Menorah, sukkah, and nu, grandchildren

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Sandy Silverstein is a mensch. That’s what I thought, upon meeting him via Skype in early January 2012, and in person in Westport, Connecticut, later that month. Sandy oozes professionalism, competency, and yiddishkeit, which are vital characteristics of a synagogue executive director. Sandy is also spiritual, and frequently reminds me that our decisions should always be based on Jewish values rooted in Jewish text, including the Torah and Talmud.

Sandy and his wife, Meryl, moved to our community at the end of June, and he began working at PTS on July 1. Collaborating with Sandy on a near-daily basis is one of the joys of my term as congregational president.

While Sandy has met and talked to many PTS congregants, seven months isn’t close to enough time to meet everyone. To jump-start that process, let’s find out what makes Sandy tick.

Alan: Sandy, please tell us about your family  Meryl, the boys, pets… and of course, grandchildren.

Sandy: Meryl and I have been married for 37 years. We are living in San Mateo, where Meryl is now an active volunteer at the local high school as well as at PTS. We are the parents of two wonderful sons, Stephen and Howard.

Stephen is Assistant Professor in Spanish at Baylor university in Waco, Texas, and he is engaged to Alla Aksel, who is completing her Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Alla works for Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor. The wedding will be this summer!

Howard is married to Jess. They both work for the State of New York, and make their home near Albany. They are the parents of our two adorable grandchildren, miles (almost 3 years old) and Skylar (8 months old).

Our home would not be complete without our Irish Setter, Scarlette. She is a “rescue.” All of our dogs have been rescues. meryl used to foster dogs waiting for adoption.

Alan: You are a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, who spent many years living in New England. As you settle into the Bay Area, what has surprised you about life Out West?

Sandy: When I arrived for my first day of work last July, I was firmly admonished, “Sandy, we don’t wear ties!” I learned quickly that what is considered dress-down on the East Coast is business casual on the Peninsula.

Alan: Other than our Family Shabbat dinners and Judaica Shop, where are your favorite places to hang out, shop, and eat?

Sandy: We are still exploring the Peninsula and the Bay Area. We do not hesitate going into the City with our out-of-town visitors, though the traffic is always a challenge. We have found a few favorite restaurants, like on Laurel Ave. in San Carlos, but are always up to trying new things.

We even went to Livermore for wine tasting!

Alan: When you visited our Temple for the first time, what impressed you most?

Sandy: I could not get over the beauty of the Sanctuary. Truly stunning.

Alan: You brought us a new sukkah and installed the new outdoor chanukiyah above the school entrance. Tell us about those beautiful additions.

Sandy: I bring a fresh set of eyes to look at past practices, to see what new things I can bring to my work and to the congregation. The opportunity to showcase our holidays to everyone who comes to our Temple is one of the reasons we built a new sukkah and installed the beautiful 9-foot chanukiyah on top of the school.

A congregant overheard a preschooler exclaiming to her mother in the parking lot, “Look — there are three more nights to Chanukah!?” The child had counted the unlit candles remaining. Perfect.

My background allows me to suggest such innovations. Stay tuned. There are more to come!

Alan: When you brag to your friends Back East about your new spiritual home, what do you talk about?

Sandy: You can guess — the weather! Also that PTS only does a single bar/bat mitzvah on a Saturday morning, instead of doubling them up.

Alan: As we move into the spring, what’s on top of your PTS to-do list?

Sandy: The biggest item is the annual operating budget. The budget is an expression of both our vision and values. Working with lay leaders and senior staff to create the budget is a major undertaking each year — but well worth the time and effort. The result is a wonderful year of well-attended programs, holidays, worship, learning, and community.

Alan: You like to get to know members and their families. What’s the best way for them to meet you?

Sandy: I hope people will come by and see me in the office. Free coffee, free conversation — what could be better?


Changing the calendar for the new year

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

In our home, January 1 brings an important ritual – the changing of the calendars. We have pretty pictorial calendars in nearly every room of our home. Some rooms have multiple calendars. We have calendars of hummingbirds, the haunting Scottish Highlands, exotic sports cars, United States Marines, the rugged Maine coastline, adorable guinea pigs, historic computers, Renoir paintings, and lots more. Calendars are everywhere.

This month, all the 2012 calendars must come down and be discarded. All the 2013 calendars must be removed from their protective plastic wrappings and hung with care.

We need not change our Jewish calendars, of course, because we are still early in 5773. Thus, all we have to do is flip a page on the calendar from Home of Peace Memorial Park in Colma. Easy!

Another calendar we don’t have to change for January 2013 is the PTS Master Calendar. You can see two versions of it yourself. one is on our website, www.sholom.org. The other is in this printed Bulletin, on the opposing page – neatly formatted, suitable for hanging on your fridge.

The Master Calendar, maintained by Bev Rochelle in the Temple office, contains much more than what you see online or in the Bulletin. It is a key document that informs staff, teachers, and clergy about what’s going on every day at PTS — and outside our facility, too.

Before you schedule a meeting or event at the Temple, please talk to Bev about the date, time, and space requirements, so she can check the Master Calendar for availability and conflicts.

As the Temple’s long-time Webmaster, I rely upon the Master Calendar to help maintain the sholom.org calendar. our facility is busy nearly every day – jam-packed.

As you would expect, the Master Calendar contains a wealth of data about worship services, including Erev Shabbat services, pre-service onegs and Saturday morning Shabbat services.

The calendar includes the Lay-Led Minyan, each Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the Multipurpose Room, and the Sephardic Minyan, at the same time in the Chapel. Each month there are dozens of worship services listed.

The Master Calendar includes all of the details of Bar/Bat Mitzvah services scheduled several years in advance, as well as related luncheons, dinners, and parties held in our Social Hall. B’nai Mitzvah rehearsals are also listed, many of which are Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

There are also all the Preschool Shabbats, held each Friday at 11:35 a.m. in the Chapel – and then Preschool Havdalah on Monday at 11:40 a.m. Most months, we also have a monthly Shabbat Tot ‘n’ Torah service.

All the festivities for Chanukah, Purim, the High Holidays, and more are in the Master Calendar. That includes the Tu BiSh’vat dinner and mini-seder, the Second Day Community Seder, the Sukkot dinner, and Yizkor services throughout the year. It’s all there.

Want to shop in the Starr*Stevens Judaica Shop? The dates and hours are listed in the Master Calendar, so that the Temple office can inform congregants and community shoppers.

Meetings, meetings, meetings! The Master Calendar is chock full of them, including the Brotherhood Board on Sunday, January 6, Sholom Women on Sunday, January 13, the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, January 16, and many others. The calendar includes staff-only meetings, including a weekly Senior Staff/Clergy Meeting and other meetings for our teachers and administrative employees.

Groups within our PTS community have their dates on the Master Calendar. Blankets of Kindness? Check. Brotherhood Bingo? Check. Rosh Hodesh for Girls? Check. Black & White Ball? Check. Sholom Women Chai Tea? Check. Mitzvah Chefs? Check. Women’s Drama Group? Check. There are even dates for the Hava Nashira band’s rehearsals on Thursday evenings.

Education? You bet. The Master Calendar includes all the sessions of Preschool and Religious School on Sunday mornings, Monday nights, and Wednesday nights, and calls out dates when Religious School won’t be held. The calendar also includes special learning sessions, such as parent education. Youth events, too, for our young children and high school PARTY kids.

Adult education is covered as well, including Lifelong Learning lectures on Mondays, talks during Religious School Sundays, Scholars in Residence, and additional programming. Plus, of course, it lists ongoing classes on Conversational Hebrew on Monday nights, Wednesday morning Back to the Source sessions and Jewish understandings of the Afterlife on Thursday mornings. Let’s not forget the monthly Hot Topic brown-bag lunchtime study group.

The full Master Calendar goes beyond PTS meetings and events. The calendar lists when each employee will be taking vacation or doing business travel, so the staff can be well- informed. It lists school holidays for local public and private schools, so that we can be aware of those dates when planning events. (Yes, it is very frustrating that schools aren’t consistent on dates for Spring Break!)

PTS hosts congregational and community support groups, and those dates and times are on the Master Calendar. This includes Home and Hope, one of our most important Social Action programs, during which PTS provides temporary housing to homeless families.

Last, but not least, are facility rentals. Some of these are one-offs, others are recurring. Not only do these rentals provide a source of income to the Temple, but by sharing our space with our broader community, we build bridges and deepen bonds with our friends and neighbors.

The Master Calendar is big. It’s huge. It’s packed. It’s busy. It is a blessing to see how much goes on each week here at Peninsula Temple Sholom.


Shaimot in the Genizah

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Let’s explore four of the most commonly asked questions – usually posed in the parking lot on Sunday afternoons, which of course is where all the important Temple business is conducted…

What’s wrong with the dome over the Sanctuary?

“Alan – come look! There’s a problem with the roof!” Hardly a week goes by when a worried congregant doesn’t grab my arm in the parking lot and point out the ugly black blotches on the formerly all-white Sanctuary dome. In 1991 or so, the Temple installed a gravel roof onto the dome. Right from the beginning, there was a problem with the light-colored gravel washing off in the rain, revealing the dark undercoating.

Gary Fishtrom, who chairs the hard-working Temple Facilities Committee, explains that the problem is mainly cosmetic. The dome is structurally sound and the roof does not leak. Next spring, Gary says, the gravel roof is being replaced with an elastomeric composition roof embedded with tiny white granules to permanently retain the color. (To be specific, it’s Elastahyde #720ARC and #10 Fire White Granulate. The things you learn in shul business.)

The new dome surface will be environmentally friendly, as it will reflect the ultraviolet rays and heat of the sun during the summer months and retain the heat during the cold winter months. Best of all, no more white gravel to get washed away and no more unsightly black blotches.

When is Rabbi Feder’s contract up for renewal?

Rabbi Dan Feder’s current contract began July 2009 and ends June 2014. The contract says that the Board will vote on renewing the Rabbi’s contract in early 2013. That way, both the Rabbi and the Temple know what’s going on with plenty of advance notice, and can plan accordingly.

In January, we will publish the usual notice in the Bulletin seeking feedback from the congregation about Rabbi Feder. All feedback will be reviewed, in confidence, by the PTS Personnel Committee, which consists of Chair April Glatt; Scott Rodrick, Lauren Schlezinger; Michelle Tandowsky, and yours truly.

The Personnel Committee will make its recommendation to the Board of Trustees, and the Board will vote on Rabbi Feder’s renewal in the March Board meeting.

A more detailed description of the process – which is designed to be open, fair, and thorough – can be found in the Member’s Only section of our website, www.sholom.org/members.

Are the Temple finances healthy?

The state of our synagogue is strong. For fiscal year 2012- 2013, Peninsula Temple Sholom has a balanced budget and stable membership. Most years, we end up with a small budget surplus, which has allowed the Temple to make extra principal payments to chip away at the $1.3 million mortgage.

The mortgage is a remnant of the extensive renovation a decade ago, during which we extensively remodeled the Sanctuary and Social Hall, and of course tore down and completely rebuilt the Preschool/Religious School building, resulting in the beautiful Rabbi Gerald and Helen Raiskin Torah Center. Raise your hand if you remember High Holy Days at the San Mateo Event Center, or the year of Religious School in the portable classrooms!

In fiscal 2012-2013, the Preschool is essentially at capacity. Unfortunately, we enrolled fewer students in the Religious School than budgeted. Eran Vaisben, Director of Education, has offset the tuition revenue shortfall through careful expense management. Thanks to your generosity, and despite the difficult economy, we predict a balanced budget yet again.

Have you learned any interesting stuff about the Temple?

Lots! Let’s talk about the genizah and the Two Benches.

A genizah is a storage space or underground vault where damaged sacred documents, called shaimot, are buried. Shaimot are worn-out prayer books, fragments of old Torah scrolls, faded mezuzah parchments, and anything unwanted but containing the name of God – which by tradition, we don’t simply throw away, but place respectfully in a genizah.

The world’s most famous genizah is the Cairo Genizah, where more than 210,000 ancient shaimot were buried beginning around 1,200 years ago. It’s a treasure trove for historians and archaeologists. PTS’s genizah is much smaller. The original was located behind the Social Hall, but had to be moved during the renovation.

In 2006, PTS opened a new genizah on the Rivera Drive side of the school staff parking lot, with a large commemorative marker set in the ground. See if you can find it! Behind the marker are pressure-treated boards covering the genizah vault itself, where the shaimot are ritually buried and allowed to decompose.

Finally, poking around the PTS property a few weeks ago, I discovered a small unpaved walking trail that starts in the back parking lot off Arguello Drive. The trail starts up the slope away from the Temple, then turns to the right and heads toward the school building. On that trail are two small wooden benches perfect for meditation. I’ve been a member of PTS since the early 1990s, and had no idea that these existed.

You might find me sitting on one of those benches next time you visit PTS. Zikh gezetst, let’s sit together.


Bring a friend to synagogue!

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Judaism is a communal religion. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we worship together, we learn together, we play together. The sages taught that you can’t study Torah on your own. We need ten Jewish adults, a minyan, in order to have a full prayer service. While we observe Shabbat, Chanukah, or Pesach at home, it’s a lot more fulfilling to come together on Friday nights at the Sanctuary, at the annual latke fry, or at the community seder.

Community. We are all part of the community of Peninsula Temple Sholom, all part of its congregation. Let’s expand our community by bringing our friends into this kehila kedosha, embracing them within our wonderful, sacred congregation.

Community matters, but the reality is that the vast majority of Jewish families in the Bay Area aren’t affiliated with synagogues – 70%, according to a recent study. Let’s work together to reverse this trend. We can start by bringing new people into our congregation, into our community. Introduce them to PTS. Help them become part of our family.

How? Let’s get tangible. Think about your Jewish friends, your Jewish neighbors, coworkers, those you meet all the time at yoga class, the dog park, the golf course, the book club, school group, professional association. Would they like to meet other Jewish families? Many of those people are simply waiting for an invitation — and would feel better coming for the first time with friends who can introduce them around.

Remember, your friends do not need to be members of PTS to participate in the life of our congregation, to worship with us, to learn with us, to attend our myriad programs.

This isn’t difficult. All you have to do is ask, “Would you like to come to Shabbat dinner with me this Friday evening?” or “Hey, there’s a great book author visiting our Temple next month. Would you like to hear her lecture?”

Shabbat worship. Let me ask you to bring a non-PTS Jewish friend to at least one Shabbat service this year. We have a wide range of Friday evening Shabbat services, from the Tot ‘n’ Torah services for our youngest children, to the Family Services for school-aged kids, to Hava Nashira musical celebrations, and Kabbalat Shabbat. Saturday mornings, we not only have Shabbat services to celebrate B’nai Mitzvah, but also Sephardic and Lay-Led Minyanim. Bring a friend!

Family dinners. During the school year, everyone can enjoy wonderful Family Dinners before Erev Shabbat services. Check the schedule on the website or in the Bulletin. Family Dinners aren’t only for religious school families, and your friends don’t have to be members to join us.

So, nu, eat already! Nothing says “welcome” like breaking bread together, enjoying wine (or grape juice), singing the motzei over challah, sitting, laughing, and then attending a beautiful Shabbat service. Please come to at least one Family Dinner this year – and bring a friend!

Adult education and programming. This year, our Lifelong Learning program features Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi Naomi Levi, John Rothmann, Marty Brounstein, and many more. Invite your friends to listen and learn from these experts.
Our wonderful clergy and senior staff teach classes ranging from Rabbi Feder’s Torah Today to Rabbi Stern’s sessions on the Jewish Afterlife to Eran Vaisben’s Hebrew Conversation program. Those classes are open to anyone in the community. Sign up and bring a friend!

New this year is a partnership between PTS and the Bureau of Jewish Education. This fall’s lectures are by Frances Dinkelspiel, Rabbi Joshua Plaut, Ilan Vitemberg, and Vivi Toran. We hope you attend at least one of those programs – maybe your friends would like to attend as well.

Community celebrations. The Hanukah Latke Fry. The Second Day Seder. Please join us. Your friends are very, very welcome to take part in all the festivities.

When you bring your friends, please introduce them around to your fellow congregants, to our clergy and staff, to board members and lay leaders. We want your friends to feel welcome — and become our friends too, joining us in our community and our congregation. And who knows? Perhaps your friends will come to another Shabbat service or adult ed. lecture — bringing more friends. The more the merrier!

That is how we build community. Together. Bring a friend!

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Skeuomorph: Fake leather textures on your mobile apps – good or bad?

Skeuomorph. I learned this word a few weeks ago, after a flurry of stories broke on various mass-media websites about an apparent kerfuffle within Apple about user interface design.

A skeuomorph is a design element that looks functional, but is actually purely ornamental. The automotive world is rife with skeuomorphs. Fake hood scoops on sports cars, plastic tire covers that imitate wire wheels, plastic that’s textured and painted to look like wood.

Check out the Wikipedia page and you’ll see several examples, including the program that sparked a number of articles. That’s Apple’s iCal calendaring application on the company’s iPhone and iPad devices, or Calendar on a Mac.

Look at the calener on an iPad. See how the app is designed to resemble an old printed calendar, and the top of the app looks like embossed leather, complete with stitching? See how there’s even a little graphic detail that make it look like pages have been torn out.

Some find that kitschy or distracting. Some find it cute. Some people, like me, never particularly noticed those elements. Some people, apparently like the late Steve Job, believe that faux-reality designs like the leather calendar, or like the wooden bookshelves in iBooks, enhance the experience. Some people, apparently, are infuriated by the notion of foisting an outdated analog user-interface model on a digital device.

A number of those infuriated people are quoted in a story in Fast Company, “Will Apple’s Tacky Software-Design Philosophy Cause a Revolt?”

Some of these designs may be nostalgic to older customers, but may be increasingly meaningless to most consumers of digital products. I’ve seen phone-dialer apps that look like the old rotary telephone dial – and they’re stupid, in my humble opinion. So are address-book apps that look like an old Rolodex, or calendar programs that resemble the Pocket Day-Timer I carried around in the 1980s and 1990s.

If you (or your young coworkers) never used a rotary phone, or owned a Rolodex, or carried a Day-Timer, those user interface metaphors make little sense. They don’t enhance productivity, they detract from it.

Worse, the strictures of the old UI metaphors may constrain the creativity of both developers and end users. If you want to innovate and reinvent productivity tools or business applications, you may not want to force your visual design or workflow to conform to old analog models. Microsoft’s Windows 8, in fact, is being held up as the new paradigm – simple colorful squares, no drop shadows or eye candy, and no skeuomorph. See another article from Fast Company, “Windows 8: The Boldest, Biggest Redesign in Microsoft’s History.”


Building and protecting the Sukkat Shalom, the Shelter of Peace – High Holy Days remarks

My 2012/5773 Rosh Hashanah speech at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Hashkiveinu Adonai Elokeinu l’shalom, v’ha-amideynu malkeinu l’chayim, ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

Grant, Eternal One, that we may lie down in peace and rise up again, O God, to life renewed. Spread over us the shelter of your peace

The Hashkiveinu is one of our most beautiful and important prayers, and one of my favorites.

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

Sukkat Sh’lomecha means a shelter of Your peace, in this case, God’s peace. The phrase Sukkat Sholom means roughly the same thing – a shelter of peace.

Throughout the High Holy Days, we will hear from Rabbi Feder and Rabbi Stern about Sukkat Shalom as a new initiative here at Peninsula Temple Sholom.

A shelter of peace doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere. Prayers alone won’t build it. Love alone won’t put food on the table during our Family Dinners. Kindness alone won’t pay the electricity bill.

Someone has to build the Sukkat Shalom. Someone has to guard it. Protect it. Maintain it. Not just someone. It’s not for someone else to build our Shelter. It’s our job. All of us – our clergy, our Temple staff, our lay leaders and you. We must work together to build and protect our Sukkat Shalom.

Who are the people who build the Sukkat Shalom, the people who guard it and guarantee the shelter of peace? Let’s call them the Heroes of PTS.

Heroes are in my thoughts because my son Michael is my biggest hero. You have seen him playing in the Hava Nashira band and serving as an usher during High Holy Days. You know, the tall, skinny red-headed kid on guitar, or working in the parking lot.

He’s not here this year.

Michael is observing Rosh Hashanah at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Camp Pendleton. Right now he is nearly half-way through Boot Camp, on his way to a career as a United States Marine. I miss Michael very much. I am wearing Michael’s Tallit these High Holy Days, and that helps us feel his presence.

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

My son is not the only Hero of PTS. Look around you. We are surrounded by heroes, by people who built our shelter of peace and maintain it.

Of course, much of the work is done by our Rabbis and Cantor, to our senior staff and teachers, from the office team to the custodians. They’re getting the bulk of the work done 24×7.

Think about our beloved Rabbi Raiskin of Blessed Memory, who marched in Selma, Alabama, to support human rights. Rabbi Raiskin may not have thought of himself as a hero, but he was one to me, and to everyone whose life he touched.

In our Reform movement, Rabbis and Cantors don’t sit around studying Talmud and debating Hillel vs. Shammai. They work hard. Oy, do they work hard!

Rabbi Dan Feder and Rabbi Rebekah Stern work seven days a week. They prepare classes. They write sermons. They lead services. They visit the sick. They serve on committees. They provide one-on-one counseling. They perform conversions.

Our Rabbis work in the community. They go to Shiva Minyans. They study. They teach. They listen. They learn. Our Rabbis are always available to you. And they do all this while also being good husbands and wives, strong parents to wonderful children.

Only a selfless hero would choose the life of a congregational rabbi. We love and honor them for their hard work, and for their devotion to spreading a Sukkat Shalom over the North Peninsula.

The same is true of the beloved Cantor Barry Reich. His truck is here every day – and so is his spirit. The ruach, the love, that our cantor has for this congregation and our children overflows.

Our newest hero is our brand-new Executive Director, Sandy Silverstein. He hasn’t even been here three months, and what a difference he has made. Sandy, let me once again welcome you and Meryl to our congregation.

I could go on and on about the amazing Allison Steckley, who directs our preschool, and the tireless Eran Vaisben, who has reinvented our religious school. The office staff, the preschool and religious school teachers, custodians and so many more.

But let me talk about you. You are the real heroes. Our founders. Our past presidents. The members of our Board of Trustees, past and present. The committee chairs. The committee members. The Brotherhood men who set up our golf tournaments and fry latkes. The Sholom Women who staff the gift shop every Sunday and fund scholarships. The many volunteers.

Everyone who comes to services, who brings kids to school, who drops off food for the food bank, sustains our shelter of peace.

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

One of the joys of being president of PTS is getting to talk to many of you one-on-one. Doesn’t matter if you’re a founder of PTS or a new member worshipping with us for the first time today, I want to get to know you.

You want to know my two newest heroes? I won’t name names – but you know who you are:

The man whose work schedule changed and give him more free time. His first thought was to volunteer at the Temple. He contacted Brian Hafter, our immediate past president, and Brian brought him to me. This congregant will help launch a new legacy program to endow our Sukkat Shalom for future generations. You’ll learn more about this in the Fall.

Another is a woman whose love for the congregation inspired her to join our Religious School committee. We met for coffee last week. This member is filled with ideas to engage school-age families with our Temple. She has incredible energy and is jumping in with both feet.

If you have ideas or thoughts about our Temple, talk to me or Sandy or the Rabbis. If you want to have coffee or chat on the phone, let’s make it happen. If you want to volunteer to help build and sustain our Sukkat Shalom, thank you, and bless you.

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

We need your support to build, protect and maintain our Shelter of Peace. This Rosh Hashanah, I am asking you to be a PTS hero in four ways.

First: Say Thank You to our clergy, staff, teachers and lay volunteers. Their work is often unnoticed and thankless. A friendly smile, a warm hug or handshake, and a hearty “well done!” will put new spring into their steps.

Second: Be an ambassador for our congregation. Bring your friends to Shabbat services and to our programs. Help us spread the canopy of peace far and wide through our community.

Third: Participate in our new Sukkat Shalom initiatives. Here are just a few that I’ll mention:

We have two Scholar in Residence Weekends scheduled. There’s Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in November. And then Rabbi Eric Weiss and the clergy of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in March. Also, three support groups will be held during the year: a bereavement support group, a care givers support workshop, and a mental health support group.

More programs will be announced soon. Please participate in those that fit your interests.

Fourth: Support the Temple with your generosity. All of us support the Temple with dues, but that doesn’t cover all the costs of operating PTS. To bridge the gap, we rely upon our annual High Holy Day Appeal.

We can handle every challenge if we come together as a community, relying on each other, sharing our strengths, resources and blessings. Your generosity allows our Sukkat Shalom to remain strong and vibrant.

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha

Spread over us the shelter of your peace

Thank YOU for being a Hero of PTS and for building our Sukkat Shalom, our sacred shelter of Peace. May the New Year be good and sweet to you, your family, and to our entire PTS community. Shana Tova.


A deep breath before the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Sermons are being written. Tiles are being laid. Tickets are being sorted. White neckties are being cleaned. Shofarot are being polished. Sermons are being rewritten.

Amidst the myriad preparations for the High Holy Days, everyone at Peninsula Temple Sholom pauses now and again to refresh the spirit. After a few moments of calm, the feverish activity begins anew. Rinse and repeat daily through Erev Rosh Hashanah on Sunday, September 16.

You’d never tell by cruising up Sebastian Drive in mid- August (as I write this) that the Temple clergy and staff face the busiest season of the year. Soon, every square foot of our synagogue will be packed with worshippers.

How is PTS preparing for the Days of Awe? Here are some highlights:

  • Rabbi Dan Feder is spending the last few weeks of his Sabbatical focusing on the High Holy Days. In early August, for example, he attended a rabbinic workshop in Asilomar, focusing on spiritual preparation, study of texts, and sermon preparation.
  • Rabbi Rebekah Stern is working with songleader Ira Levin and Rabbi Dan Medwin of Los Angeles to fine-tune a new style of worship, called Visual T’filah, for our High Holy Day Family Services.
  • Sandy Silverstein, our new Executive Director, is deeply involved in the Visual T’filah project as well. He has installed two very large screens and two video projectors in the Chapel to enhance prayer and assist worshipers in finding deeper meaning during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

(The Board of Trustees was blown away by an interactive preview and demonstration of Visual T’filah in its July meeting.) u Rabbi Stern is also creating new age-appropriate services for our Tots ‘n’ Torah families as well as experiences for the K-2 children in the Family Services. And, yes, she’s sermon- writing too.

  • Cantor Barry Reich is preparing powerful, sacred music for the High Holy Days — while still leading B’nai Mitzvah training this summer. You will be spiritually moved and inspired by our chazzan (cantor) at this year’s Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre, and Yom Kippur services.
  • Gary Fishtrom, chair of our Facilities Committee, is working with Sandy to oversee maintenance and upgrades all over the PTS campus. For instance, the courtyard is being furbished with new tiles to enhance the area’s beauty, improve drainage, and increase safety when the ground is wet.
  • Sandy and Gary have tweaked the Sanctuary sound system to enhance audio quality, and they are investigating the purchase and installation of an assisted listening system to replace our current one.
  • In the office, Georgina Baca, Administrative Assistant, is creating and mailing forms, preparing tickets for family members and guests, preparing the Memorial Book for the Yizkor service, setting up the High Holy Day Appeal envelopes, making signs and usher badges… and lots more besides.
  • Bev Rochelle, Membership Services Coordinator, is coordinating and scheduling the custodial hours for the holidays, making sure the team is fully briefed on all room setup requirements. Bev is also working with Katie Levine, a past board member, to coordinate the High Holy Day reception, and also jumps in wherever needed.

Did you know that PTS members may worship at any Reform Synagogue affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism or World Union for Progressive Judaism? Annie O’Keeffe, Clergy Executive Assistant, helps our congregants obtain reciprocal tickets if they are traveling during the High Holy Days. Annie also keeps the clergy’s schedules clear of anything beyond b’nai mitzvah lessons and lifecycle issues to help them focus on the High Holy Days.

  • Mariano Sanchez, Head Custodian, promises that the entire facility will be especially clean for the High Holy Days. Our buildings are cleaned on a daily basis — but this is a more thorough, deeper cleaning for this special occasion. The buildings will sparkle! Mariano also makes sure that the appropriate machzoreem (High Holy Day prayer books) are taken out of storage and properly positioned for each service. Mariano also choreographs the room setups, and coordinates with Bev, Sandy and the clergy to make sure that every table, chair and fixture will be in its proper place.
  • Our Youth Director, Yael Zaken, is helping our teen leaders prepare the Teen Service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — Beatles style, she says! Yael is also planning the children and family portion of the Selichot program on Saturday, September 8, and is creating some awesome youth activities that connect our PTS kids to the rituals associated with the High Holy Days, such as Tashlich.

By comparison, my job is easy: The white necktie is clean, and my speech is written. Well, almost written. Deep breath. There’s always time for another draft.


To the parents of Religious School childen

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Dear Parents of the Children in Preschool and Religious School,

Welcome to the beginning of a new year of exciting education at Peninsula Temple Sholom. Thank you for entrusting the Jewish education of your beloved children to our dedicated teachers – and for making the commitment to bring up your children to live Jewishly.

What an adventure you and your children are about to begin. Soon you will experience the first-day jitters, get to know the teachers and curriculum… and before you know it, you will be scheduling the 2013 Preschool summer program or making plans for Camp Newman!

For those of you with older school-age children, we know it’s a constant struggle to strike the right balance between Sunday classes and other youth activities. As the saying goes, “Been there, done that!” It’s not easy. We honor your perseverance and respect your compromises. PTS’ clergy, teachers, and lay leaders take our responsibilities to your children seriously. We promise to provide your kids with a rich environment, lots of opportunity to make friends and connections, and plant the seeds of life-long Jewish learning.

We also take our responsibility to you seriously – both as a parent and also as an adult member of this congregation. Judaism is about more than providing an education for our children, and your role here is more than Preschool Parent or Religious School Parent. Dive into the pool of Judaism and swim in the sea of Torah. Look beyond the schools and parents groups to immerse yourself in everything that PTS represents! Take adult education classes. Roll up your sleeves in Social Action activities. Make friends in Sholom Women and Brotherhood. Celebrate and seek comfort with your fellow congregants in times of joy and sadness.

Yes, it’s difficult to juggle the demands of home, work, travel, school, and family. Going to the Temple for anything beyond school might seem impossible at this time in your life. Trust me, we all know the challenge of finding a babysitter, or even carving out a few moments of peace and quiet after a stressful day. Still, as much as you can, we hope you will embrace your PTS community to enrich your own Jewish life, and nourish your own Jewish soul.

Let me also invite you to come to Shabbat worship — and bring your school-age children to services beyond their class’ family service. Judaism comes alive at Shabbat services, and exposing your kids to regular Family Services, Hava Nashira, and Kabbalat Shabbat services continues their Jewish journey far beyond the classroom.

The sanctuary, more than the classroom, is where your kids will become comfortable and familiar with our liturgy’s prayers and sacred music. The sanctuary is where young people become inspired by their clergy and get to know their fellow congregants of all generations. The sanctuary is where they experience the sacred beauty of Shabbat and the special feeling of holidays and festivals as part of a community.

The Shabbat sanctuary is where your children will discover that the synagogue is their spiritual home.

Thank you for committing to your children’s Jewish education through the PTS Preschool and Religious School – and for belonging to our congregation. Have a wonderful year!


See you in the parking lot!

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

It all began in the PTS parking lot one sunny Sunday. I was waiting to pick up my son Michael from Religious School and a nice man approached and asked, “are you doing anything Monday night?” I replied that the evening was clear. And he said, “Good! Please come to a Brotherhood meeting.”

That nice man, Fred Sturm, started me on my path towards community service at PTS. I can never thank Fred enough for his menschlichkeit and friendship.

After a few years in Brotherhood, I was approached in 2006 by new Board President Karen Wisialowski, who invited me to join the Publicity Committee. There, I worked with new friends like Gail Mintz, Jeff Cohen, Alana Feldman, and Jerry Ezrin on projects such as creating a publicity handbook and other resources for Temple events. Later that year, Jeff and I became co-chairs, and I took over as Temple webmaster.

Then, in early 2007 came an unexpected phone call from Shari Carruthers who was President of Sholom Women at the time. Shari was on the nominating committee for the Board of Trustees — would I join the board? Once the shock wore off, the answer was “Yes” — and I became part of the Class of 2007, along with Stephen Abbott, Ed Fineman, and Stacie Herschman.

Joining the board brought a steep learning curve and unfamiliar faces, but it felt great to give back to the community. Under the presidencies of Karen Wisialowski, Keith Tandowsky, and Brian Hafter, the past five years have been rich and fulfilling. Having the opportunity to work closely with two Executive Directors, James Carlson and Amy Mallor, with Rabbi Dan Feder and his clergy team, the other members of the board, and many past presidents and former board members, has led to personal enrichment and growth far beyond my expectations. And, of course, lots of new friendships.

In the February 2012 board meeting, I was elected as the next President of the Board of Trustees, beginning July 1. I’m honored and excited to begin my term.

Carole and I moved to the Bay Area in August 1990 and we began “shul shopping” right away. At first we looked at Conservative synagogues, since our background is Conservative/Orthodox, but didn’t find a place we could call home. We expanded our horizons and decided to investigate Reform synagogues. Visiting PTS for the first time in 1992, we fell in love with Rabbi Gerald Raiskin z”l and Helen Raiskin z”l. We swiftly made friends; for two newcomers from far away — my being from New England, Carole from Scotland — and without local family, PTS truly became our second home.

There was no question that we would send our son Michael to the PTS Preschool, at that time led by the beloved Bobbie Goldstein. We formally became dues-paying members of PTS in 1999 when it was time to send him to Religious School. Michael went through the entire youth education program, becoming a Bar Mitzvah and attending Confirmation Class, as well as an enthusiastic member of Cantor Barry Reich’s Hava Nashira Band. A 2012 graduate of Mills High School, Michael ships off later this year to become a United States Marine. We couldn’t be more proud.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve our kehillah kedosha, our sacred community. In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll read about the many projects that we will be undertaking together. It’s going to be wonderful.

See you in the parking lot!

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The handheld and the tablet, circa 1976

Let’s talk about the HP-67 and HP-97 programmable calculators.

Introduced in 1976, both those models hold place of pride in my collection of vintage computation devices – which consists of a tremendous number of older Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments calculators, as well as dozens of slide rules going back to the late 1800s.

The four-function pocket calculator was the feature phone of its era. Arriving in the early 1970s, they swiftly replaced adding machines. The HP-35 calculator (1972) with its trig, log and exponential functions, singlehandedly killed the slide rule industry.

Programmable calculators with persistent removable storage – specifically Hewlett-Packard’s HP-65 (1974) and Texas Instruments’ SR-52 (1975) – were the equivalent of the first smartphones. Why? Because you could store and load programs on little magnetic cards. You could buy pre-written packs of programs on those cards from HP and TI. There were user groups where calculator programs could publish and share programs. And there were even a few commercial developers who sold programs on cards as well.

Some of my earliest published programs were written for HP and TI calculators in the mid-1970s. A foundational part of my own history as a computer scientist was learning how to do some pretty sophisticated work with only a few hundred bytes of addressable memory. Not megabyes. Not kilobytes. Bytes.

In modern terms, we would call calculator programs distributed on mag cards “apps.” The HP-65 Users Library and the TI PPX-52 (Personal Program Exchange) were among the first app stores.

This brings me to the HP-67 and HP-97, which were introduced simultaneously at prices of US$450 and $750, respectively. They were essentially the same device – except that the HP-67 was a 0.7-pound pocket calculator and the HP-97 was a 2.5-pound battery-powered desktop model with a built-in thermal printer.

“Calculator” is probably the wrong word for these devices. They were portable computers – in fact, they were truly personal computers, albeit with a custom microprocessor, one-line numeric display and only 224 bytes of programmable memory.

Although the form factors and key placement were different – and the HP-97 had the printer – both used the same programming language. Both models had a mag-card reader – and a program written on one could be used on the other without modification. This was unique.

In modern terms, the HP-67 and HP-97 were like handhelds and tablets sharing the same apps, like the iPhone and iPad, or Android phones and tablets.

No matter how far we’ve come, we’ve been here before.

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The beauty of Peninsula Temple Sholom

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

In our haste to get to services, classes or committee meetings, we sometimes forget to appreciate the beautiful physical environment at Peninsula Temple Sholom.

Next time you visit the Temple, please take a moment to look around. Go into the Sanctuary and examine the new lectern, with its subtle Menorah design and exquisite craftsmanship. Look around the Sanctuary and Social Hall, with the many Jewish themes from the Star of David on top of the dome to the menorahs and tallitot on the walls and windows. It’s a big space that inspires peace and introspection.

In the foyer, on the side near the Social Hall, see the large plaque honoring our synagogue’s founders and charter members. This plaque was recently installed by our hard-working History Committee. Near the Memorial Wall you’ll see a freestanding menorah. It was donated a few months ago and adds character to this part of the building.

On the way into the main sanctuary from the foyer, of course, you have the joyous statue that always makes me think about Rabbi Raiskin z”l. Elsewhere in the foyer, and in the waiting area to the administrative offices, there’s plenty of framed artwork hanging for you to study and enjoy.

If you are like me, you have left noseprints on the glass to our Sholom Women Judaica Shop as you look at the beautiful objects in their window display. There’s another window display on the opposite wall. These add to our foyer’s appearance.
Move outside the building. The canopy over the front entrance is a starry sky of peace over our pomegranate grove — an artistic rendering of the Hashkiveinu prayer we sing together every Friday night.

Behind a bench near the pomegranate grove, find a plaque that quotes Psalm 34, “Seek Peace and Pursue It.” The plaque commemorates the founding of Peninsula Temple Sholom in 1955 and the construction of our Sanctuary and Social Hall in 1960-1961.

Turn around and see the new landscaping in our parking lot. The greenery was installed shortly before the High Holy Days this year, and gives members and guests a gentle, peaceful first impression of our campus. (Thank you for not walking on our landscaping!)

Artwork is everywhere at PTS, and there’s much more to admire than has been described above. Everywhere you look, you will see beauty. We appreciate the hard work of Diane Goldman and Eileen Battat, who co-chair our Fine Arts & Beautification Committee; Gary Fishtrom, who heads our Facilities Committee; Amy Mallor, our Executive Director; Mariano Sanchez and our team of custodians who maintain everything at PTS; and of course, the generosity of our members for endowing the art and gardens.

Go ahead, take that moment to look around the Temple. The worship service, the class, the meeting will wait.

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PR angels in the outfield

This just in, from the aptly named “Pitch Public Relations.” This particular fastball, sent to a technology analyst (me), was high and to the outside… though, one could argue, by my blogging the pitch, the agency is getting the coverage it wanted.

From: “Ann Noder”
Date: December 15, 2009 9:22:00 AM PST
Subject: New – Angel Book


World renowned Spiritual Intuitive, Sonja Grace (www.sonjagrace.com) tackles the subject of death like no one else before, in her new 2010 book, Angels in the 21st Century: A New Perspective on Death and Dying.

I thought you might have interest in a review copy.

For nearly 30 years, Sonja has been providing clarity and guidance helping people worldwide to seek answers from within, as well as from the spirit realm. Thanks to her special gifts, she provides profound and unique insight, revealing how tuning into the Four Essential Bodies (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) provides each of us the ability to experience a life of happiness, in part by preparing us for the greatest passage of all: Death.

The book takes a truly hopeful and positive look at what it really means to die.

Please let me know if you are interested in taking a look.

Also, happy to provide more information, a jpeg of the cover, and/or an interview. Thanks!

Ann Noder
Pitch Public Relations(tm)
email hidden; JavaScript is required
Phone: 480.263.1557
Fax: 480.907.5298


Pitch PR president Ann Noder (pictured) boasts on her website,

Plain and simple. Pitch Public Relations is about pitching to the media. We get your story, your product, your service, yourself in the news in a big way. We’re not talking advertisements or commercials here. We get companies featured editorially. So, how do we do it? Hey, we won’t give away all our secrets. But we start with a roster of media contacts that are unmatched – from magazine editors to television news reporters and everything in between. Combine that with savvy story placement and an aggressive work ethic and bingo – you have a formula for PR success.

Perhaps the secret formula should include, “Target the appropriate media.”

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Email messages without subject lines — grrrr!

nosubjectAmong the most peevish of my pet peeves are email messages that have no subject line. Why do people send them?

I know, I know, it’s generally accidental. Unfortunately, not all email applications warn users when they’re sending a message without a subject line. While most do warn, often you can set a configuration preference to disable such warnings.

The graphic is of the pop-up message that Mac Mail provides. As far as I know, there’s no way to disable it the alert. Good!

Memo to world: Sending email without a subject line is pretty rude. Subject lines help us find messages in our inbox, and also let us link threads together. Test your email software to make sure that it warns you. If it doesn’t, check your settings to turn that feature on (or back on).

Memo to my friend Nancy, who always uses the subject line “from Nancy”: That’s just as bad! I already know that the message is from you, since I see your name in the “From” field. I have a hundred messages from you, on multiple threads, and they all have the subject lines “from Nancy” or “re: From Nancy” — stop it!

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I love my super-comfy Steelcase Think office chair

chairI am consistently amazed at how comfortable my Steelcase Think office chair is.

For years, my back had been sore and stiff if I sat in front of my computer for more than an hour or so. In early 2005, I mentioned that to a friend, and he said, duh, buy a better chair. I guess it was time to replace the task chair picked up second-hand 15 years earlier.

My search was exhaustive: I was willing to spend serious money to get something good. After visiting several “real” office furniture stores – places like Office Depot, Staples and Office Max have a lousy selection, imho – I fell in love with the Think.

What I like is that it’s essentially a self-adjusting chair. The Think has extremely few adjustments, and the back is made of springy steel rods. Plus the mesh fabric means that my back doesn’t get all hot and sweaty on a warm day. (You can read about the ergonomics at the Steelcase site.)

Some even pricier chairs I tested, like the Steelcase Leap and the Herman Miller Aeron, were much more complicated, and much less comfortable. With an Aeron, I literally can’t find settings that work. With the Think, it only took a minute to find the right settings, and I haven’t changed them in the past 2 ½ years.

While I can’t claim that the Think is the best premium office chair, I believe that this is the best investment that I’ve ever made in my work environment. I paid about $700 for it in 2005 at an office furniture store in San Francisco.

There are a few different versions available. Mine is the original model with mesh back, cloth seat and adjustable arms. Today, Steelcase also offers leather or vinyl coverings, fixed arms or armless, and optional headrests and lumbar supports. That makes it complicated again! When I got mine, the only option was fabric color. I chose black.

So, if you sit at your desk/computer for hours at a time, and if you’re using a cheap task chair, consider an upgrade. Try the Think — maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. (My wife tried mine out, but didn’t care for it.) The important thing is that you get a good chair that fits you well, and is comfortable. If you’re sore and stiff, duh, buy a better chair.

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What color is your automobile? Silver, perhaps?

According to this article by the Evening Times, silver is the most popular color for cars. It shows a desire to be seen as having wealth and prestige. What does your car color say about you?

My wife and I have only purchased one silver car, a Ford Tempo. At the time, we weren’t seeking to flaunt wealth or prestige. Just the contrary: We were getting a bargain on a left-over.

Our current fleet (pictured) consists of my Titanium Gray Mazda3 hatchback and my wife’s Deep Green Pearl Acura TSX sedan.

According to the story, gray is a sign of stability and reliability. Green is for those who are conscientious and try to smooth over tense situations. Works for me.