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.

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.

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!

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!

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.