Rabbi Pam’s Message


Rabbi Pam’s latest message appears at top of this column.

Previous messages are in ascending chronological order

PAYING IT FORWARD – December 12, 2018

By Rabbi Pam Frydman

Tuesday is my day off and it’s the day I do most of my errands. This week I took clothes and household goods that I no longer use and donated them to Community Thrift on behalf of our shul. I drove along Mission Street, entered the alley called Sycamore and carried my things from the car to the cement drop off counter.

“Do you have a preferred charity?” the man asked. “Congregation B’nai Emunah!” I said.

He looked on the list of charities. “It’s number 107,” he said with a smile. His co-worker gave me a donation form to fill out and within minutes I was on my way with a donation receipt in hand. I hope the clothes and household goods I used to enjoy will find a nice person who needs them now. I hope the people working at Community Thrift are better off for being able to work there, and I hope my donation yields some needed funds for our shul.

I received an email this morning from a woman who used a prayer that I gave her a while back. She is now writing a book and the prayer will be included. I didn’t write the prayer and we don’t know eactly who wrote it, but the first time it appeared in print was in the 9th century in a book called Seder Amram, the first known order of Jewish prayers and the precursor to our modern prayer book. Seder Amram is attributed to the great sage Rabbi Amram Ben Sheshna who taught in the Academy of Sura in Babylonia in the 9th century. Thanks to Rabbi Amram, we have a compilation of prayers and readings from the Tanakh (Bible), Talmud and other sources and we also have prayers and readings that do not appear anywhere else before the time of his writing of Seder Amram.

Clothes and household goods last just a short time compared with the lasting benefit music, art, worship and literature that last through centuries to lift our senses and enrich our lives. But for the people who are able to buy an outfit or a household good at an affordable price and for us to earn much needed funds for our congregation, the benefit is tremendous.

Donating to Community Thrift on behalf of Congregation B’nai Emunah is charity at the highest possible level because it helps Community Thrift to employ its workers and it helps the needy and it helps us.

Today I came across an article of clothing I no longer use. It didn’t make it into yesterday’s drop off, so I put it in an empty bag to attract new items for my next trip to Community Thrift in a few months from now.

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THANKSGIVING THROUGH A JEWISH LENS – November 24, 2018

By Rabbi Pam Frydman

Excerpted from a Brunch with Brilliants Congregation P’nai Tikvah November 20, 2016

        During Thanksgiving weekend, I gave this talk during Shabbat morning services about the connection between the American holiday of Thanksgiving and the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

The early Puritans who settled in the New World were Protestants and their original homeland was in England. The Puritans felt that the Anglican Church of England was not sufficiently Protestant and was too close to Roman Catholic. So, the Puritans raised their voices and protested against many of the practices of the Church of England. This created tension between the Puritans and the followers of the Anglican Church. Because of this, in the late 1500s, both the English government and the English people began marginalizing and persecuting the Puritans.

In 1608, the Puritans who were living in the village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire decided to escape persecution by moving to the Netherlands. They settled in the Dutch town of Leyden where there was also a community of Sephardi Jews.

According to my research, the Puritans witnessed the celebration of Sukkot among their Sephardi neighbors, including the practices of eating and sleeping in the sukkah, praying and singing songs of thanksgiving. Perhaps the Puritans also witnessed the shaking of the lulav and etrog.

The Puritans also read the Bible, which includes the story of the Israelites being in slavery and becoming free and eventually settling in the Promised Land. The Puritans longed for religious freedom in a land that had the promise of a better future. The Puritans enjoyed religious freedom in the Netherlands, but the Dutch open lifestyle was too liberal for the Puritans and they also had a difficult time finding work and obtaining promotions because the Dutch guilds did not welcome migrants.

For these reasons, the Puritans decided to relocate to the New World to begin a life of religious freedom and financial promise. So, they sent a delegation from the Netherlands to England to request permission from the British government to migrate to the British colonies in the New World. The British government gave the Puritans permission to create a settlement between Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River. The King of England also gave the Puritans permission to leave the Church of England and practice their own Protestant faith in the New World on the condition that they would conduct themselves peacefully.[1]

Based on my research, I believe the Puritan dream of settling in the New World to enjoy religious freedom and a better life was a form of walking in the footsteps of the ancient Israelites whose stories the Puritans had learned either from the Bible or from their Sephardi neighbors or perhaps both.

Meanwhile, the Puritans in England purchased a ship called the Mayflower and they sailed on the Mayflower from London to Southampton where they began purchasing provisions for the journey across the Atlantic.

The Puritans in the Netherlands purchased a second ship called the Speedwell. They left their homes in the Dutch town of Leyden and traveled to the Dutch port of Delfshaven, where they boarded the Speedwell and sailed to the English port of Southampton to meet up with the Mayflower.[2]

During the voyage from the Netherlands to England, the Speedwell began to leak. The Puritans repaired the Speedwell in England and they set sail for the New World on both the Speedwell and the Mayflower. After a week at sea, however, the Speedwell began leaking again, so they docked and repaired the ship yet again, but when they set sail again, the Speedwell began leaking yet again.

After three tries, the Puritans docked in the English port of Plymouth, they abandoned the Speedwell, loaded everything onto the Mayflower, and traveled to the New World on the one ship. During the journey across the Atlantic, the Puritans’ greatest challenge was sea sickness. When they arrived in the New World, their greatest challenge was stormy weather. Because of the weather, they were not able to reach the Hudson River, so they anchored in Provincetown Harbor on Cape Cod.

The Puritans who made the pilgrimage to the New World became known as Pilgrims. A number of Pilgrims perished on the Mayflower from illness or weather. The survivors left the ship in Provincetown and began exploring on land. After a month of exploration, they chose a site to build a plantation and on Christmas Day 1620, the Pilgrims began the construction of their first buildings.

Three months later, in March 1621, Native American leaders from the Wampanoag tribe approached the fledgling Pilgrim community. A Wampanoag named Squanto helped the Pilgrims to grow corn and he also helped them use fish to fertilize their fields. After several meetings between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, the two peoples joined together in an agreement to protect one another from other tribes in the area.[3]

In November 1621, a year after the Pilgrims had arrived in the New World, they had their first harvest and decided to hold a three-day celebration. According to historians, the Pilgrims went hunting for meat to enjoy with the produce from their harvest. The Wampanoag Native Americans heard lots of gunshots and they thought the Pilgrims were preparing for war.

Because of the agreement to protect one another, a Wampanoag leader, named Massasoit, visited the Pilgrims’ settlement with about 90 of his men to offer their help.[4] But Massasoit soon realized that the English Pilgrims were not going to war. They were just hunting for the celebration, so Massasoit sent some of his men to hunt deer and the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans joined together for a three-day celebration that came to be known as the first Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans feasted on turkey, venison,[5] shellfish, corn, berries, pumpkins and squash. The connection between the first Thanksgiving and the Jewish Festival Sukkot was not in the menu, and it was also not in the guest list. Rather, it was in the celebration of the harvest and the welcoming of guests. It also seems that the first Thanksgiving was not a particularly religious festival and it was instead a harvest celebration.

By two years later, in 1623, the Pilgrims had become known as colonists, and they wanted to give thanks for the rain that had fallen after two months of drought. Their Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 was the first religious celebration of Thanksgiving and it included prayers of thanksgiving for the rain that had fallen.

I believe it is important to learn about the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans, because we tend to marginalize the Pilgrims without realizing that they began by having a meaningful relationship with Native Americans in their area. It was only later that the relationship between the Native Americans and the colonists became severed and genocide ensued.

The Jewish connection with the American holiday of Thanksgiving is in the giving of thanks for the harvest, in giving thanks for rain and in including our neighbors in the celebration. As we know, Sukkot was also an ancient harvest festival and a festival of giving thanks. Immediately following Sukkot, we celebrate the harvest festival of Shmini Atzeret, during which we begin our annual prayers for rain.

How blessed we are to live in the United States. We are not a perfect nation. The genocide against the Native Americans is not something of which we can be proud, but many immigrants have settled on this land, including our ancestors, and we and our ancestors have deep roots here.

May the American dream continue for us and our descendants. May our dreams also include the dreams of our Native American brothers and sisters who continue to live on this land. And may the American dream also continue for immigrants who have arrived more recently, and those who will arrive in the future. May we all learn to live together in peace. May we all merit to give thanks for the bounty of our lives during the season of Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Kein yehi ratzon. So may it be.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] http://www.history.com/topics/mayflower

[2] http://mayflowerhistory.com/voyage/

[3] http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

[4] http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/

[5] Venison is deer meat.

Kein yehi ratzon. So may it be.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] http://www.history.com/topics/mayflower

[2] http://mayflowerhistory.com/voyage/

[3] http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

[4] http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/

[5] Venison is deer meat.

 * * * *

Installation Talk – Nov 18, 2018

These are the remarks that I prepared for the November 18th Installation.

Thank you.  Thank you Stan and Lynda for traveling to be with us. Thank you to Stan and to Jerry Bloom of United Synagogue and to all of our other speakers and performers for your blessings and inspiration and to everyone who has helped with the food and decorations. In particular, thank you to our Installation Committee – Sharon, Ken, Val, Marsha, Frank and Elena as well as to Ralph, Shais and Robin.

Thank you to our Board of Directors and staff and Committees and to all of our members for being so warm and welcoming. Thank you to Supervisor Katie Tang for honoring me today and to incoming Supervisor Gordon Mar for joining us. I am humbled by your presence and the honor bestowed.

Thank you to the Rabbis and Cantors, leaders and members of the Southside Jewish Collaborative and our other sister congregations in the Jewish and interfaith communities for your love and support. Thank you to my sons Josh and Terry and my daughter-in-law Ericka for being here and to my daughter-in-law Allie who is with us in spirit. Thank you as well to my Stone family and Gelfand/Hertz family to all of my colleagues and friends who are joining us today, including Herb Berhstock, President of the California Division of the United Nations Association and his wife Dorie.

I want to dedicate my words to three very special people: Shais St. Martin, Michael Pappas and Gertrude Alexander.

Shais St. Martin is our Executive Director and it is Shais who makes the wheels turn. Shais doesn’t leave the building until everything is ready for the activities that will take place and even when he is not here physically, he is just a text or an email away for anything and everything that is needed. Shais not only provides the brawn; he is also the brains behind the brawn, thinking through every aspect of how programs and opportunities intertwine to make room for all of our activities and those who participate in our activities. Thank you Shais. You are an inspiration to all of us.

Michael Pappas is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. Michael was planning to be with us today, but he was called away to the bedside of his mother Katherine, who passed away with her sons Michael and Nick at her side. May Katherine’s memory be a blessing and may the Pappas and Drogaris families be comforted in their mourning. We look forward to having Michael with us at another time, hopefully for a happy occasion.

Gertrude Alexander is the beloved wife of our beloved Rabbi Ted, of blessed memory. Gerty was on the Kinder Transport from Austria to England. In England, Gerty insisted on kosher food when others didn’t seem to care. And, when she made her way to Shanghai, she fell in love with Ted while watching him pour Kiddush wine into tiny cups and seeing how beautifully he cared for each of the little children who came to shul in Shanghai.

Gerty and their daughter Leslie and Leslie’s family were the light of Ted’s life, and Ted and Leslie and her family continue to be the light of Gerty’s life.

Gerty, I cannot begin to say how much it means to me and to all of us that you are here with us today. You are a light and an inspiration to all of us. We cherish you. You and Guenter Grushka, Fred Walker, Mike Knobloch, Henry Haertel, Ilse Ullman and the other survivors who are with us in the shul, you are an inspiration for how important it is to never forget and to never take our freedom and our Yiddishkeit for granted.

I have very big shoes to fill. Rabbi Mark Melamut is a spiritual leader and educator par excellence. He developed deep and abiding relationships with adults, children and seniors and his adult b’nai mitzvah class was legendary. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark for his blessing, inspiration and guidance.

Rabbi Ted Alexander was also a spiritual leader and educator par excellence. His Introduction to Judaism classes changed the lives of his students, many of whom have become Jews by Choice. Rabbi Ted was ordained in the Asia Seminary. The Jewish Theological Seminary immediately accepted his ordination and after 25 years in the rabbinate, JTS bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate. It was during Rabbi Ted’s tenure that we formally affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement in which I became bat mitzvah, served as President of United Synagogue and was trained as a Jewish educator.

We are honored that our own Frank Kurtz is a Past Chair of United Synagogue for our Region and we are grateful for the warmth and support that we enjoy from our present United Synagogue Regional Chair Jerry Bloom and our Regional Kehilla Relationship Manager Rachel Sisk.

Back in the day, our founding Rabbi Dr. George Kantorowsky served for 19 transformative years that paved the way for Rabbi Ted and Rabbi Mark. I humbly walk in all of their footsteps.

Our Cantor Emeritus Linda Semi is traveling and sends her greetings. I want to thank Cantor Linda and Jeff Dielle for mentoring me in our B’nai Emunah melodies and to Shais as well.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was the compiler of the Mishna. Yehudah HaNasi took the teachings of past generations and compiled and edited them for future generations. He lived at the time of the Roman occupation, the worst genocide of our people until the Holocaust. Yehudah HaNasi approached the Roman rule Marcus Aurelius and convinced Marcus Aurelius to allow him to write the Mishna at a time when Jews were not even allowed to possess a Torah, let alone write one.

We owe the Mishna to the courage and vision of Yehudah HaNasi and the Mishna has become a pivotal gem between Jewish written law and Jewish oral law. One of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s most memorable teachings is one in which he says, “Much have a I learned from my teachers, even more from my colleagues, but the most have I learned from my students.”

I am honored and thrilled to serve our congregation. I learn every day from those who study with me and those who help to guide, steer and run our congregation as staff and volunteers. I learn from you as my peers and I learn from you as my teachers who are teaching me even as I endeavor to serve in the religious and spiritual capacities for which you are empowering me today.

On Friday night, we sometimes sing the words of Ana B’Koach, the prayer that says, oh God, please untie our tangles, raise us high and help us to be pure. The Ana B’Koach prayer is attributed to Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana, a scholar and mystic of the first century of the common era. According to legend, Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana used to conclude his teachings with a prayer for everyone’s wellbeing.

I want to conclude with these prayers as well. May our connections with our faith and with our congregations bring meaning to our lives and help us to untie our tangles. May we be blessed with better air to breathe, with fewer natural disasters and fewer human caused disasters. May we be blessed with health, with the means to live fulfilling lives and with peace for us here in the Bay Area and all over our state, our nation, the State of Israel and the entire world.

Kein Yehi ratzon. So may it be.

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INTERFAITH WARMTH AT THE PARLIAMENT – November 9, 2018

by Rabbi Pam Frydman

During the first week in November, I was in Toronto attending the Parliament of World Religions. During the opening session, religious leaders of diverse faiths addressed a crowd of 7,000, reaching out to the Jewish community in light of the tragedy in Pittsburg. Among the speakers were Rabbis Yael Splansky and Baruch Frydman-Kohl. They spoke eloquently, acknowledging the tragic deaths of Jews in Pittsburgh, African Americans in Kentucky, Sikhs in a gurdwara in Wisconsin and Muslims in a mosque in Quebec. They also spoke about the roots of anti-Semitism and the value of interfaith relations. Rabbi Baruch’s remarks were published in MacClean’s, a national Canadian publication.

I attended Shabbat morning services in Rabbi Baruch’s shul. I led the Prayer for Israel and joined the congregation’s rabbis and cantor in leading a Canadian peace song and Adon Olam as we stood arm in arm with imams and presidents of local mosques. I shook the freezing cold hands of 40 Muslims who had spent an hour of our davening time standing in the cold forming a circle of peace around the synagogue. Congregation Beth Tzedec was one of eight synagogues surrounded by Muslims on that Shabbat morning. Our Muslim guests considered their act of kindness as a sign of their friendship with the Toronto Jewish community and also as a form of reciprocity for the Jews of Toronto who had formed circles of peace around mosques after the shooting in Quebec.

The Parliament of World Religions includes hundreds of sessions where one may experience diverse faiths and learn about how others are helping to make the world a better place. On Sunday night, there was a music and dance concert with performers from all over the world, including a Jewish woman who led the crowd of thousands in chanting Bo’i Kallah (a phrase from our Friday night worship that means “come here, oh bride”.)

On Tuesday morning, I attended worship in the Sikh tradition. I wore my kippah under a scarf that covered much of my hair as is the custom for women who are not Sikhs. I listened, read along in English and chanted in their language from transliteration. I marveled at how similar their words are to ours. “You are one, oh Lord.” “I am nothing. God is everything.” “You are in everything and outside of everything.” A Sikh leader spoke about how different religions call on the one God by different names.

At one point, I glanced from our Sikh leaders toward the middle of the room where a Jewish man had entered and was sitting in tallit and tefillin swaying along with the Sikh music of prayer.

I was looking forward to being back in San Francisco and celebrating with Colin and Patrick and their family during Shabbat Parshat Toldot. I was also looking forward to co-leading the service with Cantor Linda on Shabbat morning and being in shul on Friday night and Shabbat morning with everyone who would join us. I knew that I would wear just my kippah without a scarf, but I also knew that I would still be carrying in my heart the prayers of the Sikh leader from Syracuse who had stopped me in the hall on the opening night of the Parliament to offer his personal condolences and prayers for the Jewish community.

Anti-Semitism is a reality that we cannot seem to eradicate, but together we can stand with everyone everywhere who wishes to stand with us to help make the world a better place, a more peaceful place for our children, grandchildren and future generations.

May we be safe, may we be prosperous, and may our efforts make a difference for us, for all Jewish people, and for all people everywhere. And let us say: Amen.