others, actually, if you count Taanit Esther—a minor fast day just before Purim, named for our heroine.)  This past Sunday was Zayin Adar—the 7th of the month of Adar. It is an important day in the history of our people—it was both the yartzheit and the...Read more...

A Mishkan Amidst the Storm

02/28/2017 01:41:18 PM

Feb28

February 28, 2017
by Cantor David Frommer

On the morning of Election Day, Hillary Clinton’s chances of defeating Donald Trump stood at 85%, according to The New York Times. With only four minutes left in the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons’ chances of defeating the New England Patriots stood at 92%, according to ESPN. And two days ago, at the Oscars, La La Land’s chances of defeating Moonlight for Best Picture...Read more...

Mishpatim

02/21/2017 02:44:19 PM

Feb21

February 21, 2017
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

Ask any preschooler about rules and they will by an early age have a list: sitting in their spot at story time, standing in line to go outside, raising your hand to ask a question, sharing, no hitting…..it is a pretty extensive list that describes how a 3 or 4 year old can do their part in their small world to be fair and safe. A good student listens to their teachers and tries to...Read more...

Torah of Leadership

02/14/2017 05:16:46 PM

Feb14

February 14, 2017
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

Truth, facts, science, the authority of the Constitution, separation of authoritative powers and other mainstays of democracy and open society have been put on the table for discussion in the crisis of leadership we are undergoing as a country. That these basics are being questioned is an indicator of serious trouble.  And at the same time, engaged, serious questioning and...Read more...

Tu B’Shvat

02/07/2017 02:29:57 PM

Feb7

February 7, 2017
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

All over San Francisco, trees are starting to blossom and tiny pink buds are out.  It’s hard to believe, given how cold and rainy it’s been.  It definitely feels like winter—not yet spring!  But still, every day, there are more and more trees in bloom.  I smile as I drive through our city.  

“Of course trees are blooming,” I whisper to...Read more...

The Treasure Box

01/31/2017 10:28:59 AM

Jan31

January 31, 2017
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

My cab driver, Deepek, came from Tibet seven years ago. His wife and daughter are still there. He was driving me from Brooklyn to Manhattan for the third day of the Shababa Network Family Engagement conference that rabbi Jessica and I (and 76 other Jewish Educators and leaders) were attending. The day before he had given a ride to a man who was doing errands to get ready for Shabbat. Deepek...Read more...

Alternative Facts

01/24/2017 06:26:35 PM

Jan24

January 24, 2017
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

“Alternative facts” have crept into our world this week. Apparently, the President and his staff have been flaunting an Inaugural turn-out that… well… er… um… just isn’t true. The media has coined this new phrase, suggesting that sometimes, if the actual facts aren’t the ones you hoped for, you could create “alternative facts”  to replace less desirable...Read more...

A March for Jewish Values

01/17/2017 03:38:00 PM

Jan17

January 17, 2017
by Cantor David Frommer

This past weekend, Americans of all faiths, races and ethnicities joined together in celebrations of unity to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Given the recent acrimonious exchange just days earlier between Donald Trump and Representative John Lewis, a well-respected civil rights leader, as well as the general increase in race-related crimes since the election, our federal...Read more...

Brotherly Love

01/10/2017 11:33:12 AM

Jan10

January 10, 2017
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

When I hear someone say they are estranged from a sibling, I always feel sad for them.

This week's sedra reconciles the brothers, Jacob's sons, following the death of their father.

From the first chapter of Breisheit to Vayechi, this week’s chapter, from Cain killing Abel, to Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau, and Jacob son’s throwing...Read more...

Imperfect Moments

01/03/2017 02:33:36 PM

Jan3

January 5, 2017
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

When we conquer the challenge of how to change ourselves, we conquer much of what is difficult in life. At the Jewish new year, we contemplate this issue deeply, and then a season later, we experience a reprise of this theme with the secular new year. Which of our habits are working well for us and which do we hope to change?

This is not only a personal question but also a...Read more...

Apple Sauce or Sour Cream?

12/27/2016 01:23:27 AM

Dec27

By Jessica Zimmerman Graf
December 27, 2016  | 27 Kislev 5777 By Jessica Zimmerman Graf

You really don’t know someone until you’ve eaten a latke with them.  Apple sauce or sour cream?  It should be a question on online dating forms.  Perhaps we should add it to the membership application at CSI.  Do you even know what your closest friends would say? I have been introduced to people who, with...Read more...

The Chanukah You Didn’t Study in Hebrew School

12/21/2016 03:07:56 AM

Dec21

December 21, 2016  |  21 Kislev, 5777
By Cantor David Frommer

“Joseph's looks and handsome figure had attracted her attention, every morning she would beckon, ‘Come and lie with me love.’ Joseph wanted to resist her, till one day she proved too eager. Joseph cried in vain, ‘Please stop, I don't believe in free love!’”

Our Torah portion this week is Parshat Vayeisheiv, the first of four portions at the...Read more...

Yisrael:  Wrestling with God and Our Own Courage

12/13/2016 10:40:47 AM

Dec13

December 13, 2016  |  13 Kislev 5777
By Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

Did you see the article on Abe Foxman in the Forward last week? Entitled, “Abe Foxman: Anti-Semitism ‘Sewer Covers are Off’—But I’m Optimistic on Trump,” it seems more like a tabloid headline than a real title! I must say, though, the marketing worked… It got my attention.  

Foxman served as National Director of the...Read more...

Angels on the Ground

12/06/2016 01:12:40 PM

Dec6

December 6, 2016  |  6 Kislev 5777

Last Thursday evening, several members of Sherith Israel attended a service at St Paul of the Shipwreck, a Catholic church on Jamestown St. in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. We were invited because we have been seeking an opportunity to connect with another community during this time of national stress. We hoped in particular to connect with a community of a different faith as...Read more...

There was a well

11/29/2016 10:49:35 AM

Nov29

November 29, 2017  |  28 Cheshvan 5077
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

“There was a well… At the well men had been drinking sweet water since the first remote day…”
The Source, by James Michener

Michener understood the relationship between civilization and sources of water, making a well the central metaphor in his expansive history of the land of Israel. Central to this week’s...Read more...

Roots and Branches

11/22/2016 06:07:38 PM

Nov22

November 22, 2017  |  21 Cheshvan, 5777
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

This week, we have witnessed the appointments of numerous people to future government positions of significant influence who have declared themselves adherents of philosophies that directly contradict our understanding that all people are created equally in the image of the One Source of Life.  We are stricken, and we are frightened, and we are...Read more...

X for Xenophobia

11/15/2016 01:44:02 PM

Nov15

November 15, 2016  |  14 Cheshvan, 5777
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

I have always loved reading the alphabetical listing of our communal sins on Yom Kippur.  It makes our serious business a little more manageable, while also giving me a memorable listing of sins to contemplate throughout the year.  As I look down at the page in the machzor, the letters jump out at me, A to Z. I’ve always wondered who...Read more...

Election Day

11/08/2016 10:27:08 AM

Nov8

November 8, 2016  |  7 Cheshvan, 5777
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

I am writing this on Monday, the day before one of the most heated elections in American history.  In these last months, the candidates’ bad behavior has spanned the gamut from ridiculous to insane to downright horrible.  Tomorrow, these undignified campaigns will be over.  But even if the antics come to an end, we will be left...Read more...

A Historic Partnership in Perspective

11/02/2016 09:16:29 AM

Nov2

November 2, 2016  |  2 Cheshvan, 5777
by Cantor David Frommer

In 1877, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism, was four years old. From an original membership of twenty-seven synagogues, it had already more than doubled in size, but had yet to attract the burgeoning communities of the west. That year it dispatched no less an emissary than its founding architect, Rabbi Isaac...Read more...

Delicious problems 

10/26/2016 10:09:16 AM

Oct26

October 26, 2016  |  24 Tishrei, 5777
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

The first Torah portion of Genesis, which we read this week, overflows with provocative, even shocking, material — the majestic description of the creation of the earth; two competing versions of the creation of human beings, the eviction from Eden, the first murder. Volumes could be filled only with questions that the text leaves unanswered. We...Read more...

Top Ten Things I Love About Sukkot

10/18/2016 10:23:47 AM

Oct18

October 18, 2016  |  Tishrei 16, 5777 
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

10.  The week of Sukkot ends with Simchat Torah.  This year, we have a special visit from our favorite Argentine cantors—Diego Rubinsztein and Inés Kapustiansky.  They will be with us for a weekend of celebration!  Join us Friday night for Shabbat services at 6 pm in our sanctuary with beautiful music from Latin...Read more...

Starting with Song

10/11/2016 04:20:25 PM

Oct11

October 11, 2016
by Cantor David Frommer

Our parsha this week is Ha’azinu, and it continues the Torah’s account of Moses’ final oration to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan River and enter the Land of Canaan without him. Unlike the parshiyot before and after it, however, Ha’azinu is noteworthy because for the first time in more than thirty chapters, Moses delivers his sermon in song. Why does Moses choose this...Read more...

L’Shana Tovah!

10/04/2016 03:30:52 PM

Oct4

Update this content.

October 3, 2016
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

What a wonderful Rosh Hashanah!  My favorite part of the holiday this year was… well… I’m not sure I can choose just one part. Our synagogue overflowed with community, music, prayer and celebration.  The energy on Rosh Hashanah was electric. On to a new year!  “Not so fast, though,” the Jewish calendar reminds us. There...Read more...

Back to (High Holiday) School

09/29/2016 09:14:09 AM

Sep29

September 29, 2016
by Cantor David Frommer

Like every Jewish child, I grew up with “subtle” hints and hopes from my parents that my career might one day be in medicine. It’s like the classic joke where the first Jewish president of the United States is giving his inaugural address. In the audience, his mother leans over to the person next to her and whispers, “You see my son up there? His brother’s a doctor!” There was...Read more...

Justice is knocking at our doors

09/20/2016 09:09:16 AM

Sep20

September 20, 2016
by Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

Justice is knocking at our doors. Not just on our doors, but on doors all over the world. But for most of us in the U.S., the knocking is quiet, because it comes from a distance. Refugees are waiting in camps and on lists, often in places where they have no legal status, so they cannot actually knock on our doors. 

Two weeks ago, we read one of the most powerful and widely...Read more...

The Living Room Wall

09/14/2016 11:51:06 AM

Sep14

September 14, 2016
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

For years, I had purple squiggles painted on my living room wall. A meandering, rounded line that took twists and turns, it reminded me of my life’s journey. Not unlike the years of wandering in the desert that our ancestors experienced, I felt like I was on a path with lots of unexpected curves… and a distant destination.  

My journey back to Sherith Israel...Read more...

We Are All Anthony Weiner

09/06/2016 03:55:18 PM

Sep6

September 6, 2016
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

I’ve spent a lot of time at playgrounds recently. I’m newly fascinated by toddlers at play. For years, I used to walk by kids in a park and think that the endless cycle of sharing and not sharing any given toy was routine and uninteresting. Recently, I’ve come to understand that toddlers provide a window into human nature at its rawest. Toddlers don’t conceal their...Read more...

Standing Up by Sitting Down

08/24/2016 07:43:56 PM

Aug24

August 31, 2016
Cantor David Frommer

This week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a spirited public debate on the merits of civil protest when he refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem before a preseason football game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media in an interview published on...Read more...

Sun, 26 March 2017 28 Adar 5777