Tag Archives: jewish life

Exploring Questions of the Heart, Mind, & Spirit

by on January 26, 2016

When it comes to nurturing our Jewish lives, much attention and energy is focused on the communal, public business of the Jewish people. This ranges from working on behalf of Israel and fighting anti-Semitism to engaging in Jewish politics, both internal and external. While these tasks are essential for the Jewish community, at the same time it seems important, as well as prudent, not to shirk from paying attention to the spiritual and ethical sensibilities that nourish our inner Jewish lives.

Our hearts and souls have serious questions: When we are faced with the pain and anguish of life’s tragedies, how do we cope? How can we attain that elusive feeling of being “whole?” What does it really mean to “repair the world” and how do we best take up the call of our tradition to fill the earth with righteousness? What does it mean to create a sacred community? We might wonder where is God when we need God, or how can we pursue a meaningful relationship with God? What Jewish wisdom can help heal our befuddled souls?

So many questions.

The answers may lie in taking that first step toward a Jewish spiritual journey that is not easy but can be richly rewarding. Focusing on this journey means attending to three central and overlapping areas of life.

Establishing a Relationship with the Divine
I prefer to speak of the divine rather than use the word “God,” since that word is loaded with immense baggage, ranging from the image of a man with a long white beard to the image of an angry and aggressive deity such as we find in Torah stories. We may have long ago stopped believing in those gods, but might perhaps find resonance with a different form of divinity, such as the idea of God as the Oneness of all Being, or the energy of life.

Emphasizing and Activating a Concern for Social Justice
Jewish tradition encourages Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Gemilut Chesed (acts of loving-kindness) as pathways to achieve the well-being of others.

Finding Meaning in Life
This requires us to face the suffering that life brings and find solace when faced with life’s challenges. Diving into Jewish teachings and seeking those pearls of wisdom that make life meaningful is a path best navigated by a guide; one who is familiar with the yearning of the human heart.

Rabbi Wayne Dosick, the 2016 North Peninsula Scholar-in-Residence, is such a guide.
In his book, Dancing with God, he notes that “there has been a dramatic awakening to the knowledge that the universe is so much more than we can see, feel, hear, or experience at this moment in time…. The once comfortable world of Rabbinic Judaism is no longer enough for most of us…. Its insistence on the primacy of the law no longer speaks to our spiritually questing hearts and souls.”

Rabbi Dosick has been described as “a rational intellect with the soul of a mystic,” and Rabbi David Ellenson (former president of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion) recently called him “a spiritual master for our time.” During the two weeks that Rabbi Dosick joins our community, he will take us on an exploration of the spiritual journey. He’ll address our need for solace and the Godly in our lives, as well as the Jewish ethical teachings that can help make our world one of goodness and righteousness, providing a rare opportunity to learn from a great teacher. Embrace this time to reflect upon and discuss the ethical and spiritual understandings that make our lives meaningful.

North Peninsula Jewish Community welcomes 2016 Scholar-in-Residence
Rabbi Wayne Dosick • January 28 – February 10, 2016
Don’t miss this mystical educator, writer, and spiritual guide!
To learn about Rabbi Dosick’s additional speaking engagements throughout the North Peninsula Jewish Community, please visit pjcc.org/scholar.



Eight Wise Hanukkah Insights

by on December 6, 2015

Hanukkah insights

The clock is ticking and it’s time again for those eight crazy nights of Hanukkah. So this would be an apt time for eight wise Hanukkah insights. Well, maybe not so wise but maybe interesting. Perhaps…

  1. I never really understood the fascination with latkes. Sure, because of the miracle of the oil we are supposed to eat foods fried in oil – who thought that was a good idea? – but why latkes? They always seemed like glorified hash browns to me. Well, as with everything Jewish, there’s a story behind this: Seems that the Babylonian king Nevuchadnezzer sent his general Holofernes to destroy Jerusalem, and Holofernes decided he wanted to have Judith, daughter of the High Priest, as his bed mate. She agreed and as a gift, brought him latkes for dinner. He got very thirsty and she gave him strong wine. He got good and drunk, fell asleep, and Judith cut his head off, saving her people. Take note this story has nothing to do with Hanukkah, but oh well, it’s a good story so pass the latkes! As for me, I’d prefer fried chicken. (By the way, the latkes Judith made were made of cheese, so I guess we could think of Cheez Doodles as a new Hanukkah food.)
  2. How come, Jewish composers and songwriters wrote those beautiful Christmas songs that are impossible to escape, yet we, their people, have to sing “I Have a Little Dreidel?” Couldn’t someone write a classy Hanukkah song? Adam Sandler doesn’t count, though his song, now in version 4, has done more for kids’ Jewish identity than Hebrew School.
  3. Most people know that gift-giving is not an old-time Hanukkah tradition. From the Middle Ages on parents gave their children “gelt” (not to be confused with “guilt”) – money – with which to gamble with the dreidel. But what can we do? Capitalism reigns and God forbid our kids be left out of the gift -receiving frenzy. Just remember, we have more to give than toys and as we give let’s remember the most needy among us.
  4. The story of Hanukkah centers of the Syrian Greeks who defiled the Temple sanctuary in Jerusalem by putting idols in it and sacrificing pigs on the altar. When Judah and his small militia drove the enemy out of Jerusalem the first thing they did was to purify the Temple sanctuary. In that time, the Temple was thought of as the home of the Divine, so it was comparable to cleaning out the House so that God could return to dwell among the People of Israel. It’s very hard to survive as a spiritual person without having a sanctuary. What are we to do in our era? Perhaps we should take a page from our deepest mystical teaching that says that God’s sanctuary is within us; It’s in our hearts. As the gospel song goes, “O Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true…” So we need to work on purifying our hearts, polishing our souls, and lighting up the world.
  5. Here a conundrum for you: When Judah came to the Temple all he could find was a little cruse of oil with which to light the menorah, just enough oil for one day. So in an act of faith he lit the menorah and the oil lasted for eight days. That means that the miracle of the oil was only for seven days (you do the math)! So why is Hanukkah eight days? (There’s a fried latke for you if you know the answer.)
  6. Here’s one thing we can learn from the Maccabees: A small group of people can accomplish great miracles. So when we are overwhelmed with doubt and despondency, we can adopt the attitude that we can make miracles.
  7. Don’t forget to include family, friends and community in your Hanukkah celebration. The more people we include the more love and light we create. And isn’t that the idea? To make as much light as we can at the time when the days are shortest and the world is darkest?
  8. Each night when you light the Hanukkah candles, why not dedicate that evening’s candle to a hope you have for yourself, your family, for Israel or for the world? It will make the candle lighting more meaningful and will help us remember that we can make a difference in our world, even if it’s a small difference.

Continue reading

Tumeric Latkes with Cinnamon Applesauce

by on November 22, 2015

latke tumeric applesauce pjcc


Turmeric and cumin are wonderful Indian spices that aid digestion, rev up the metabolism and help break down body fat. Couple that with the addition of cinnamon to the applesauce which helps regulate blood sugar and reduce cholesterol, and you have an delicious potato latke brimming with super nutrition.

Preparation time: 25 minutes | Cook time: 35 minutes | Serves: 15 latkes Continue reading

Video: Ambassador Dennis Ross

by on November 18, 2015

Ambassador Dennis Ross visited the Bay Area to promote his book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama. As part of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center’s Jewish Life programming, Ross spoke at the Peninsula Sinai Congregation to a crowd of 400 to share his experience working with U.S. presidents spanning three decades. In the video Ross covers topics that include U.S.-Israel history and relationships, Middle East politics, and even the Paris bombings of November 2015.


Visit our website for more PJCC Programming




Ask The Rabbi: Are There Universal Beliefs in Judaism?

by on November 12, 2015

QUESTION: Are There Universal Beliefs in Judaism?

Submitted by Frank Jonas.

Rabbi Lavey Derby answers your questions about life, religion, Judaism, and more.

Do you have a question for the Rabbi? Send it to website@pjcc.org

Dennis Ross: Doomed To Succeed

by on October 27, 2015

Amb Dennis Ross

If you can think of a more difficult problem to solve than the Middle East conflict I’d be open to hear it. The greatest minds in the world have tried to create an atmosphere of peace throughout the Middle East and have failed. San Francisco native Dennis Ross has had a front row seat to 3 decades worth of negotiations between the U.S. and Israel with every president from Reagan to Obama. His newest book outlines the relationship that the U.S. has had with Israel since the Truman administration.

This excerpt from his new book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, outlines each president’s unique relationship with Israel. Continue reading

Ask The Rabbi: What Is The Hardest Part Of Being A Rabbi?

by on October 13, 2015

QUESTION: What Is The Hardest Part Of Being A Rabbi?

Rabbi Lavey Derby answers your questions about life, religion, Judaism, and more.

Do you have a question for the Rabbi? Send it to website@pjcc.org

eScapegoat: Offload Your Sins Online

by on September 22, 2015

yom kippur

Ever Wanted to Take Your Sins & Throw Them Off A Cliff? 

With Yom Kippur comes a time of atonement. It involves asking forgiveness from people you’ve wronged and repenting for the sins that you may have committed during the year.

In preparation for Yom Kippur you can use G-dcast’s eScapegoat app as a way to cast off your sins. Come on over to PJCCs dedicated eScapegoat page, let the program guide you on a brief walk through the desert, then offload your sins to a virtual goat. Everyone’s anonymous “I’m sorry’s” will show up on page.

Learn more about Yom Kippur at www.pjcc.org and through our blog post Let It Go: The Benefit of Forgiveness.

At-One-Ment: Returning To Ourselves

by on September 21, 2015

Yom Kippur (Hebrew for the “Day of Atonement”) is said to be the most solemn and introspective day of the Jewish calendar. It is the culmination of a ten-day period of reflection, beginning with Rosh Hashanah. During these ten days we are invited to engage in a fearless moral inventory to assess the state of our souls and to reset our moral compasses.

These ten days are traditionally the time to approach people we have hurt, if we have not done Continue reading

Visual Midrash: Artistic Commentary on the Torah

by on September 20, 2015

torah midrash art exhibit

Mid • rash | mid räSH |
noun (pl. Midrashim) an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text.

We’re unscrolling the Torah, all 54 portions; not literally, but figuratively. Artist Scott Switzer has painted each one in The Torah Series, oil paintings based on portions of the Hebrew Bible that are read each week in synagogues. The paintings capture one complete year of readings on 24” x 24” canvases that are embedded in six grids, each made up of nine panes. The exhibition is  currently on display in the PJCC Art Gallery.

The approach of finding deep and spiritual understanding of the Torah through artistic expression is referred to as visual midrash (Rabbinic commentaries on the Torah’s
teachings). Switzer, who is not Jewish, found that engaging in these stories through Judaism’s perspective, “gave them new life and changed my consciousness.” He considers the paintings in this series “ … a conversation or even a prayer.” His figurative style and color palate are reminiscent of Marc Chagall’s well-known Biblical artwork.

Visual midrash is not new to the PJCC. In 2009 our gallery hosted Seeing Sinai, a collaboration between modern artist Jill Nathanson and Judaic scholar Arnold Eisen. And certainly our vibrant Grow Justice Mural utilized this process in a community-based setting. This summer, you can partake in a workshop to create your own visual commentary. Rabbi Lavey Derby and Scott
Switzer will partner to lead a text study/studio session where each participant will have the opportunity to express their own personal artistic interpretation of the week’s Torah portion.

Our endeavor follows the footsteps of Reboot’s Unscrolled, a book featuring the works of 54 different writers and artists who were invited to select a portion of the Torah and provide their fresh interpretation. As described by Reboot, it’s now our turn to “approach the Torah with a spirit of creative adventure, wrestle with it,” and then find our own meaning. Throughout the PJCC’s 2015-2016 season, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to engage in Jewish learning and examine
multiple forms of creative midrash through poetry, musical composition, movement,  and storytelling.

The close of The Torah Series coincides with Simchat Torah on October 6, the celebratory Jewish holiday that marks the annual completion of the year’s Torah reading.  As congregants in  synagogues around the world re-roll the Torah to start anew,  we too will “roll” up Switzer’s  enchanting enterprise to share with another  community in the New Year.

PJCC Art Gallery presents
The Torah Series
On display in the PJCC Art Gallery
through October 6, 2015

 Prints are for sale through the artist. Great to commemorate bar/bat mitzvahs, life events, or other special occasions. www. scottswitzer.com.
Telephone: 208.935.5978
Email: switz_thepainter@msn.com
Specify image # (1-54); and cite PJCC for commission credit.
Allow 2 – 3 weeks for delivery




VIDEO: Rabbis’ Roundtable | What Is The Meaning Of Repentance?

by on September 16, 2015

Listen to four Peninsula Rabbis talk about the meaning of repentance. That was the topic of our annual Rabbis’ Roundtable on September 2, 2015. Participating Peninsula rabbis included Rabbi Nat Ezray of Congregation Beth Jacob, Rabbi Corey Helfand of Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Rabbi Dennis Eisner of Peninsula Temple Beth El, Rabbi Daniel Feder of Peninsula Temple Sholom, and, moderating, was Rabbi Lavey Derby of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center.

Flourless Honey-Almond Cake

by on September 10, 2015

Flourless Honey-Almond Cake is the perfect dessert for Rosh Hashanah or any time of the year!


  • 1-1/2 cups almond meal – I get mine at Trader Joes
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds


  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.
  • Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper.
  • Beat 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup honey, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl until combined. Add the almond meal and mix.
  • Beat 4 egg whites in another large bowl with an hand mixer or whisk until white and bubbly but not stiff enough to hold peaks, about. 1 to 2 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  • Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edge of the pan and gently remove the side ring. Let cool completely.
  • Drizzle the top of the cake with honey and sprinkle with sliced almonds.



Let It Go! The Benefit of Forgiveness

by on September 8, 2015

shofar rosh hashanah yom kippur

Central to the understanding of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the simple yet fundamental belief that people can change. We need not be stuck in habitual conditioned behaviors. We need not repeat the same behaviors that are hurtful to ourselves or to others over and over again. We are capable of change and growth. The great mystic and sage Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught that it is incumbent upon each individual to believe that with the next breath we can become new beings. The possibility of personal renewal is the great mystery of being human.

The blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – is the climax of the High Holiday ritual. The sound of the shofar is meant to cut through our web of routine, rationalization and conditioning, to wake us up to our true nature, which is goodness, love and compassion, and to urge us to leave behind behaviors and actions that cause suffering to ourselves or to others.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer us the personal and communal spiritual task of teshuvah – repentance. Repentance is the self-aware practice of assessing our deeds and our spiritual condition. To participate in the practice of repentance requires a willingness to engage in a courageous moral inventory, to ask for and give forgiveness and to make amends where possible. Repentance is achieved when we recognize and regret our hurtful behavior; we discontinue the behavior and determine not to repeat that behavior in the future. Repentance also requires asking forgiveness from those we have hurt. While we ask others for forgiveness, it is also important that we find a way to forgive ourselves. We are, after all, merely human.

While asking for forgiveness can be hard, offering forgiveness to others can be much more difficult. Sometimes we feel so hurt by others that the possibility of our forgiveness seems impossible. We simply can’t let go of the hurt and the anger. We hold on to our hurt as if it were a prize, a badge of honor. We have no desire to be in relationship with the person who has hurt us. Or, we feel that to forgive that person would be to condone what they did to us.

What we fail to understand is that as we hold on to our hurts and wounds for dear life, all we accomplish is to prolong the hurt. It has been said that holding on to our anger at the person who hurt us, is akin to holding on to a burning coal: the only person who gets burned is us.

Forgiveness does not require us to trust the person who hurt us or to re-establish a close relationship with her, nor does it mean we condone what was done to us. It simply means that we put down our anger and let go of it. As my teacher and friend Sylvia Boorstein likes to say, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better yesterday.” We cannot change what happened, but we can change our attitude about what happened. We don’t need to bear the painful burden of it forever.

Receiving forgiveness from others is a relief; asking forgiveness of others is an act of grace. Either way, forgiveness is a miraculous experience. Without the possibility of forgiveness we would live with constant despair. The promise of the High Holidays is that we can live instead with profound hope.

May this New Year bring us all health, happiness and abundant hope.



Book Review – Jerusalem: A Cookbook

by on April 30, 2015

Food in Israel is unique and full of exciting flavors that have come together into a melting pot of centuries of influence from surrounding lands. Bringing the complexity of Jerusalem life to the dinner table, Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook is as much a social studies lesson as it is a culinary delight.

Though both men were born in Jerusalem in the same year, they come from opposite sides of the city. Tamimi is from the Muslim East Jerusalem and Ottolenghi from Jewish West Jerusalem. Both independently moved to London years ago and that’s where they met, working in the Continue reading

The Butterfly Project: Remembering Children of the Holocaust

by on April 19, 2015

butterfly project Inspired by the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, the Butterfly Project was initiated by two teachers in the San Diego Jewish Academy in 2006 to remember the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. The butterflies in our PJCC atrium were created by hands of all ages. Our youngest artists learned that every butterfly is unique, fragile and beautiful for its individuality. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of Matzah: Recipes for Passover

by on March 31, 2015

Having cleansed your pantry of all hametz, you are left with few options to fill your carb quota during Pesach (Passover). The challenge is to find new and exciting ways to use matzo in your meals. So, here are some ideas to add variety to your Passover meals.


Matzo Granola

If it is from Martha Stewart, it must be good! A delicious way to start the day.
(via Martha Stewart)

Continue reading

Video: How We Think About Israel

by on February 13, 2015

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, spoke at the PJCC recently. He gave us some wonderful insight into the thinking of both Israeli and American Jews. He provided us with a new way for the Jewish Community to think and talk about Israel. Get ready to be inspired!

Israel: Complex, Compelling, Clarified

by on January 13, 2015


Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman tackles complex challenges facing the country

Whatever our personal views about Israel, it is likely we all agree that Israel is among the most complex and complicated nations in the world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears intractable, with both sides refusing even to acknowledge a common narrative of the genesis of the conflict. This has raised significant moral questions (often by Israeli writers and thinkers) about the appropriateness of Israel’s military response.

There are also conflicts within Israeli society. The relationship between Ashkenazi (Jews of Central and Eastern European descent) and Shephardi (Jews of Spanish and Middle Eastern Continue reading

A Healthy Spin on Latkes: The “No-tato” Pancake

by on November 21, 2014

Traditional potato latkes are delicious but more and more people are looking for healthier ways to make these wonderful fried patties.  We’ve come up with a recipe that is heavier on protein and veggies and light on the carbs.  And, as a bonus, they taste great! Enjoy!

Quinoa & Veggie Latkes Recipe


3 cup cooked quinoa (use 1 part quinoa to 1 part water)
1/2 cup grated onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1 cup each finely grated zucchini and carrot
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste Continue reading

Adding An Extra Pinch Of Health To The Passover Seder

by on April 3, 2014


Like the 10 commandments, the passover seder menu can seem like it’s written in stone. Passed down through generations and laden with family tradition, it feels almost sacrilegious to deviate from what our grandparents served their guests. But it’s that very menu, with all the starch, fats and sugar coated desserts (most often eaten for two nights in a row) which can make you feel as if you actually at the stone tablets of the commandments for dinner.

Don’t let the tradition of the seder weigh on you. This year start your own traditions with a lighter and healthier version of two seder classics–Matzo Ball Soup and Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake.

Serves 10

Continue reading

Interview with Rabbi David Saperstein – Part 2

by on January 22, 2014

Rabbi David Saperstein

Interview with Rabbi David Saperstein - Part 2

In our second installment of Q&A with Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Lavey Derby asks about his roll and influences.

Q: You’re held in high esteem by colleagues and peers: who do you admire and why?

“Too many to do justice to. I have been blessed to meet and work with so many of the greats over the years. My parents rank alone in their influence on my life: My father, as a beloved rabbi for nearly 50 years in one synagogue and he and my mother as passionate social justice activists. In the Jewish social justice arena, my two most influential Jewish social justice mentors were Al Vorspan, the longtime social justice VP of the Reform Jewish Movement, and at 90, in my Continue reading