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Music, Pesach, and Chassidism

03/23/2023 11:05:40 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Judaism has many genres of spiritual and liturgical music. One of my favorite genre is Chassidic melodies, sometimes put to words and sometimes just melodies. Written by Chassidic teachers from the last 200–300 years, these melodies were passed down from teacher to student. One of the reasons I am so drawn to Chassidic melodies is because they tell a story. But we don’t always know what the origin story was. We only know how we experience it. And often we experience it differently each time we encounter it.

Recently, I was reintroduced to a melody attributed to the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht). My rabbi friend sent it to me so we might sing it as we prepare for Pesach. Not necessarily for the seder, but to help us get in the mood for the seder. (Some of us also prepare by doing extra cleaning and choosing not to eat chametz during the eight days of Pesach.)

I share this youtube video with you (below) to enjoy as you begin your own preparation for Pesach. In addition to listening to music, I also prepare by searching for the perfect recipe. But I almost always choose to cook the same thing every year: a killer flourless chocolate cake and a charoset in the shape of the pyramids with toasted almonds. This year I am adding hummus with a new foolproof recipe.

Whether you prepare for Pesach by cooking, researching haggadot, creating your own, or finding the right wine, may you enjoy this season as we hope for the arrival of Spring. Chag Sameach!

Karev Yom Song:


Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

03/23/2023 11:04:47 AM


Update this content.

Kabbalat Shabbat vs. Ma’ariv

03/13/2023 10:18:45 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield


For those who had the pleasure of being with Faryn Borella Friday night, she taught about the difference between Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv. Kabbalat Shabbat is the welcoming of Shabbat, and Ma’ariv is the evening service which begins with the prayer the Barchu as we call to each other to go deeper into prayer.

When we are on zoom, I find it wise to focus on Kabbalat Shabbat. This Friday I will lead us on zoom as we take a deep dive of Kabbalat Shabbat. We will still get the familiar candlelighting, Shalom Aleichem, Yedid Nefesh, L’cha dodi, healing blessing, Kaddish, but we will also add a few more songs that arise from the delicious psalms we often skip. If you have one of our siddurim, have it ready (I will be posting words in the chat). Have candles to light and wine/juice to drink in Shabbat.

If you have a challah or bread, bring that too! After services, we can linger together and share some of our oys and joys….

I look forward to seeing all of you who can come.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Jewish prayer as medicine

02/20/2023 08:41:52 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A 3 session class beginning Wednesday, March 8, 7:00 pm on Zoom

I grew up quite secular and didn’t learn about the gems in Jewish prayer until my 20s or 30s, and even more deeply in my 50s. Whether this is your story or whether you know many prayers, discovering what the prayer has to offer you specifically can be precious. We don’t have to be “religious” or “believe in God” in order to find Jewish prayer meaningful. Jewish prayer can be poetry, truth-telling, a gift from those who wrote it, and it also can help us find our own words we need to express.

I might have said the Kaddish or the Shema or sang Shalom Aleichem many, many times in my life, but when the prayer became personal, it was a deeper experience.

This class is a way to take some of the more familiar prayers and a few new ones, and find a personal connection to them. I have taught this class many times to people from varied backgrounds, including people with no exposure to Jewish prayer at all. We will 1) Learn a little bit about the prayer, 2) Do some personal writing about what stirred us from what we learned (where are we in this prayer, what story did it remind us of) and then 3) Share what we want to with others in the class in a format where we are listened to. The feedback I consistently hear is that people come away feeling more connected to some of the prayers in a way that can be healing for them. Some people feel that the prayers we sing or say are now like a salve to their soul.

I am passionate about this process because prayer is often experienced as rote and we miss the medicine or healing woven within it. Please join me on an adventure with Jewish prayer. No Hebrew or experience with Jewish prayer is needed.


Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Torah: Who are Bilhah and Zilpah and Why We Should Care

02/16/2023 09:57:57 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Online study opportunity March 5 (see below)

Bilhah and Zilpah were both "given" to Jacob by Rachel and Leah as “handmaidens or concubines” to procreate on behalf of the sisters. The resulting four sons were heads of the tribes of Israel. (Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher) Bilhah and Zilpah as handmaidens were essentially slaves – and treated as property to be managed, rather than women with a right to consent. Additionally, they didn't receive rights to their children - the sons are claimed as children by their owners/mistresses.  (Genesis 30 ….)

These women are not generally included in the recitation of our matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) in the siddur (prayerbook) and yet they were the mothers of four of our tribes.  Sometimes they are referred to as the “second matriarchs” or “foreign wives” because they came from neighboring communities who did not share in the worship of our God.

The Or Shalom Minhag Committee supports the idea to study the issue of how to respectfully honor Bilhah and Zilpah in Or Shalom’s prayer life. Seraph White, longtime OS member, states, 

“We are at a time in our country where we are grappling with:

  1. The long-term impacts of the horrors of slavery in this country
  2. The loss of bodily rights for female-bodied and genderqueer people
  3. A pending Supreme Court case that will allow white people to steal Native children through adoption, continuing the cultural genocide against our Native brothers and sisters.”

We hope that once Or Shalom has a settled rabbi that there will be an open study session (or sessions) to consider this important question of how to include Bilhah and Zilpah.

I have noticed that the issue of inclusion of Bilhah and Zilpah in prayer (in Reconstuctionist and other communities) revolves not around if, but how, we would include them.  Some communities include them in the first prayer of the Amidah as one of our matriarchs when honoring our ancestors, some in the misheberach (healing prayer), some in the Birkat Hamazon (the prayer after eating).  I know one rabbi who honors them during a Shabbat candelighting meditation.

I found a variety of opinions amongst my rabbinical colleagues. Do they belong in the Amidah where currently the patriarchs and matriarchs are considered to have the same God? Yet although our mothers, Bilhah and Zilpah may not have shared that God. Do we want to call upon them in the healing prayers as a way to also remember the healing they offered Jacob, Rachel and Leah?  Rather than go into depth here about the various possibilities for including them, some ideas still to discover or create, let’s get ready for an in-depth study session in the coming year.  The Reconstructionist Movement is very committed to congregational study as a way to make these kinds of decisions.  I know this will be an important endeavor and I hope for a rich and meaningful study.

One way to do begin is to attend a webinar on March 5 at 2:00 pm by Jewish Learning Works on zoom to learn more about them! Please consider attending.

Jewish Learning Works
Bilhah and Zilpah: Silenced Voices of Sister Wives and Concubine
Matriarchs (VIRTUAL)
Sunday, March 5, 2023, 2:00 PM PST-3:00 PM PST
Presented by Erica Riddick

This text study session will focus on the Torah characters of Bilhah and Zilpah and will explore their contested status and the power of naming. The conditions in which the reader finds these two women—not having autonomy over their bodies, being named and categorized by others, having their voices silenced, having identity and control exerted over their children, and being invisible in plain sight—are realities which still resonate in the lives of marginalized people today.

The source sheet used will contain Hebrew with English translation as well as secular auxiliary sources in English. This text study session is open to all levels of Hebrew comprehension and text study experience.

Erica Riddick is Special Projects Manager with Beloved Garden; the founding director of Jews of Color Sanctuary, creating infrastructure for Jews of Color in Cincinnati and the Midwest; the creator of the Bilhah Zilpah Project, elevating and reclaiming these Jewish matriarchs. She is currently a Jewish Women’s Archive Twersky Education Fellow and Jewish Studio Project Creative Facilitation Fellow. While studying at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, she was a 2022 Pardes Mahloket Matters Fellow. She was the 2021 National Havurah Committee Hollander Social Justice Fellow, and a 2018 URJ JewV’Nation Fellow. Her text studies use social justice and narrative lenses to create embodied learning/teaching that is also fun. She has been a Jewish educator at Mayyim Hayyim, Ammud Jews of Color Torah Academy, Temple Israel in Boston, and Mercaz Conservative High School in Cincinnati. She has been published in the Pardes Etz Chaim JournalIndie Game Reading Room, and Jewish Women’s Archive’s monthly Educator Up.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Or Shalom Jewish Community | Logo/Brand Development

02/16/2023 09:40:10 AM


Bold. Relevant. Barrier-Free.

Founded 33 years ago, Or Shalom Jewish Community has embodied the values of courageousness, connection, and accessibility undeterred by our transitional periods. Our work to heal the world has brought comfort and support to countless community members and friends, both the familiar and the stranger. Or Shalom Jewish Community continues to thrive as the sole source for Reconstructionist observance in the greater San Francisco area. While we prepare our new space in Bernal Heights for Tikkun Olam opportunities, we feel the time is right to move our brand identity forward.

Our Marketing Team reflected on our brand identity, with valuable input from our community members. We express our sincere gratitude for their candor. We could not have done this without our community’s guidance. Together, we distilled Or Shalom's most exemplary qualities:

  • Our warm community of members, new and long-established
  • Our roots in compassion and peace-seeking activism
  • Our unique and down-to-earth Jewish practices
  • Our bold and enthusiastic initiative
  • Our open arms to all

Our objective was to evolve our brand to visually express these virtues. Completely opposed to erasing our heritage, we opted to derive the best qualities from our original logo, retain its symbolism, and expand on its visual presentation.

Both the dove and the olive branch within our original logo symbolized our community's mission for peace. We deemed it essential to keep the dove as well as the Star of David. To illustrate our passion and activism, we redesigned how the bird takes flight inside the Star of David. When you gaze upon our new logo, take note of the orange flame created by the curves of our new dove’s wings. The dove is also positioned to open up each inner corner of the Star of David to represent our openness and refusal to be constrained by religious or cultural edict.

The original color palette consisted of blue tones, a color commonly utilized by Jewish communities. We opted for gem tones that are unique, easily distinguishable, and memorable. Our new font is soft yet easily readable, selected for its distinctness and warmth.

We are thrilled to present our new brand identity to you and the world. We worked hard to develop these changes that respect our history, exemplify who we are today, and propel us into the future. Henceforth, we will update our website, email and print communications, and social media profiles with our new logo, fonts, and color scheme. We hope this revival in our communications will please you and bring new people into our warm and engaging community.

Or Shalom Marketing Team
Liz Isaacs, Amy Mallor, Ross Matican, and Naomi Rodriguez Finer

Rebecca Hoffman and Susan Weeks

passover is coming!

01/24/2023 12:56:48 PM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

This week’s Torah portion, Bo, reflects the Passover story, too.

I am offering an Or Shalom Zoom Seder on Saturday night, April 8 (the fourth night of Pesach). It would be oriented to young and old and be about 30-45 minutes. Are you in? We won’t go forward with the planning if we don’t get enough family units. We need at least 8.

If you are interested, please email me by February 8, so we can start planning. ( Given that Passover is an eating holiday, we aren’t quite ready for an in-person congregational seder this year. Hopefully, next year.

To start thinking about the story, this week’s Torah portion brings us the last three plagues and contains some interesting dilemmas. We will be discussing one of the plagues, darkness, and how the Israelites responded to their neighbors living for days without being able to see anything. You might be surprised at what some rabbis think about this!

I hope to see you this Friday. I have invited some friends from Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and the East Bay to experience Or Shalom magic. It should be great. Plus we are giving away goody bags for our oneg.

Friday, February 3, we will be welcoming guests from Faith in Action, hearing about their experiences, and focusing on the concept of refuge. Please join us then, as we become refuge to each other in this special community.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

notes from rabbi chaya

01/17/2023 01:06:17 PM


Or Shalom has experienced the deaths of two members recently.

Al Sion, zichrono livracha (may his memory be for a blessing) and

Beth Abrams, zichrona livracha (may her memory be for a blessing).

It is a Jewish tradition to say Baruch Dayan HaEmet upon hearing the news of a death.  This means Blessed is the True Judge. One can interpret this to mean that only God really understands why someone is taken when they are.  However because this can so easily be interpreted in ways that might not feel so supportive, some of us have felt more connected to the expression: Baruch El Male Rachamim, Blessed is the One who is filled with Compassion. (The language comes from the El Male prayer.) It doesn’t matter if you say something, or what you say. What matters is that our tradition has invited us to notice this moment, whether we have been expecting the death after a long decline, or whether it was very sudden and unexpected.

We have been touched by the death of two souls who have been an integral part of Or Shalom in their own unique, beautiful ways. May the One who is Filled with Compassion, receive them both in gentleness, and may the mourners be comforted.

On January 25, I will begin my four-part healing class where we will explore a variety of aspects of healing in our tradition. During the last class, we will learn customs to make comforting each other during sickness, death, and mourning more meaningful. We will also learn about Shiva traditions. My favorite way to teach about Shiva traditions is to say bring “open hearts, quiet voices, and let the mourners set the pace.” We will discuss how to do this.  Won’t you join me?

I also want to encourage you to come to Friday night services to celebrate Shabbat in community and to say kaddish for a loved one. Rabbi Me’irah will be leading services at Brandeis on January 20. On the 27th I have invited friends from Santa Cruz, the East Bay and San Francisco to Friday night services because I want them to feel the magic of the Or Shalom community.  And on Saturday the 28th, come to Shabbat morning services and support and celebrate our new Torah chanters (leyners) Linda, Robyn, and Miriam. Bring a bag lunch for after services.

Or Shalom and Grace Tabernacle come together to celebrate Dr. King with music, sharing, and more.

01/09/2023 11:55:09 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

This week begins with the Torah portion Shmot, the beginning of the Exodus story, the central story of the Jewish people. In this portion, there are two sentences where we express our suffering to God because of the oppressive conditions of our bondage to Pharoah. In these two sentences, there isn’t just ONE verb for expressing our pain, but FOUR verbs in Hebrew. We moaned, groaned, and cried out in several ways. God heard us, and our redemption story began. We learn in this story the importance of speaking out, each one in their own way, each one with a different voice.  Our voices are unique, and our voices are heard as one.

This inspires me. We don’t just sit and wait for help. By moaning, groaning, lifting our voices, and crying out as a group, we began the process of change.

This redemption story connects us to Dr. King’s vision for a just world.  His vision was grounded in his commitment to non-violent civil disobedience as a strategy to create a community where no one is left behind. A community of relationship-building, with the ingredients of honesty, love integration, and equality. This vision guides us as we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy with the Grace Tabernacle congregation.

Many of us take pride in the strong Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s/60s. At the same time, it is important for the Jewish people, a community composed of White Jews, Jews of Color, radical Jews, Conservative Jews, Jews proud to be LGBTQ+, and more, to continue our deep spiritual tradition of working toward social justice. It is not enough to just look at the past, at those very important moments in history; it is our responsibility as Jews to show up and cry out about the injustices that still continue. To hear more on this topic, please join Or Shalom Friday night at 7 p.m., January 13, at Grace Tabernacle, for an interfaith service celebrating the legacy of Dr. King.  We look forward to deepening the relationship we have built with the members of Grace Tabernacle over the years.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Chanukah: a time of dark, light and being a shames

12/27/2022 09:28:05 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Chanukah comes during the darkest time of year. It is the season of deeper darkness where we honor the dark and the light. We have the opportunity to appreciate the relationship between darkness and light and their interdependence. If you think about it, we are created in the darkness (the womb) and are born into the light. Both the day and the night are beautiful. Most references in the dominant narrative are that dark is bad and light is good. Let this be a Chanukah where we appreciate both.  I love sitting in the dark with the Chanukah lights and watching them go down, slowly, into the darkness, sharing their secrets with us.

In fact, on Chanukah, we aren’t supposed to use the light of the candles for any purpose like to see or read! (Except the light of the shames, the helper candle.) This is a strange custom. Do we cook food and then say that it is forbidden to eat the food? Do we sew clothes and then say that it is forbidden to wear the clothes?

What's the point? Why light a candle if we can't use its light? Because lighting Chanukah candles is not ONLY about the light - it's about the act of lighting. The Talmud compares a candle to a person's soul. Chanukah is a reminder we are here to "ignite, or light up a soul." We have the potential to become the shames for someone. How has someone ignited your soul? How have you ignited someone else’s?

We supply the spark. Not for our own benefit. Not to receive something.

Let us dedicate these last few nights of Chanukah by honoring the individuals and communities that have ignited our souls. Including those of us at Or Shalom. May we look forward to more times together when we will have the opportunity to receive each other’s sparks.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Friday Night Services

12/12/2022 09:18:00 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

At the last in-person Friday night service (scheduled for Dec 2), there was a mix-up and Brandeis was not expecting us. After some conversation, listening, and brainstorming, we were able to go ahead with our service with a time limit of 45 minutes! Our services usually go from 7:00 – 8:15 or so, followed by a small oneg. I had to cut 30 minutes from our usual service.

It is often difficult to offer an abbreviated service because I love our liturgy, love to share Torah, and I think it’s important to offer time for people to get to know each other by sharing something personal that arose for them from the Torah portion. That night, we had to have a last-minute different approach.

The sense of joy just being together pervaded, and we had an amazing service. Part of why that happened was because the Torah portion, Vayetzei, has the story where Jacob has a dream and awakens to the consciousness of being in a Sacred Place. He exclaims,

Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh!
מַה-נּוֹרָא, הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה
How Awesome is this Place!

We went from the oy of thinking we had to cancel services, to the joy of being together, even if it was abbreviated. We sank deeply into prayer and reflection, and we had a raucous Lecha Dodi. We sang Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh chant (listen below), we danced, and we celebrated the Awesomeness of Or Shalom. We prayed for healing and we remembered those who had died. Joy, creativity, and commitment of the Or Shalom community rose up strong. It was magical.

Please join us for our services:

Embodied Spiritual Practice on Saturday, December 17 RSVP Here

Chanukah party with Ner Tamid on Sunday, December 18 RSVP Here

Our future Friday night services, whether on Zoom or in-person so you can share in some of that Or Shalom magic.

Rabbi Shefa Gold's Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh chant:

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

For a longer, more personal writing by Rabbi Chaya about that night, please visit her personal blog here.


12/01/2022 04:30:15 PM


Angelique von Halle

I never realized we needed or wanted to actually join Or Shalom until I became a parent.  In the early 2000's, when I was single and childless, I went to services at Or Shalom alone - or sometimes with a friend - for High Holidays. I loved it. While my internal Chabadnik found comfort in Or Shalom's warm embrace of Jewish tradition, music and Hebrew prayer, my commitment to social change and justice found warm welcome too. My ambivalence about Israel/Israeli politics was nothing I needed to hide at Or Shalom; it was shared with others. And when I brought my butch-identified, non-Jewish spouse to services, nobody batted an eye, and we felt completely welcome. This is a group of Jewish-oriented families and individuals who, as a rule, greet people and ideas with love, respect and a goal of connection and understanding. 

Highlights of being part of Or Shalom have been:

  • watching my 8yo child run ahead of me to connect with friends and teachers at Bet Sefer (aka "Hebrew School") the first day back after summer break;
  • participating on a small committee with a bunch of super smart people to assess and modify Bet Sefer, and then seeing those changes in action;
  • filling my plate Friday nights with a variety of vegetarian yumminess, always followed by incredible desserts and a lively, engaging service at Shabbat Kulanu;
  • taking a beautiful hike during a congregation-wide retreat in Marin while other members kindly kept eyes on my son as he climbed trees with new friends;
  • learning about Torah and Jewish teachings through an academic lens with the wise Rabbi Katie and a group of other (adult) thinkers -- far different from anything I'd experienced previously, and completely satisfying/worthwhile.

It gives me great nachas to say these things with complete conviction.  As a newly single mother navigating life's constantly shifting tides, I'm so grateful to have Or Shalom as an anchor.

Reconstructing Judaism's statement on the formation of a New Israeli Government

11/21/2022 10:45:22 AM


This statement was posted on Reconstructing Judaism's website on November 18, 2022:

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association fully endorse and support the recent statement made by the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) on the formation of the new Israeli Government. WUPJ is the international network of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, serving an estimated 1.8 million members worldwide in more than 1,250 congregations in over 50 countries. The WUPJ statement reads as follows:
"The State of Israel and the world’s Jewish Diaspora communities have a relationship built on a common history and shared values.
The reality of a ruling coalition in Israel that will include dozens of Knesset members who freely express racist, homophobic and anti-democratic beliefs is frightening and is an anathema to Progressive Judaism.
It has potential catastrophic consequences for both Israel’s democratic character and Israel-Diaspora relations.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism calls on Benjamin Netanyahu to use his return to Israel’s premiership to create a broad and centrist Government that is embracing of human and economic rights and dignity, instead of one that will further normalize Kahanist and other ultra-Nationalists.
Putting individuals in high office who seek to further alienate Diaspora and Progressive Jews will serve no good end."
Rabbi Sergio Bergman
WUPJ President
Carole Sterling
WUPJ Chair

Chayei Sarah (The Lives of Sarah): Taking stock of our own transitions

11/15/2022 10:05:52 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

As we celebrate Shabbat this Friday night at Brandeis with the support of our Amazing Musical Ensemble, we take a peak at this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah. I have been thinking a lot about transitions, and I noticed the theme of transitions throughout this portion. There are moments when transitions happen by choice, or not by choice, and when we see how people respond to their own or others’ transitions. Spoiler alert: Rebecca is asked if she wants to go with Isaac and she says yes. It appears to be a choice, not usually given women at that time....

Transitions are part of life. We can be in transition for many reasons. Sometimes the transitions can be harder than other times, even when it might be an expected change. As a chaplain and as a rabbi, I have accompanied many people in their times of transition and of course, I have had my own share of them. I realize Or Shalom is in transition.

Rabbi Katie is no longer our rabbi, we have a new building, a new Executive Director, an Interim Rabbi and we are cautiously starting to meet in person during an uncertain time.

I invite you to join me Saturday morning at Brandeis from 10–11:30 am to share how you feel about Rabbi Katie’s departure, (not “what Or Shalom should be doing now”, but how are you feeling) and to listen to others. If you are experiencing other transitions in your life, I invite you to join as well.

During our precious time together, I will share some Torah about transitions from this week’s parashah. I will invite those who want to share how they feel, to be witnessed by our group without offering responses. We will end our morning together with hopes for Or Shalom and one another.

If you wish to attend but are unable to do so, or prefer a private meeting, please contact me at and we can set up a time to talk.

This will be an RSVP event. Please email Amy at if you plan to come.












Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

or Shalom is thriving!

11/10/2022 09:36:58 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

When I started working with Or Shalom in October, I was impressed by so much of this community’s resiliency, warmth, and commitment. In a short period of time, I have met many of you and heard your hopes and dreams, your grief, and your visions for how the Or Shalom community will be energized in our new building. I need to say, I feel we are thriving now. The building is just icing on the challah! (Is that a thing?)

Over the next few months, I will reflect back to you the various ways I feel we are thriving. But this month, I want to focus on one of our best-kept secrets: the Ensemble. Do you all recognize how fortunate we are to have this incredible music ensemble? I have worked with musicians (instrumentalists and singers) with various titles in the past. Cantors, choirs, cantorial soloists, Musical Prayer Leaders, a chazzanut group, drummers, guitarists, and pianists. Some were good, some great, but it was always a collaboration between the rabbi’s and musicians’ visions. And there were lots of rehearsals. I grew accustomed to either working a cappella or working with one singer/guitarist at a time with lots of practice sessions.

I have never worked with professionals like our ensemble. Guitar, cello, bass, percussion, clarinet, voice. The sound they create is life-giving, uplifting, surreal, fun, and prayerful. They understand that although I can sing, I don’t always start on the same key or know where to find the key they give me. They have been forgiving and very supportive, helping to develop a system that works so all of us will not just shine, but serve the community well. We all want the same thing: to guide our community in prayer. But they do it with such grace.

I can’t tell you how lucky I am to work with such great people and my only prayer and hope is that they feel as held by the rest of us as they hold and guide us every night they join.

We are meeting in person for services at least twice a month. Whenever we do, some part of the ensemble blesses us with their gifts. Please come and join us. You won’t be sorry you did.

Please feel free to contact me at I work half-time, but will be happy to get back to you as soon as I can. I want to get to know as many members and families as I can.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

When we stay and when we go

10/31/2022 03:35:21 PM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A few weeks ago, I asked people who attended Friday night services what motivated them to leave their homes and find their way to Brandeis for services on a Friday night, when there were many other things competing for their time. People said such a variety of things, some very surprising. The music, the community, loyalty to our tradition, to learn, to remember, to honor our ancestors, to say Kaddish, and so much more. It’s always good for us to think about what motivates us and what we are seeking. Our answers will always differ; we create a beautiful tapestry of community. When we stay and when we go in general is one thing that Lech L’cha (this week’s Torah portion) invites us to think about. The Hebrew for the name of the parasha, Lech L’cha, is interpreted so many ways, all related to ways and reasons we go.

The rabbis over the years have interpreted the phrase lech l’cha in the following ways: 

  • Go to yourself
  • Go to your soul  
  • Go learn who you are meant to be
  • Go become that person who will be a blessing to the world
  • Some say that although “lech l’cha” was said to Abraham by God, each soul hears this invitation.
  • The Ishbitzer Rebbe, a Chassidic rebbe, said it means we are to leave our habits, and all that is comfortable behind.

In all of these interpretations, there is a going; but the destination is unclear by the words lech l’cha alone, and even in the phrase which comes after, “where God will show you.”

I ask us all to think about when we stay and when we go, and what motivates us to choose one over the other?

This Friday at services, we will explore how Lech L’cha can guide our lives, especially at times when we are not sure where we are to go. Or maybe we will learn to stay and appreciate the place where we are. I look forward to seeing you there.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

A Completion of one cycle of time

10/31/2022 03:22:05 PM


Reb Ezra Weinberg

Dear ones of mine,

A post-holiday season greeting of sorts.

Some rabbis are relieved when the new month of Cheshvan arrives. I generally feel a loss. After such a relentless season of holidays, here is my attempted summary. This is what goes on inside of me every year at the end of the Tishrei cycle of Jewish holidays.  At the end of a cycle so full of life, so full of energy, so full of prayer and promise and hope, I yearn to carry it with me. I yearn to carry this crucial sense of returning. Returning to a deep love, a love of self, of family, of friends, of tribe, and our collective future on this planet.

If you were a part of my journey the past 80 days, you may find yourself somewhere in here these two offerings / reflections.... 

Sending love to you all, (feel free to forward to anyone who might want to see this).

M'ayin Yavoh Ezri! 

From Where, to Where – Will My Help Come? (Psalm 121)

to Vermont

From Philadelphia 

to San Francisco 

From the new building in Bernal Heights 

to Beth Israel in Berkeley

From square dancing at Ashkenaz

to dukhaning at the Mission Minyan

From sounding shofar on the beach 

to running from microbes

From Spiritual Embodied Practice 

to Hardly Strictly Elvis Costello

From borrowing hair ties 

to getting friends to ask each other for forgiveness 

From reminding friends that we need each other 

to disrupting family patterns 

From amazing Mexican food 

to old friends and their new children (to me)

From new friends 

to expanding family 

From the Albany Bulb art

to teenagers in tifilin

From imagining the Center of Jewish Living Arts 

to seeking redwoods but only finding eucalyptuses  

From the ensemble 

to healing services 

From ride shares

to fog-lifting walks in Bernal Park

From divorce podcasts

to tefila podcasts

From Daf Yomi: Ketubot 

to crossing the bridges 

From feeling the friends who've lost parents 

to a really cold outdoor mikveh

From the shehechiyanu hazaka 

to Kohenet and Kehuna

From full out loud Birkat Hamazon

to contagious dancing in the Sukkah

From Torah Orah - A Torah that Illuminates

to a truly FULL Hallel that lifts me up

From Yiddish speaking friends 

to surprise opportunities for prayer leading at home

From Pitka Tava 

to Jr. Congregation and the old tunes 

From the entire birthday cake falling onto the deck 

to the pinnacle holiday of Shmini Atzeret 

From asking for rain and getting it

to All Streams One Source

From Romemu, Kohenet and Koren siddurim

to Artscroll Interlinear Transliterated 

From campfires, big Rebbe, and Sukkahfest: The Musical

to late night heart opening tisches 

From the 7th Hakafah

to Integration for Heshvan 

From 100 year celebrations and pilgrimages to old camps

to the Phillies going to the world series....


80 days…. Of the Tishrei Cycle

80 days of regaining our inner map.  

80 days of getting interested in our own liberation again

80 days of "Revoice’ing" and hearing what the “still small voice”  needs to express

80 days of expanding our notion of family and reclaiming biblical Hagar as our step mother 

80 days of contemplating my own origins as a Torah Family

80 days of disrupting the feeling of being frozen in my own stuck-ness        

80 days of inviting people to invite people to “ask me about my prayer practice.”

80 days of visioning a future through the lenses of the seven year cycle 

354 (days in the Hebrew calendar) - 80 =  274 days of integration and infusion.   

THIS is the year.  


To a new month... and a new season and a new cycle....

Chodesh Tov - A good month!  

R. Ezra

May you be inscribed in the book of life

10/17/2022 09:42:11 AM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

The High Holy Days are over, so what can this still mean to us?

During the Jewish High Holy days we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life before the gates close, either at the end of Yom Kippur or some believe not until the end of Sukkot on Hoshana Rabba.  If taken literally, there is something that doesn’t seem right about this. Does it mean anyone who dies during the upcoming year or even during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur hasn’t prayed hard enough or hasn’t done enough teshuvah? Or their mistakes outweighed the good they did? 

As someone who has worked as a chaplain for many years and is close to numerous people struggling with life threatening diseases, this model can seem to cause harm by blaming the sick for their disease or death.

So why do I still pray my heart out during the holy days and still use this language? This year I experienced this strong message as an intense imperative to invite me to start the new year with the important lifegiving themes of the High Holy days, every day, not just during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

  • Facing our mortality and the fragility of life every day. This helps me increase my gratitude and be more mindful of every moment I am alive.
  • Turning our direction towards becoming our better selves.  How can I begin to find moments of forgiveness/compassion for self or others? 
  • Leaning on our ancestors and our sense of God/the Mystery. I do this through prayer, reflection, and acts of remembrance. 
  • Giving tzedakah. This helps me be aware of more than just myself. I also notice the unmet basic needs of so many, as well as the myriad ways to contribute to help affect change.

“May you be inscribed in the Book of Life” means to me “May you be engaged with life fully, always, not just during the High Holy Days”. With the Torah beginning this week with Breishit, let’s embrace a new beginning, and harvest the lifegiving learnings from the High Holy Days going forward.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield


10/11/2022 01:18:08 PM


Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

Torah from Rabbi Chaya’s Garden

I am so excited to continue our journey together, especially during this season of Sukkot, also called zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. Friday night we will begin at 6 p.m. in the Brandeis Sukkah by sitting together, singing a few songs, and waving the lulav and etrog. It might be cold to stay long, so we will then continue upstairs for services, followed by an oneg. And then on Saturday, if you want to linger in the Sukkah some more, join me after 11 a.m. after Sing Shalom led by Jeni Markowitz-Clancy for an informal schmooze and lunch (bring your own lunch).

During these precious times we will have an opportunity to learn about Sukkot, sing together, and share what we have harvested from the High Holy Days.

There are four mitzvot, or sacred obligations of Sukkot:

  • Sitting in the sukkah
  • Waving the lulav and etrog
  • Inviting in guests
  • Experiencing joy

Each one of these requires exploring more deeply. For example, what if we don’t feel joy? Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l, said that joy is when we fully embody each moment. I hear this as it isn’t about being happy. It is about experiencing something deeper. Authenticity. Someone in my sukkah said when we are grieving or sad about missing someone who has died, when we dig deeper, we often can find the joy in having loved them. I am interested in what your idea of joy might be and why you think we have been invited to feel joy at this time.
Hope to see you at one of the events this weekend or in the future. Bring a friend!

I am here for you. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need support or have something you want to discuss. I can be reached at I work half-time, so I will get back to you as soon as I can.  If you need urgent rabbinical support, call the Or Shalom line at 415-469-5542.

Artwork by Rabbi Chaya Gusfield

01/12/2022 01:00:01 PM


Sanctuary os: Maria and her family

03/21/2021 03:03:56 PM


During COVID, with so many of us sheltering in our homes, it has been is difficult to reach out and help other individuals. Maria and her sons came to our attention through Susan, a Faith in Action leader who supports them in-person. Maria, a Guatamalan, and her three sons are living in the limbo created by our current immigration system. They were denied their asylum claim in December 2020 and an appeal was filed, which likely will take at least a year to resolve.

In the meantime, the family lives together in one large room. Maria’s older sons, a high school junior and a senior, enjoy spending time with their local cousins or watch TV when they are not studying or helping their mom. Their younger brother, 16 months, has just learned to walk. He delighted in the new toys he received from OS members and Maria delighted in a sturdy, safe car seat. Maria is also connected with her church, El Principe de Paz, and she is part of the church group collecting clothes to send back to Guatemala for children ages 5-8.

Maria has not been able to find work, but with the help of OS members and Susan, she is now signed up to do an orientation with La Colectiva, a worker-run collective that connects immigrant women to domestic jobs. If you would like to explore hiring Maria for babysitting or house cleaning, Susan could act as an intermediary to help figure out if it will work for you.  Contact if interested.

Right now, Maria is 6 months behind in rent and is struggling with daily needs. Hopefully, local and state laws will help ease the rent burden (but won’t erase it). We are asking Or Shalom members to ease the family’s way with other financial needs, and possibly, rent debt. Donate what you can; any amount you donate will be meaningful as it joins with the collective generosity of our Or Shalom community.

If you would like to donate to help Maria and her sons, or If you would like to donate clothes to the El Principe de Paz clothes drive for children in Guatemala, contact for a COVID- safe drop-off at an OS member’s house. 

Friends Afuera: Jose's Story

03/20/2020 02:59:51 PM


To get involved with Friends Afuera, click here.

In February 2020, the Safety Net Action Committee SNAC) received our first letter from Jose, who had fled Guatemala in fear for his life, and had been at the Adelanto Detainment Center since November 2019.  In his first letter, he appealed to us for legal help to find sponsorship and to help him raise the $25,000 bond set by the court.

It was hard to tell Jose that our small group did not have the resources for this level of help, but we'd continue to deposit funds every month in his commissary account. We let him know that Friends Afuera was developing legal resources and making connections with bond-raising organizations. It wasn’t much to offer, but it was something. In his next letter, Jose thanked us for our support. He shared that the commissary deposits paid not only for personal items, but also for phone calls to family, friends, and to advocates.

That was in early March. Within several weeks, the COVID pandemic had a serious impact on detainment facilities, threatening safety and disrupting legal proceedings. Jose told us that safety precautions at Adelanto were almost non-existent. They did not improve until May, after fear about their health led detainees to stage a hunger strike.

Hearings were delayed or sometimes happened in absentia. Jose knew his hearing had occurred when he was informed by mail of his removal order. Despite this demoralizing news, he sought help from legal volunteers to file an appeal with the Board of Immigrant Affairs, and to notify the Guatemalan Consulate to stop deportation proceedings. He bought himself time until the next hearing, but he still needed a sponsor. 

In early September, we were elated to hear that Jose found a sponsor, an old friend from Guatemala who was now a U.S. resident in Arizona. Even with a sponsor, Jose needed to present evidence that he would not be a flight risk at his bond hearing.  He asked us for letters of support, saying he had no one else. It is a tall order to write letters for someone in continuous detention whose community ties were developed “long-distance” through correspondence. Nevertheless, we had to try.

SNAC went into action to become flight risk letter experts. It helped that Jose had an amazing ability to create relationships in letters.  He told us his story and then he asked for ours, “each and every one of you”. When the pandemic took hold and during weeks of civil unrest, he wrote to ask about our safety. We knew him as a caring and deeply moral person who deserved our strongest support. We sent letters to the court, addressed to Jose, in triplicate.

Against the odds, we hoped that our letters might have some impact. They did! On September 2, 2020, Jose had his bond hearing, supported by a pro bono attorney sent by his sponsor. Jose was not considered a flight risk – he wrote that our letters were ‘crucial” – and he received a reduced bond of $8,500.00.  His attorney found a phone number on the Or Shalom website for Corey Weinstein, and called him to ask for help with fundraising efforts. Under Corey’s coordination, our congregation donated a substantial amount; the Freedom for Immigrants National Bond Fund and the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund made up the difference. Jose left Adelanto on October 6, joining his sponsor in Arizona where he can prepare his case and await his hearing.

We were overjoyed at Jose’s release from custody. All SNAC members played a part: writing and editing letters, contributing to commissary deposits, writing flight risk letters, and raising bond funds. It “took a village”, but ultimately, it was Jose who had the endurance and determination to move his case forward by finding legal volunteers, filing an appeal, locating a sponsor and finally, finding a pro bono attorney. We hope Jose's courage and resourcefulness will lead to success in his appeal for asylum.

Thu, March 30 2023 8 Nisan 5783