Tag Archives: jewish life

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.

“Today, the relationship between the United States and Israel is extolled by American presidents. We take it for granted that presidents will stress their commitment to Israel and to the ties that bind us. But it was not always this way. Harry Truman faced enormous resistance within his administration to his decision to recognize the Jewish state. Similarly, selling or providing arms to Israel was taboo until President Kennedy decided to do so—again, a controversial decision within his national security apparatus. Later, during the first week of the 1973 war, Richard Nixon initially resisted Israeli near-desperate pleas to resupply weaponry, following the major losses of aircraft and tanks the Israelis had suffered. Although Nixon eventually provided a massive resupply of arms to Israel, his decision had more to do with cold war concerns that Soviet weapons could not be seen to defeat American weapons than with any special relationship that existed between our two countries. From the perspective of history, the relationship has clearly evolved. And to understand where the relationship is today and where it is going, particularly during a period of transition in the Middle East, it is important to understand why the relationship changed. To do so, I will examine the policy and approach of every administration since Israel’s birth.”

Dennis Ross comes to Foster City on the first stop of his Bay Area book tour to share his personal account of decades worth of Washington Middle East policy talks, negotiations, and expectations.

Lecture presented by the Peninsula Jewish Community Center
November 17, 2015 |  7:00 pm
Seating is limited. Registration Required >>
Location: Peninsula Sinai Congregation
 Foster City, CA

Dennis Ross is the Counselor and Davidson Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy and a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown. He was
the director of policy planning in the State Department for George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton’s Middle East Peace envoy, and a special assistant to the president under Barack Obama.

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 so previously, ask for their forgiveness, and make amends where possible. It is a fundamental teaching that Yom Kippur does not provide forgiveness for hurts that we caused other people; forgiveness can only come from those we have offended. This process of self reflection and asking for forgiveness is known as “repentance” and “atonement.” The act of atonement makes the claim that as human beings we are able to change and improve ourselves. On Yom Kippur we strive to improve our relationships both with other human beings and with God.

If we were to think of the Day of Atonement as the Day of At-One-Ment, which is the true derivation of the word, we might encounter a deeper truth. Rather than thinking of sin as an affront to the divine being “out there,” we might understand that sin is in fact a sickness of the soul, “in here.” It is the experience of our own brokenness, a separation from our deepest selves and our deepest truth, and from the “still, small voice” that whispers to us that our essence is pure and good and whole, and invites us to return to our truest selves. This is teshuvah in the truest sense: the longing to change, the effort to heal ourselves, a reuniting with our self and returning to wholeness (a word related to “holiness”).

To experience Yom Kippur as the Day of At-One-Ment, we require spacious silence in which to contemplate the truth of our own souls and navigate the journey of return. As philosopher and spiritual mentor Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes, At-One-Ment “ … is an endeavor to break away from the past and reach a higher level. However, notwithstanding the complexity and the deeply felt difficulties involved, there is a clear simplicity in the elemental point that is the point of the turning.” It is, finally, a joyous experience, the experience of discovering again one’s true self and knowing wholeness.

Contributor Rabbi Lavey Derby is the PJCC’s Director of Jewish Life.



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

honey almond cake recipe

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

jerusalem cookbook

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-150Matzo 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

quinoa latkes

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