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Weights and measures: PTS by the numbers

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

The Torah is big on counting. Members of tribes, size of armies, measurements of the Ark of the Covenant. The fourth book of the Torah, B’midbar (also known as Numbers) starts out with a census. We continue counting things today, like the 613 mitzvot (or commandments). A Passover seder is filled with counting, counting, and more counting, culminating in the song Echad Mi Yodea – Who Knows One?

Echad mi yode’a?
Echad ani yode’a.
Echad Elokeinu shebashamaim uva’aretz.

Who knows one?
I know one.
One is our God, in heaven and on earth.

Although Passover is coming up soon, let’s not think about matzah and maror until the end of this article. Before that, let’s take a look at some of the vital statistics behind Peninsula Temple Sholom – statistics that the Board of Trustees and professional staff think about and talk about every month.

Our Preschool, 2013-2014 School Year
12 – Children in our Toddler class
48 – Children in our Two’s classes (Ducks, Lambs, Bunnies, Turtles)
39 – Children in our Three’s classes (Bears, Kangaroos, Owls)
55 – Children in our Pre-K and Transitional-K classes (Lions, Frogs, Giraffes, Monkeys)
154 – Total children in the Preschool
20 – Teachers in the Preschool

Our Religious School, 2013-2014 School Year
14 – Students in Kindergarten
28 – Students in 1st Grade
21 – Students in 2nd Grade
26 – Students in 3rd Grade
28 – Students in 4th Grade
49 – Students in 5th Grade
35 – Students in 6th Grade
33 – Students in 7th Grade
31 – Students in 8th Grade
22 – Students in 9th Grade
19 – Students in Confirmation Class
9 – Confirmation students who went to Israel
309 – Total students in the Religious School
15 – Teachers in the Religious School
19 – Madrichim (teen teaching assistants) in the Religious School
78% – P ost-B’nai Mitzvah Religious School Retention Rate at PTS
50% – The national average for post-B’nai Mitzvah retention

Lifecycle Events, Calendar Year 2013
44 – Children who became Bar/Bat Mitzvah
3 – Conversions
7 – Weddings
14 – Babies named
25 – Funerals
50+ – Hospital visits by clergy

Our Members, Fiscal Year 2013-2014
20 – PTSers who attended the 2013 URJ Biennial
733 – Households in our congregation at the beginning of the fiscal year
22 – New households who joined the congregation
24 – Households who left the congregation, due to death, moving, disaffiliation, or joining another congregation
731 – Households in our congregation as of mid-February 2014
1,302 – Adults in those households
881 – Children in those households
2,183 – Our congregation size – i.e., members

Our Budget, Fiscal Year 2013-2014
$3,225,000 – Our annual operating budget
38.1% – Percentage that comes from membership commitments
48.5% – Percentage that comes from Preschool and Religious School tuition and fees
6.6% – Percentage that comes from the High Holy Day appeal
6.8% – Percentage from other sources

Speaking of Passover

It’s time to make plans! Peninsula Temple Sholom will host our traditional second night Community Passover Seder on Tuesday evening, April 15. Carole and I look forward to seeing you there.

What about the first night of Passover on Monday, April 14? Many in our congregation will observe the seder with their families, of course. If you don’t have extended family in the Bay Area or want a different experience this year, please join us at the 35th Annual First Night Community Seder at the San Francisco JCC, led by Rabbi Batshir Torchio. The seder features a kosher meal with chicken, matzo ball soup, and more. (There are gluten-free and vegetarian options, too.) Carole and I will be attending. Please join us!

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Ideas to drive the new year

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

Happy New Year! While this is the February 2014 edition of the Bulletin, as I write it’s the last few days of December 2013. This time of year, the mind is seduced into retrospection and future thinking.

Retrospection

We should be proud of the past year at Peninsula Temple Sholom. Here are a few, only a few, of the highlights:

  • Meaningful, spiritual and fulfilling High Holy Day 5774 worship for all ages
  • Experimentation and delight in Shabbat and festival services
  • The warm embrace of Sukkat Sholom and the launch of Kolot
  • Wonderful life-long learning, including great Scholars-in-Residence
  • Movement of our Preschool and Religious School from strength to strength
  • Tremendous upgrades to our campus, including the dome and landscaping
  • The growth in our Social Action programming, including Home & Hope
  • Securing a generous donation to create a Spiritual Center and refurbish the Chapel
  • Dedication of the beautiful new Holocaust Memorial (near the Sanctuary)

Biennial Matters

Another high point came in mid-December, as we attended the 2013 Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism & Women of Reform Judaism. Some of delegation of 20 PTSers stayed for the entire Biennial; others popped in for only a short time. Here is the PTS delegation (if I missed anyone, please forgive me):

Shari Carruthers – Rabbi Dan Feder – Ellie Feder – Sandra Feder – Michael Fried – Esther Emergui Gillette – Jeff Katz – Michele Katz – Marjory Luxenberg – Cantor Barry Reich – Heidi Schell – Lauren Schlezinger – Gail Shak – Steven Shak – Sandy Silverstein – Allison Steckley – Nancy Sturm – Eran Vaisben – Alan Zeichick – Carole Zeichick

The Biennial was packed with moving worship, music, classes and speeches by individuals like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ; Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel; Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States; Mark Bittman, food columnist for the New York Times; Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall; Rabbi David Ellenson, retiring President of Hebrew Union College; and Neshama Carlebach, music superstar and daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

You can read Nashama’s beautiful essay, “How I Became a Reform Jew,” at http://tinyurl.com/mqgpcd2

Want to know where the Reform Movement is going? Listen to Rabbi Jacobs’ keynote. Yes, the speech is over an hour long, but you will be moved and inspired by his words and his vision: http://youtu.be/Yp5fGPOpXrw

This Biennial also celebrated the 100th anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism. Our own Michele Katz is a member of the WRJ North American Board of Directors, and Shari Carruthers is Area Vice President for the WRJ Pacific District Board of Directors. They, along with PTS Sholom Women President Esther Emergui Gillette, and Incoming President Nancy Sturm, were very busy at the WRJ Biennial.

It is not too early to mark your calendar for next URJ North American Biennial, Nov. 4-8, 2015, in Biennial. I hope you will join me there.

Future Thinking

My own key take-aways from the Biennial will help guide the work of the Board of Trustees in 2014. They include:

  • We must practice audacious hospitality to everyone who visits PTS, new members of our congregation – and every family in our community.
  • Welcoming Interfaith families into our community is a good beginning, but it is not sufficient.
  • We must continually build and strengthen our Caring Community to address the physical and spiritual needs of our people.
  • We must focus on why people choose to seek out and join a Jewish community – the real reasons, not the temporal or transactional reason (like needing a bar/bat mitzvah).
  • As Reform Jews, we must define our own Judaism. We must not continue letting Orthodox Jews define Judaism to our community and the wider world.
  • The Temple leadership must remain visionary and forward-thinking. We must be bold and take risks. We must never be complacent. We must not be afraid to experiment and fail.
  • We must think outside the walls of our buildings. We have a Sanctuary, a Preschool and a Religious School, but that is not who we are – we are more than that.
  • Music is central to worship, whether it’s Shabbat, festivals or High Holy Days. Nothing reaches souls like music.
  • Members of the PTS community want to be known, to know that their presence is welcomed, and their absence is felt. If they don’t feel this way, we haven’t done our job as leaders and as a community.

Rabbinic Search

As everyone should know by now, Rabbi Rebekah Stern will leave Peninsula Temple Sholom when her contract ends in June 2014. She will take up a new pulpit position of Associate Rabbi across the Bay at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. That’s the synagogue she grew up in, and where her daughter Leora attends Preschool. We rejoice that Rabbi Stern will work closer to her home, and will share her rabbinate with her family.

The Board has established a Rabbinic Search Committee, co-chaired by Lauren Schlezinger, 2nd Vice President of the Board of Trustees, and by Keith Tandowsky, a Past President of the congregation. Let me publicly thank the search committee for their hard work on behalf of our community:

Elana Citrin – Andrea Cohn – Rabbi Dan Feder – Jenna Fisher – Laurie Friedman – Scott Haber – Eva Heller – Jon Herstein – Anna Kurzrock – Monette Meredith – Lauren Miller – David Monash III – Sam Saddik – Lauren Schlezinger – Keith Tandowsky

May the New Year of 2014 be good to you and your family. See you around the Temple!

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Read about Carla Schroder’s nerd life – and it’s a good life

Carla-Schroder“I tried working for some tech companies like Microsoft, Tektronix, IBM, and Intel. What a fiasco. I can’t count how many young men with way less experience and skills than me snagged the good fun hands-on tech jobs, while I got stuck doing some kind of crap customer service job. I still remember this guy who got hired as a desktop technician. He was in his 30s, but in bad health, always red and sweaty and breathing hard. It took him forever to do the simplest task, like connecting a monitor or printer. He didn’t know much and was usually wrong, but he kept his job. I busted my butt to show I was serious and already had a good skill set, and would work my tail off to excel, and they couldn’t see past that I wasn’t male. So I got the message, mentally told them to eff off and stuck with freelancing.”

So writes Carla Schroder in her blog post, “My Nerd Life: Too Loud, Too Funny, Too Smart, Too Fat” on linux.com. Her story is an important one for female techies – and all techies. Read it.

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Dancing with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak

Steve-WozniakI’ve had the opportunity to meet and listen to Steve Wozniak several times over the years. He’s always funny and engaging, and his scriptless riffs get better all the time. With this one, he had me rolling in the aisle.

The Woz’s hour-long talk (and Q&A session) covered familiar ground: His hacking the phone system with blue boxes (and meeting Captain Crunch), working his way though college, meeting Steve Jobs, designing the Apple I and Apple II computers, the dispute about the Apple Macintosh vs. Apple Lisa, his amnesia after a plane crash, his dedication to Elementary school teaching, his appearance on the TV competition Dancing with the Stars in 2009, and so on.

Many of us have heard and read these stories before — and love them.

Read all about his talk here, in my story on the SmartBear blog….

Trashing my extensive restaurant portfolio

refuseHere’s today’s mis-directed sales pitch. It was good for a laugh, if nothing else.

From: Jefrey Heath

Subject: Regarding your garbage removal

Hi Alan,

May I get on your schedule for 5-minute telephone call to discuss reducing your restaurant portfolio’s Waste Removal spend by 30%-50% without even changing haulers?

I’m with Refuse Specialists, the industry’s leading expert in reducing Waste Removal spend and we exclusively help Peet’s Coffee, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, Long John Silvers, Tavistock Restaurants and other restaurant groups within Colliers International’s portfolio increase their profits by significantly lowering Waste Removal costs. I thought you would be interested in discussing the same results for your restaurant organization.

Refuse Specialists is a waste removal consulting firm comprised of former veteran waste hauling executives from the industry’s largest providers. Our experts use their extensive knowledge of the waste removal business to develop the best possible costing scenario for each individual property by reviewing service levels, equipment and current contracts. We also leverage our portfolio and extensive relationships with every waste hauler in the industry to negotiate, audit, and manage the most financially beneficial agreements for our clients. Typically Refuse Specialists reduce waste hauling expenses by a gross average of 42% for our clients without changing haulers and we guarantee a minimum 10% cost savings. We deliver these savings at zero cost and zero risk to you as we are only compensated if and when we save our client’s money. www.refusespecialists.com

Are you free for a 5 minute call?

Sincerely,

Jef Heath

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Authentic Reform Judaism

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

Some PTS families light Shabbat candles every Friday night. That is authentic Reform Judaism. Some families rarely or never light Shabbat candles. That, too, is authentic Reform Judaism.

Reform Judaism is both a living religion and a vibrant culture. As Reform Jews, we are charged with using the Torah as a guide to living meaningful lives and making the world a better place. We carry out rituals and maintain traditions that have meaning in our lives. It’s up to us to make informed, educated decisions about which rituals and traditions to follow, both in our homes and in our synagogues.

That’s why some in our congregation keep strictly kosher homes, and won’t ever eat non-kosher food outside the home. That’s authentic Reform Judaism. Others cook and enjoy bacon cheeseburgers. That’s authentic Reform Judaism too. Some say that “ethnic food” means corned beef and matzo ball soup; others prefer a little shrimp or stir-fry pork on their Passover rice. Both are authentic Reform Judaism.

What about holidays? PTS congregants build a sukkah every year, host a Passover seder, light candles each night of Chanukah, and fast for Yom Kippur. Other congregants never do any of these things.

Some families observe one day of Rosh Hashanah and seven days of Passover; others follow two days of Rosh Hashanah and eight days of Passover.

All represent authentic Reform Judaism.

How do you choose to observe?

Do you come to services to observe a yahrzeit? Do you put on t’fillin? Do you attend Torah study? If so, you are an authentic Reform Jew. If you don’t, you are also an authentic Reform Jew. Do you believe women should wear a tallit and read from the Torah? Some Reform Jews do, and others do not.

Do you trace your Jewish lineage in an unbroken line from great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to you? You are an authentic Reform Jew. Does your Jewish heritage come from your father only – or are you a Jew by choice? You, too, are an authentic Reform Jew.

This diversity is our strength, and demonstrates why Reform Judaism is the largest, fastest-growing Jewish denomination in North America.

In early December, more than 5,000 Reform Jews will attend the Biennial Convention of the Union from Reform Judaism.

We will gather in San Diego to study, to pray, to teach, to learn, to share ideas about synagogue management, to get in touch with our spirituality, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism, to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, to inspire and to be inspired. I am looking forward to attending, as are Rabbi Dan Feder, our executive director Sandy Silverstein, and a large delegation from PTS.

Celebrating diversity

The Biennial celebrates the diversity of authentic Reform Judaism here in North America, and of progressive Judaism throughout the world.

We can see the diversity of Reform Judaism right here in our own Burlingame congregation. Every possible practice, it seems, can be found within our members’ homes.

Peninsula Temple Sholom is a model for both the diversity and evolution of Reform Jewish practice. My family became part of the PTS community in the early 1990s, and under Rabbi Raiskin z”l and Rabbi Feder, we’ve seen rituals come and go, and traditions reinvented and reinterpreted. Constant change is here to stay. Constant change is the earthquake-proof foundation of Reform Judaism as we reevaluate what works, what is meaningful, and what speaks to our collective minds, souls, and spirit.

As part of my role as a board member with the Union for Reform Judaism, I’m privileged to attend worship services at Reform synagogues all over North America. From Burlingame to Berkeley, from Dallas to Denver, from Seattle to St. Petersburg, from Boston to Brooklyn, from Los Altos to Las Vegas, from Palm Desert to Phoenix, every shul is different.

Every rabbi, every cantor, every service.

The tunes and readings and prayers are the same, but sometimes they are unique. Some synagogues use Mishkan T’filah, some still use Gates of Prayer, and others use their own home-made siddurim. The onegs. The motzi. The engagement of the congregation, of lay leaders, of young people, of guests. Never the same in two synagogues. Yet each time, it’s authentic Reform Judaism.

I am proud to be part of the most vibrant Jewish movement in North America. I am proud to be part of a movement that is authentic, organic, energetic, growing, engaging, advancing, evolving — well, moving. That’s why we’re a movement.

Reform Judaism never stands still.

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The future of Reform Judaism — Thoughts about the Pew study

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

Did you know that more than one-third of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform Movement — and that Reform is, by far, the largest Jewish denomination?

Did you know that 55% of U.S. Jews raised within the Reform Movement stay Reform?

Did you know that social justice, a cornerstone of Reform Judaism, is of high importance to American Jews?

Did you know that 94% of U.S. Jews say they are proud to be Jewish?

Did you know that three-quarters of U.S. Jews say they have “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people”?

Those are some of happier findings from “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a major report released by the Pew Research Center on October 1. This study has galvanized conversations in the Jewish world, and in particular in the Reform movement’s three main pillars: the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Read the summary of the study online at http://tinyurl.com/k8zeyn4, or download the full 214-page document at http://tinyurl.com/oq6mlab. Some of the less-cheerful results — and I’m quoting heavily from the study:

  • Of Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion.
  • Only 15% of U.S. Jews say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion; 62% say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture.
  • Only about a third of Jews who say they have no religion are raising their children Jewish.

It’s gratifying that 35% of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement. By contrast, 18% identify with Conservative Judaism, 10% with Orthodox Judaism and 6% with smaller groups like the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal movements.The rest say they do not identify with any particular Jewish denomination at all.

The study’s results don’t lead to optimism about progressive Judaism in the United States. To quote from analysis of the study sent by the URJ to synagogue presidents, challenges to organizations like Peninsula Temple Sholom include:

  • For progressive Jews, synagogue membership is low and declining. 34% of Reform Jews belong to a synagogue. By contrast, 50% of Conservative Jews, and 69% of Orthodox Jews, belong to a synagogue.
  • Reform Jews are generally less involved in Jewish life than Conservative or Orthodox Jews, and less supportive financially. 60% of Reform Jews have donated to Jewish organizations in the past year, compared to 80% of Conservative Jews and 92% of Orthodox Jews.

A controversial part of the report covers the increase in interfaith marriages. For Jews who married before 1970s, 17% have a non-Jewish spouse; for those who married in between 1980-1984, that jumped to 42%; and for those who married since 2000, 58% married out.

To go along with that, 96% of Jews who have a Jewish spouse say they are raising their children as Jewish by religion. Of those in interfaith marriages, only 20% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion.

What does all this mean? Sarah Bunin Benor, associate professor of Jewish studies at HUC, wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward:

No matter how we quantify couples, the study clearly indicates that intermarriage has changed the Jewish community. The growth of “Jews of No Religion” (currently estimated at 1.2 million) may be influenced by the rise of secularism in the United States, but its most important factor is the growing number of Jews with mixed ancestry. While some will bemoan this number, I consider it a positive development: Many people with mixed Jewish-Christian ancestry are still proud enough of their Jewish heritage to identify themselves as Jews to a stranger on the phone. Not all people of mixed ancestry are willing to cast their lot with the Jewish people in this way, as we see in the much larger number of Americans classified as “of Jewish background,” estimated at 2.4 million.

We also see the effect of intermarriage in the percentage of respondents who are not white. Jews who have black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds are not only the products of intermarriage; many have converted, and some have long Jewish lineages. But the numbers — 5% of Jews by religion, 12% of Jews of no religion, 32% of people of Jewish background — point to the central role of intermarriage in the increasing ethnic diversity of American Jews.

Findings like these focus our attention on the growing diversity of the Jewish community. In short, Pews’ “Portrait of Jewish Americans” reminds us there is no such thing as a typical Jew.

A Bay Area perspective

For us on the North Peninsula, more disturbing than the Pew study is a September 2013 report from Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. The Brandeis report, “American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012,” says that the Bay Area is 2.84% Jewish — with a Jewish adult population of 122,336. (The Bay Area means San Francisco Bay Area consists of Sonoma, Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties.)

That’s potentially a large drop from only a decade ago. According to an article by Dan Pine in the J Weekly, “That’s a far cry from the numbers cited in a 2004 demographic study commissioned by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and a similar one in 2011 from the Jewish Federation of the East Bay. Together, those surveys estimated the Bay Area Jewish population at approximately 360,000. So where did everyone go?”

There’s no good answer, in part because there’s no consistent definition of what it means to be Jewish for these research studies. Do they count those who follow matrilineal descent, which is important for Orthodox and Conservative Jews? Do they count everyone who self-identifies as a Jew? Or who live in a Jewish household? Or secular Jews who are unaffiliated? There’s no commonality.

Challenge or opportunity?

However, it’s clear that low rate of synagogue affiliation, particularly among Reform Jews, creates challenges everywhere.

A challenge — or perhaps opportunity — lies around the young Jews who identify as spiritual but not religious. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote in a blog post, “Don’t Give Up on Jews Who Care About Being Jewish,”

As we continue to debate the best communal responses to the Pew study, I believe we must not give up on those Jewish Americans who do not fit into the organized Jewish world’s neat binary categories: affiliated/unaffiliated, religious/cultural, committed/uncommitted, lovers of Israel/critics of Israel. The truth is more complex and the Jewish future will be brighter when we learn to broaden and deepen the Jewish tent.

The professional and lay leadership of Peninsula Temple Sholom are following the discussion around these studies closely, trying to understand what they mean for our congregation — and our community. With our focus on Sukkat Shalom and Relational Judaism, our warm embrace for interfaith families, and our initiatives to take action to promote social justice, we believe that PTS is well positioned for the future.

That does not mean that we are complacent.

Early this year, PTS hosted a symposium of Reform Judaism in the West, and in September we brought in Dr. Ron Wolfson to help our lay leaders strengthen our beloved congregation. The board has learned a lot, and will continue to research, study and think about long-term and short-term actions.

One new initiative, focused on building community and driving social justice, is Kolot: Connecting Our Voices. Learn more and sign up at http://www.sholom.org/kolot.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Pew study, the Brandeis study, and the future of Reform Judaism in the Bay Area.

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Thank you and please – High Holy Days remarks

My 2013/5774 Rosh Hashanah speech at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

A synagogue, like Peninsula Temple Sholom, is many things. Around the High Holy Days, we are a beit t’filah, a house of prayer, worship and spirituality. We are a beit knesset, a gathering place for friends, neighbors and the community. And of course, we are a beit midrash, a house of study for adults and children.

We strive to ensure that PTS is always a beit shalom, a house of peace, of caring, and of healing. Since 2012, we have embraced sukkat shalom as our guiding principle. Everything we do should maintain and enhance a shelter of peace over our community.

Who builds and maintains that sukkat shalom? You do. A few months ago, we had a Recognizing Volunteers Shabbat, and there were more than 300 names from those who actively helped our congregation. Wow! I’m not include that list here, but as we begin the New Year 5774, allow me to mention a few key groups. First, let me praise our congregational lay leadership and volunteers.

Allow me to thank the Board of Trustees: Marci Benson, Marc Engel, Rob Filer, Michael Fried, April Glatt, Liz Gottfried, Stacie Hershman, Linda Korth, Roger Lazarus, Reid Liebhaber, Scott Rodrick, Heidi Schell, Lauren Schlezinger, David Silberman, Sharon Silverman, Andrea Sobel, and Michelle Tandowsky. Also Esther Gillette, the president of Sholom Women and Alex Wilkas, president of Brotherhood. Let me thank Darci Rosenblum, president of the Preschool Committee; Eva Heller and Anna Kurzrock, co-presidents of PARTY; and everyone who chairs or participants in a committee or task force. Our lay leaders and volunteers are our congregation’s strength.

Let me acknowledge the hard work of our past presidents, many of whom continue to serve the congregation on committees, task forces, and projects. Our past presidents are our congregation’s wisdom. Allow me to thank Rabbi Dan Feder, Rabbi Rebekah Stern, and Cantor Barry Reich for their 24/7 commitment to every Peninsula Temple Sholom family. Our clergy are our congregation’s soul.

Let me call out Executive Director Sandy Silverstein, Preschool Director Allison Steckley, Religious School Director Eran Vaisben, and all our staff and teachers. They work so hard for the good of the community. Our professional staff and teachers are our congregation’s heart.

Let me thank every one of you for supporting Peninsula Temple Sholom through your time and talent.

Everyone does so much — but I must ask for more. We need your financial support to build, protect, and maintain the Shelter of Peace over Peninsula Temple Sholom. If you have not already done so, please contribute to our High Holy Day Appeal at www.sholom.org/give.

We do not measure our success in dollars, but in participation.

To be direct: It costs a lot of money to run a synagogue, and to build and sustain the Sukkat Shalom over our community. Our goal is nothing less than 100% participation from every member, every family. No matter whether your gift is large or small, we need your help.

You have the power to help us toward our goal. Without your personal support, we will not reach 100% participation. With your help, we will succeed. Yasher koach — may your strength be increased — for all that you do, and may the New Year be sweet for you and your family.

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Justice, justice, let us seek it together — Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof

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

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.

—Deuteronomy 16:20

Those famous words are from Parshat Shof’tim, which this year was read in mid-August. As we begin our preparation for Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), let us not leave the wisdom of Shof’tim behind.

In Hebrew, the first three words of this commandment are “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof.” The word “tzedek,” or “justice,” is repeated, and according to many commentators, the repetition provides special emphasis. Justice means more than following the literal meaning of laws. That’s necessary but not sufficient. Rather, we are instructed to treat others — not just our family, not just our friends, but everyone in our community — with dignity, fairness and compassion.

Our synagogue, Peninsula Temple Sholom, is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism, and one of the flagships of the Reform movement is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, established in Washington, D.C., in 1961.

Under the visionary leadership of Rabbi David Saperstein, the RAC has become influential in the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world, fighting for programs like comprehensive immigration reform, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reducing gun violence, abortion rights, LGBT marriage equality, civil liberties, supporting Women of the Wall, and much, much more.

I am very proud of the work done by the RAC, and to call Rabbi Saperstein a friend.

Reform CA

Closer to home in California, there is a new organization called Reform CA — which was created this February by the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis (PARR) and our own Rabbi Dan Feder, right here in the PTS Chapel.

Reform CA describes its mission as:

Reform CA is a campaign of the California Reform Movement to act powerfully together for justice in our state. As a project of all the social justice initiatives of the Reform Movement: the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations, we feel called to come together as a Movement to play a role in repairing the California dream. We join with one another to address systemic issues of injustice that hurt our families and our brothers and sisters across lines of race, class, and faith. Justice has been at the foundation of our Movement since its inception and we proudly stand on the shoulders of the giants of justice who came before us. Acting together, we are partners to one another, as we seek to build a California that is just, compassionate, thriving, and inspiring.

Reform CA is currently focusing on immigration reform. For example, it is lobbying for the Trust Act, a piece of California legislation that limits the state’s participation in Secure Communities, a Federal program that requires state and local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of people booked in local jails with immigration officials — and can lead to deportation of young people who have done nothing more than call the police to report a local crime.

Become part of the Reform CA initiative by visiting the group’s Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/reformca.
Close to home, let’s think globally and act locally. You’ve heard that expression, and it’s coming to life in an exciting new initiative at Peninsula Temple Sholom called Kolot.

Kolot: Connecting Our Voices. We come together in congregation-wide conversation to foster relationships, deepen trust, identify issues that impact our lives at PTS and beyond, and go into action together. We understand each other better when we listen to one another. We multiply our potential to bring about change when we raise our voices together. Acting powerfully for justice, we create a community that is bonded, compassionate, thriving, and inspiring.

Kolot at PTS

The change we make is up to us, and it begins with telling our stories and getting to know each other better within the PTS community. You will hear more about Kolot (pronounced koh-LOTE) over the High Holy Days from our clergy and from the lay leadership.

Kolot is co-chaired by Heidi Schell, a member of the PTS board, and Neal Tandowsky. Working tirelessly on this effort is a large steering committee, as well as Rabbi Feder; Rabbi Rebekah Stern; Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Co-Director of Just Congregations at the URJ; and Sister Judy Donovan, a community organizer with the Bay Area Industrial Areas Foundation. Thank you all!

This new initiative is the next phase in our Sukkat Shalom, our shelter of peace, and has the potential to transform both Peninsula Temple Sholom and our community.

Please connect your voice to ours. Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof. Justice, justice, let us seek it together.

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May their memory be a blessing

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

The flickering television screen caught our eye as we sat sipping cold drinks at a Burger King in Parker, Arizona. Miles deep in the Sonoran Desert, between Twentynine Palms and Scottsdale, we were tired and thirsty – but our family couldn’t escape the horrific photographs of the Asiana Airlines 777 crash at SFO.

In those first few moments, it was too soon to know the fate of the aircraft’s crew and passengers, but seeing the shocking images, we assumed that nobody could have survived. Fortunately, that early assessment was swiftly proven wrong. Still, three young people, Ye Meng Yuan, Wang Lin Jia and Liu Yipeng, lost their lives, and dozens more were injured.

May their memory be a blessing.

Only a couple of days later, a small plane crashed at Soldotna Airport, a small field in southern Alaska, killing all 10 passengers and crew. A train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, with at least five people dead.

Death can strike at any time, whether by accident, disease, crime, or war. Nearly 30 years ago, a dear friend of mine was jogging in Orono, Maine, when she was hit by a bicycle. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. You can imagine the shock.

Also in Maine, over the most recent Fourth of July weekend, another shocking death. According to my hometown paper, the Bangor Daily News, “…the fatal accident happened during the parade at Main and Water Streets. An officer on the scene reported that a man operating a green tractor turned right onto Water Street and was struck from behind by a vintage Bangor Hose 5 Fire Museum fire truck.” Death doesn’t get more random than that.

In early July, senseless tragedy struck Camp Tawonga, the Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park, when a tree fell onto a campfire circle. Four camp counselors were injured; a fifth, Annais Rittenberg, lost her life. She was a 21-year-old student at U.C. Santa Cruz.

May their memory be a blessing.

Take a moment and think about family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors taken far, far too soon, ravaged by physical or mental illness, or who had the simple misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As it says in Proverbs, “Zecher tzadik livracha,” “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing.” At these times, there is no better source of comfort than the loving embrace of the synagogue – and of our clergy and community.

We live as a community. We study and worship and raise our children as a community. Sometimes, we grieve as a community.

Remember the unbelievable San Bruno gas explosion in 2010 − only a few blocks from our own house. In that tragedy, 58 individuals were injured and seven were killed, including one of our son’s closest friends, Will Bullis, and Will’s father and grandmother.

The PTS clergy, professional staff, lay leadership, and entire congregation worked tirelessly to ensure that every congregant was alive and accounted for, and to see how we could heal that shattered neighborhood, those broken families.

May their memory be a blessing.

Here at Peninsula Temple Sholom, Rabbi Feder, Rabbi Stern, and Cantor Reich are a comforting presence, whether you have suddenly lost a loved one or are dazed after a disaster like the 777 crash or the San Bruno gas explosion. The professional staff, led by Sandy Silverstein, make arrangements as seamless as possible. The lay-led Caring Community team, chaired by Janice Katz and Wendie Fetterman, are always there to help.

As we head into the High Holy Day season, consider the many reasons to participate in the Peninsula Temple Sholom community. Providing a Jewish education for our children, yes. Adult learning and Shabbat worship and festival observances, of course. Celebrating a simchah, obviously. Coming together in difficult times — always.

Without your generosity, the canopy of peace over Peninsula Temple Sholom would not be possible. We appreciate your financial support for our Sukkat Shalom. And may the memory of our departed friends and loved ones forever be a blessing.

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The roses are magnificent — a year in review

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

Roses are sure to brighten up everyone’s day. The best place to see roses is the International Rose Tea Garden in Portland, Ore. Coming in a close second is the patch on the Rivera Drive side of the Peninsula Temple Sholom parking lot. This year, the blossoms are extraordinary. You can become lost in the fragrance.

Like many of you, I don’t spend much time in that part of the parking lot. However, on one gorgeous May afternoon, Rabbi Feder, Sandy Silverstein, and I walked around the PTS campus, marveling at the blossoms, checking out the new retaining wall on Sebastian Drive, seeing the construction progress of the new Holocaust memorial (now located outside the Cantor’s office), and enjoying the refurbished white dome over the Sanctuary.

We’ve sure been busy during the past year. Let’s look back at a few of the highlights:

• Outdoor improvements. We’ve already mentioned the dome, the rose garden, and the retaining wall. Have you seen the new footpath from Sebastian Drive to the parking lot? Particularly popular with congregants is the new Jerusalem stone resurfacing of the Courtyard near the Lent Chapel. There’s been lots of landscaping as well, in addition to the roses.

• Social action and social justice. This was a big year for social action, centered in large part in our continued participation in the Home & Hope program, through which we temporarily house the homeless at our facility. New this year is the launch of a community organizing project through which we are partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism’s Just Congregations initiative and the Industrial Areas Foundation. This initiative is still in the formative stage; I will discuss it more in the fall.

• UnEvent! fundraiser. Member dues and fees contribute only part of the Peninsula Temple Sholom revenue streams. In order to balance the budget, the congregation needs the High Holy Day Appeal and a spring fundraiser. This spring, we held the UnEvent!, a straight-up request for donations. Response to the UnEvent! exceeded our expectations — so thank you for your generosity. If you haven’t yet participated in the UnEvent!, don’t worry, there is still time.

• Youth activities. PARTY – our branch of NFTY, the Reform Movement’s teen group – is a blessing to our congregation. These young people do so much, and an example of that was their hosting the Mitzvah Torah Corps regional event in March. From strength to strength!

• Preschool. It’s Must-See TV: Watch a short video of this year’s Preschool Passover, at http://tinyurl.com/ ptsseder2013. The script was written by Allison Steckley, Preschool Director. Pharaoh is a real meanie, the Burning Bush is wise and worth listening to, and the locusts are, well, you need to see for yourself. On a more serious note, kudos to our wonderful teachers for, yet again, qualifying for NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a top certification for early childhood education.

• Religious school. With its bold new curriculum and dedicated, hard-working teachers, the school is a jewel of our community. If you are a Religious School parent, you know what I mean. If you don’t have a child in the school, though, it’s naturally harder to see and appreciate what goes on inside and outside the classroom. Unless, that is, you attended the Yom HaShoah service on April 12, led by our seventh graders. From the candlelight procession in the foyer to the original readings by the students, this service touched your heart and moved your soul.

• Meaningful worship. Let me single out the introduction of Visual T’filah for High Holy Day services in the Lent Chapel for special mention. The whole notion of “davening by PowerPoint” seems silly – until you realize how uplifting it can be to escape from the constraints of a printed machzor. Look for more Visual T’filah during this year’s Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe).

• Wonderful partnerships. Peninsula Temple Sholom works closely with other congregations and Jewish organizations. Particularly noteworthy: In early April, PTS, Peninsula Temple Beth El of San Mateo, and the Union for Reform Judaism hosted a major symposium on Reform Judaism in the West, which drew participants from the entire western U.S. and Canada. In February and May, PTS, Beth El, and Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills kicked off a series of lectures and workshops by eminent scholars from Hebrew Union College’s Los Angeles campus.

• Welcome, welcome. Let us welcome again Sandy Silverstein, who joined us in July 2012 as Executive Director. Sandy, you are such a blessing to our community. Welcome back, Rabbi Rebekah Stern, from your maternity leave. Once again, mazal tov to you and Sean on the arrival of Jonathan Hillel Holcombe.

• Board changes. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, let me thank retiring trustees Ida Gruber and Fred Sturm for their dedicated service on the Board. Fred served an amazing 10 years as a Trustee! We also thank incoming trustees Andrea Sobel and Reid Liebhaber; they bring incredible talent and enthusiasm to the Board.

• Special awards. Please join me in congratulating the following: Sandy Tandowsky, honored as the L’dor Vador recipient from Brotherhood; Linda Korth, named as the Woman of Valor by Sholom Women; Michelle Tandowsky and Scott Rodrick, voted as Trustees of the Year by the Board; Sheryl Goldman, recognized as Volunteer of the Year at the Annual Congregational Meeting on May 22; and Diane Goldman, named as the Ner Tamid (the Eternal Light) also at the Annual Meeting.

• Tremendous volunteerism. The best Erev Shabbat service of the year was on Friday, April 19, when members of the Board of Trustees honored the hundreds of volunteers in our congregation, as well as the Past Presidents for their continuing contributions. Hundreds of volunteers. Yasher koach, thank you, thank you all!

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Snaps for a perfect Shabbat evening with teens and healing

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

If you were in the Sanctuary on Friday evening, March 15, you know that it was a perfect Erev Shabbat service. You felt the ruach, you were infused with the Shabbat spirit, and you went home with a happy glow that (I hope) lasted through the entire weekend.

The evening stood out for two reasons. First, that service kicked off a Scholars-in-Residence weekend with the rabbis from the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. Second, Peninsula Temple Sholom was hosting the regional Mitzvah Torah Corps event from NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth.

That beautiful Erev Shabbat evening, everything came together with a smile and a snap.

Let me explain. NFTY, the teen youth organization for the Reform Movement, has a tradition that when someone does a great job, you show praise by snapping your fingers. No applause, no calls of Yasher Koach; just a gentle snapping. There was a lot of snapping on Friday night.

The Sanctuary was packed, with congregants sitting on the left side of the room, and NFTY teens on the right. The service was filled with songs, worship, and readings led alternatively by the teens and Rabbi Dan Feder. Meanwhile, Cantor Barry Reich was accompanied by Sarah Edelstein, a U.C. Santa Cruz student who is also a guitar-playing song leader at Camp Newman.

From time to time during the service, a teen would ascend the bimah and read a statement about what NFTY meant to him or her. Some of those words were so moving, they brought tears to the congregation.

Seeing those smart, motivated teen leaders, I have no worries about the future of the Jewish people.

Mitzvah Torah Corps

Mitzvah Torah Corps is a major event, sponsored each year by the Central West Region of NFTY. Our congregation’s PARTY teen social group is a NFTY affiliate. About 90 NFTY teens came from all around Northern California, including the Burlingame area, Fresno, Sacramento, Los Altos, San Mateo, the East Bay, and Carmel.

For the teens, this weekend focused on education social action. For example, the teens worked on the Three A’s of Social Action: Action, Advocacy, and Awareness. They also learned about developmentally disabled people, their abilities, and how important it is to use words that respect individuals, not insult or stereotype them. During the weekend, the teens also elected a new regional board. Snaps to our own Sandy Karp (daughter of Robin and Ron Karp), chosen as incoming President of the NFTY Central West Region!

Let me also give a shout-out to the many members of PARTY (PTS’ youth group) who participated in the Mitzvah Torah Corps weekend: Adam Battat, Justin Battat, Jason Cohen, Andrew Ezersky, Jeremy Ezrin, Andrew Friedeberg, Eva Heller, Lauren Isackson, Jake Karp, Sandy Karp, Anna Kurzrock, Anna Leemon, Sarah Levin, Zach Levin, Harris Silk, Marnie Sturm, Olivia Tandowsky, and Sarah Wisialowski.

More snaps go to Yael Zaken, our congregation’s Youth Director, who played a major role in organizing the weekend. And more snaps to the many Temple families who opened their homes and hosted the teens at their homes over the weekend.

Bay Area Jewish Healing Center

In addition to hosting the Mitzvah Torah Corps, Peninsula Temple Sholom invited three rabbis from the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center as scholars-in-residence that busy weekend. During the Friday night service, we heard from Rabbi Eric Weiss; on Saturday and Sunday, there were programs with Rabbi Jon Sommer and Rabbi Elliot Kukla.

The San Francisco-based Jewish Healing Center, established in 1991, is a tremendous resource — one of the true pillars of our community. The Center trains volunteers who visit hospitals throughout the Bay Area; it supports the Jewish End-of- Life Care Program and hospice initiatives; and it provides resources for those who nurture those suffering from mental illness.

Rabbi Weiss is the author of the brand-new Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides, a little book filled with contemplative readings and prayers for many different moments of spiritual need, including illness, surgery, treatment, chronic illness, hearing bad news, transitions, addiction, infertility, end- of-life, and more. Look for the book in the Starr*Stevens Judaica Shop. It’s the best $6 you’ll spend.

I offer snaps for this wonderful weekend to Rabbis Weiss, Sommer, and Kukla for their compassion, scholarship, and leadership; to congregant Neal Tandowsky, who chairs the board of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center; and to Liz Gottfried, who chairs our Life Long Learning committee.

And I thank everyone involved in making the Erev Shabbat service on Friday, March 15, into a truly perfect evening. These snaps are for you!

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Coping with the data

As I write this on Friday, Apr. 19, it’s been a rough week. A tragic week. Boston is on lockdown, as the hunt for the suspected Boston Marathon bombers continues. Explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Killings in Syria. Suicide bombings in Iraq. And much more besides.

The Boston incident struck me hard. Not only as a native New Englander who loves that city, and not only because I have so many friends and family there, but also because I was near Copley Square only a week earlier. My heart goes out to all of the past week’s victims, in Boston and worldwide.

Changing the subject entirely: I’d like to share some data compiled by Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners. This is their seventh annual report about open source software (OSS) adoption. The notes are analysis from Black Duck and North Bridge.

How important will the following trends be for open source over the next 2-3 years?

#1 Innovation (88.6%)
#2 Knowledge and Culture in Academia (86.4%)
#3 Adoption of OSS into non-technical segments (86.3%)
#4 OSS Development methods adopted inside businesses (79.3%)
#5 Increased awareness of OSS by consumers (71.9%)
#6 Growth of industry specific communities (63.3%)

Note: Over 86% of respondents ranked Innovation and Knowledge and Culture of OSS in Academia as important/very important.

How important are the following factors to the adoption and use of open source? Ranked in response order:

#1 – Better Quality
#2 – Freedom from vendor lock-in
#3 – Flexibility, access to libraries of software, extensions, add-ons
#4 – Elasticity, ability to scale at little cost or penalty
#5 – Superior security
#6 – Pace of innovation
#7 – Lower costs
#8 – Access to source code

Note: Quality jumped to #1 this year, from third place in 2012.

How important are the following factors when choosing between using open source and proprietary alternatives? Ranked in response order:

#1 – Competitive features/technical capabilities
#2 – Security concerns
#3 – Cost of ownership
#4 – Internal technical skills
#5 – Familiarity with OSS Solutions
#6 – Deployment complexity
#7 – Legal concerns about licensing

Note: A surprising result was “Formal Commercial Vendor Support” was ranked as the least important factor – 12% of respondents ranked it as unimportant.  Support has traditionally been held as an important requirement by large IT organizations, with awareness of OSS rising, the requirement is rapidly diminishing.

When hiring new software developers, how important are the following aspects of open source experience? Ranked in response order:

2012
#1 – Variety of projects
#2 – Code contributions
#3 – Experience with major projects
#4 – Experience as a committer
#5 – Community management experience

2013
#1 – Experience with relevant/specific projects
#2 – Code contributions
#3 – Experience with a variety of projects
#4 – Experience as a committer
#5 – Community management experience

Note: The 2013 results signal a shift to “deep vs. broad experience” where respondents are most interested in specific OSS project experience vs. a variety of projects, which was #1 in 2012.

There is a lot more data in the Future of Open Source 2013 survey. Go check it out. 

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A strong vote for our spiritual leader, Rabbi Dan Feder

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

I am delighted to report that the Board of Trustees has voted to offer Rabbi Dan Feder another contract to remain at Peninsula Temple Sholom. The vote was unanimous (20-0), which is a strong message of support for our congregation’s spiritual leader.

Hiring and managing the Temple’s senior professional staff and clergy is one of the most important responsibilities of the Board of Trustees. (Some of the others are managing finances, approving an annual budget, overseeing our investments, attracting and retaining members, and setting policies.) This vote about the rabbi’s contract may have been the single biggest action for this Board term.

The basics: Rabbi Feder’s current five-year contract began July 2009, and ends June 2014. The contract specifies that the Board will let the rabbi know our intentions about renewal 15 months before the contract ends – that is, in spring 2013. That long period protects both parties’ interests: Should the Board vote not to renew, we have time to find a new rabbi, and the rabbi has time to find a new job.

Within the Board, the process of evaluating Rabbi Feder’s performance, and recommending renewal or non-renewal, fell to the Personnel Committee. The P.C. consists of April Glatt (chair), Scott Rodrick, Lauren Schlezinger, Michelle Tandowsky and yours truly.

This is a responsibility nobody took lightly, and the evaluation process spanned many months. The process itself was briefly described in my column in the December 2012 Bulletin, and in more detail in a document posted in the Member’s Only section of sholom.org. As part of this process, the P.C. solicited feedback from congregants, and also personally interviewed dozens of individuals.

An overwhelming majority of the letters and conversations urged us to keep Rabbi Feder here at PTS. Congregants opened their hearts about the beautiful connection Rabbi Feder had made with families through worship, teaching, lifecycle events and pastoral care. Some were particularly impressed by how much Rabbi Feder has grown since joining us in mid-2006.

However, there were certainly letters and conversations offering a different perspective, especially from those who had not bonded with Rabbi Feder or who don’t like that PTS feels quite different today under Rabbi Feder than it felt under Rabbi Gerald Raiskin z”l. While those communications represented a definite minority of comments, the P.C. considered those as well.

Indeed, the Personnel Committee discussed every letter, every email, and every face-to-face conversation, pro and con. We added our own observations of the Rabbi’s performance in many areas which aren’t as visible to the congregation, such as a manager, fundraiser, and administrator. Weighing all the data, the P.C. unanimously recommended that the Board renew Rabbi Feder’s contract, and as mentioned above, the Board voted unanimously on March 13 to accept that recommendation.

This is a good decision. From my own perspective as a lay officer of the Union for Reform Judaism’s own Board of Trustees, I attend services at Reform synagogues all across North America, and work closely with rabbis of all ages, skills and styles. Dan Feder stands out due to his warmth, his scholarliness, his menschlichkeit, his caring, his spirituality, his ethics and his passion for Judaism, social justice and our congregation. We are blessed to have Rabbi Feder here at Peninsula Temple Sholom.

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Daily miracles and surviving in the desert

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

We were in trouble, and for a short time I thought my family’s lives were in danger. It was August 2004, and Carole, Michael, and I were on vacation in Palm Springs. With the temperature north of 110 degrees, we decided to skip the hotel’s swimming pool and take our 10-year-old son on a drive through nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

All went well until our car stalled and wouldn’t restart. What had been an Ultimate Driving Machine was now 3,500 pounds of inert steel. There wasn’t much shade, and of course we hadn’t brought nearly enough water with us.

Within a couple of hours, we were rescued by a AAA tow truck, and by the next day, our car was repaired. We were safe… but those hours in a rapidly heating metal box exchanged my trust in precision German engineering for appreciation of the awesome power of the Mohave Desert sun.

A car that runs. An air conditioner that blows cold air. A cell phone battery that is charged. Those are daily miracles that we take for granted… and we only notice them when we have a car that doesn’t work, an air conditioner that blows hot air, or a cell phone that has no charge or signal.

No cell signal? That’s a first-world problem. But our friends, family, and colleagues on the East Coast learned an even more important lesson about daily miracles after Hurricane Sandy. Power? Shelter? Heating? Phone? Broadband? A roof over your head? Some families couldn’t take those essentials for granted for days or weeks. Some families in New York and New Jersey still aren’t back in their homes.

Jewish values remind us of daily miracles, and implore us not to take them for granted. Many of us have been slightly grossed out during the Umafli La’asot prayer, the one that says, “With divine wisdom You have made our bodies, combining veins, arteries, and vital organs into a finely balanced network…”

When we get sick – when our vital organs don’t work right – we appreciate the daily miracles of our own existence.

We know that we have to maintain our cars, service our air conditioner, charge our phone batteries (and pay the wireless bill), eat healthfully, and visit our doctors.

Our synagogue is another daily miracle oft taken for granted. Too many of us, in today’s modern time, see Peninsula Temple Sholom as a place for adult ed. lectures, for b’nai mitzvah lessons, for hanging out with friends, for coming by on a Friday night for the yahrzeit of a loved one. When we need the shul, we come. When we don’t, those lovely buildings on Sebastian Drive don’t even enter our thoughts.

That’s too bad. Our synagogue is more than a place for drop-in programs and worship services. PTS is the moral center of our Judaism, the place for expressing our values, the heart of our community. Sure, we come by for a wedding, the Second Night Seder, to catch John Rothmann, or to educate our children – but the synagogue, and our hard-working clergy, staff, teachers, and volunteers have a bigger mission than to be a place for nice “Jewishy” programs.

Let me suggest that PTS is the AAA tow truck for our Jewish souls. When you need PTS, we are there for you. When you don’t need PTS, we are there for your friends and neighbors and our whole community. Believe me, there is no shortage of needs. And when you need PTS again, PTS is still there for you. Always.

That is why we need your support every year to sustain Peninsula Temple Sholom. In a typical year, the Temple has a budget of about $3.2 million. Where does that money come from? About $1.2 million comes from member dues, $1.3 million from Preschool tuition, and $200,000 from Religious School fees. That leaves about half a million dollars from sundry fees, building rentals… and mostly donations from you, our members.

Let’s talk about donations. Each fall, there is the High Holy Day Appeal. Thank you to all who contributed. Each spring, the fundraiser may take different forms. Last year, you may recall, we held the wonderful Erev Comedia with Rabbi Bob Alper. (This event not only supported the Temple, but I never laughed so hard in my life.)

This year, we are doing something new: an “unevent,” which is a straight-up request for donations dressed up like a party invitation. However, there’s no party, no raffle tickets, no silent auction, no live auction. This is a simple, no-gimmicks request for your financial support. Watch your mail for the “invitation,” laugh at the jokes – and please response to our appeal.

A beautiful prayer in Mishkan T’filah reads, “May the door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship. May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture… May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Alan,

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
CEO/President
Pitch Public Relations(tm)
email hidden; JavaScript is required
Phone: 480.263.1557
Fax: 480.907.5298
www.PitchPublicRelations.com

@pitchpublicrelations.com

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.