Saturday, August 20, 2005

Shul Shidduch, Part One--Netivot Shalom

After a summer of sleeping late on Shabbos and thinking about what kind of East Bay shul I wanted, the Balabusta got up this morning and went so check out Netivot Shalom in Berkeley.

Looking at a new shul is kind of like a date, in more ways than one. I decided that since I really didn't know what people wore at NS, it would be a good idea to dress up a little. Then I decided that since I was going out on Shabbos, I should give my new clothes an outing, so I got out the new skirt and the turquoise sweater, and got spiffed up. I even put on a dab of makeup, and perfume. Then I decided I looked too conservative (as opposed to Conservative) for a Berkeley shul and layered on a couple of funky necklaces to take the edge off.

I wanted to get there right at the start of services, but was hindered in this because I forgot my BART ticket and had to get a new one. At one ticket machine: two middle-aged ladies in Berkeleyesque clothes who have evidently never used one before. They are operating the machine in a manner reminiscent of people feeding a goat at a petting zoo. (Thanks to my mom for this image.) One woman gives the other woman a dollar bill. The second woman feeds the bill to the machine. The machine eats it. The women exclaim about this. Then the second woman says, 'give me another dollar'. This is taking forever.

At the other machine: five or six middle-aged ladies, by dress and accent tourists from the Midwest. They, obviously, haven't used a BART ticket machine before, and are having to deal with all the details--it will only give you so much change, and each passenger must have a ticket, and etc. I hear the train leave, over my head. Okay, it's Shabbos, I will take it easy. I got there.

Here follow the pros and cons of Netivot Shalom. I will say that I will need to return at a later date, since they were having a large, well-attended Bat Mitzvah, and I may not have gotten a perfect impression. Basically, though:


It is easily accessible from my house, only about thirty-five minutes each way.

It's a pretty, modern building, with moveable chairs in the sanctuary.

I was not the only woman wearing a hat, there were several of us.

Even for a bat mitzvah day, it seemed very well attended.

The service is "traditional egalitarian", the way I like 'em.

They have a nice prayer for the United States in English, and a misheberach for Israeli and U.S. soldiers.

The bat mitzvah girls' friends were incorporated into the service--they got to come up and lead "Adon Olam", stuff like that. I thought it was cute.

They seem to have nice arrangements for children's care and activities during the service. This doesn't directly affect me, but it speaks to wanting women to be included in the life of the shul, and a good attitude about children. I've been to shuls that lacked both.

They do a snappy musaf. I have tried to learn to like musaf, but it just irks me.

They are slightly disorganized in a cute way. A hundred and fifty people, all trying to wash hands at once, and guy starts belting out a niggun, apparently spontaneously, trying to give everyone something to do while standing in line.

The oneg was AWESOME, but I think that may have been a bat-mitzvah related thing.


The building is just a little too moderne and gleaming to feel heimish. My San Francisco shul used to be a nightclub, and it's still just a big partitioned room with a stained glass skyline of Jerusalem installed at the front to make it pretty, and at least two shul's worth of memorial plaques.

No flags. I like the flags.

When they do Misheberach, they sing the Debbie Friedman version. Despite my Bay Area upbringing, I don't like davening set for the acoustic guitar. It annoys me.

They don't have MY cantor and rabbi there.

No one talked to me, although I think that may have been a bat-mitzvah issue too.

I like shuls where there's a hard-core group of old men in suits who know the davening in their sleep, pronounce it in Ashkenazes and keep stuff rolling. They didn't seem to be present at NS. I like places where there's a discreet bottle of slivovitz out for the old guys. I like places where they serve herring in cream sauce despite the fact the people my age can't handle it.

I found it a little hard to see and hear what was going on.

SUMMARY: Basically, it seems like a nice shul, but it didn't grab me immediately, so I'm going to go back a couple more times when they're not having a bat mitzvah, and check out some more places. I did determine that my generation priorities have changed. I used to check out a shul thinking "Will I have a profound spiritual experience here? Will I find my right path in life? Is that guy my intended, or maybe just a stalker creep?" Now I check out a shul thinking "Huh. Nice to see they have children's services..." Just thinking ahead.

THING I FOUND ODD: In the 'welcome to the shul' handout, they explain that everyone is asked to cover their head, but this is optional for women over 20. They also say that all adult Jews at the shul wear a tallis, but this is also optional for women over 20.

Why 20? Why make this official?

I realize that a lot of women don't do either of the above in Conservative shuls, for a lot of reasons. But it seemed like a strange thing to lay out in such detail. Also, does this mean little girls must wear a kippah until they're 20? Does this mean you must wear a tallis from bat mitzvah until 20, and then you're allowed to skip it? I did wonder. Since I do both, not an issue for me, though.

Next week is Beth Abraham.


Anonymous said...

Ah! You came! Sorry, didn't see you--must have mistaken you for an out-of-town relative of the Bat Mitzvah girl. I did spot one new person who I talked to during kiddush, but there were also some friends I hadn't seen all summer....If you come on a non-Bat Mitzvah week, we're more likely to find you as a new person. Though the food will not be as plentiful.

Yes the building is gleaming and not-quite-lived in yet. Hey, we haven't even finished unpacking!

As for the women over 20 thing...the whole asking grown women to cover their heads was a huge shul issue a few years ago, with many older women saying that they hadn't grown up with it and DID not feel comfortable with it. The age 20 thing was supposed to be a generational compromise (to reflect that people who had grown up in the shul WOULD be comforable with it), and the age limit was supposed to increase a year every year...but I'm not sure that it has in practice. We've all been a bit distracted with the move to the new building....

Anonymous said...

And another anonymous person (who happens to be married to the first anonymous poster). Just to add to what the spouse said...

It was a bit more disorganized today than usual, but I'd never call it organized.

For the age 20 thing, after the rabbi decided to require women to wear head coverings and tallesim, it was decided that they couldn't enforce this on older women who spent their whole lives without doing this. The compromise is that they took the age from the first year when the bat mitzvah girls were required to wear them and they've been increasing the cutoff age annually. In reality, most regularly attending women wear a head covering and a tallis except the rabbi's wife who I guess didn't agree with his decision.

About the building, every building has to be new at some point (it's 3 months old), but it was an abandoned liquor store and that must count for something! Speaking of liquor, of course there is a discreet supply of hard liquor, but this is an egalatarian synagogue so it's for both the men and the women.

I also dislike the Debbie Friedman Misheberach, but at least they do the full hebrew one first.

Not many old Ashkenaz readers, but more than enough people can daven in their sleep and keep the service going (when the room isn't filled many many Bat Mitzvah guests who don't know the service well)... and a few Sephardic trope Torah readers which keep things a bit different for me.

fyi, we've also started 2nd Friday young adult services (young adult is defined however you feel like). Beth Abraham has a 1st Friday young adult hevurah. We're all friends so no reason to compete.

There's also going to be a hopefully good concert of Za'atar
and KlezX ( at Netivot Shalom on September 22. They'll get details about the concert on their website eventually.

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The Jewropean said...

As an Orthodox reader, I am surprised the rabbi would actually force women to do this. Here, women are proud they aren't required to wear tallis and tefilin because their bodies are holier than men's. (If anyone wants a detailed explanation, I can post one).

I have never seen an Orthodox woman wear a tallis though, though different kinds of headcoverings are not uncommon. Many unmarried women choose to wear a had or a cap in shul, same for married women who don't wear a wig, and some even wear a hat in addition to a wig.
As for the men, there's quite a mix of different kipos and hats.

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Anonymi--thanks for the info and encouragement. Hopefully I'll see you in person at some point soon!

Naomi Chana said...

I'm sorry you don't live anywhere near us -- you'd love my shul. Ashkenazis alta kokkers abound, and it took me a year of ShabbOS morning attendance before I caught onto the fact that there was a Kiddush Club (I like singing "Adon Olam," I guess). But we have made some small concession to these degenerate times: our herring is merely pickled, no cream sauce.

Anonymous said...

East Bay Eishet Chayil-
As a different Ortho individual than Jewro, I'd just like to highlight that even according to us, halachically there is no actual prohibition on women choosing to take on the mitsva of tefilin, or tallit, or lulav, or musaf, etc.
And that "women are holier than men" thing *really* irks me. It's fluffy reverse sexism meant to mask real sexist attitudes some have against women. Next they're gonna tell us that Kohanim are less holy than Israelites, because of *their* extra mitsvot. There are much more reasonable, equitable understandings of obligational dimorphism out there.
-alan scott

The Jewropean said...

alan scott,

I'd never say they're forbidden. Actually my choice of words "aren't required" was explicitely chosen in order not to exclure it as a volontary act.

And while the statement that women are more holy might annoy you, it is definitely implied by Chazal. It also is an explanation why women have less BINDING mitzvos.

I strongly reject any abuse though and especially using that statement as an excuse to prevent them from taking on voluntary mitzvos.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding,
the only places I've seen sourced for the "Women are on a higher spiritual level than men are", etc. idea, is in very recent places.

If you know an earlier one, please let me know.

I know it's stated by a member of Chazal that women have a "binah yetera", but also by the Rambam that "daatan kalot alehen", among earlier/later fine/unfine things said about women.

In general it seems unproductive in my mind to start itemizing ranks of holiness in human beings - who can tell anyway? Especially since the Torah gives no indication, except that Yehudim have a commandment to act holy.

I once read an interesting article that gave a psychological-demographic reason for the exemption of women from certain mitsvot. It's bookmarked somewhere on my home computer, I may be able to find it sometime.

I think I made a good point about Mitsvot not being inversely proportional to Kedushah, when I referenced Kohen/Israelite dynamics. :) Though Rabbenu Bachya completely deconstructs the idea of Kedushat haKohanim, as I studied (to my shock) recently.
-Alan Scott

Anonymous said...

So? Nu? How did it go with Beth Abraham?

The Jewropean said...


I looked it up and so far I couldn't find a reference in Chazal. The statement "women are holier than men" seems to be attributed to the Maharal.

Let me point out again my criticism was against the fact that something would be forced on women, which they are not required to do. It's the same mistake as to forbid it, like certain Charedim, just in the inverse sense.

As for your sources about psychological-demographic reasons for the exemption and about kedushas hakohanim, if they're online, I'd be interested in seeing them.