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.


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

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:

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!