Saturday, September 17, 2005

Shul Shopping Part II--Temple Beth Abraham

This morning the Balabusta finally got up, got dressed, and went to the next target on the shul shopping list, Temple Beth Abraham, Conservative shul of Oakland, CA. To get there, I took the BART to MacArthur, disembarked, considered the bus situation, and took a cab--this relates to some of the issues with this shul discussed below. But no major transit problems.

I seem to have incredible bat mitzvah luck these days--just as at Netivot Shalom, I arrived to discover that there was a bat mitzvah in progress. I realized this as I arrived, since standing on the steps was a girl of twelve or thirteen, in a party dress and holding a gift bag with ribbons on it--dead giveaway that there is a bat mitzvah on the grounds. Sure enough.

The bat mitzvah was a little shy, but did very nicely. She likes pink. I was able to determine this not only from the decorations at the oneg, but also from the fact that the satin cereal-bowl yarmulkes with her names and the date stamped on the lining being passed out by the family were pink. Not just pink. A bright, vivid hot pink so pink that it makes the white lining look royal blue in contrast when I wear my glasses. The Balabusta kept her hat on, but took one of the yarmulkes anyway--it was just too incredible. The bat mitzvah's father went so far as to mention from the bimah that he was fifty-four years old, and this was the first time anyone had ever succeeded in making him wear pink.

Here follows the report:


Their hospitality is fabulous. I sat down randomly at the oneg and was immediately drawn into conversation by a woman who not only filled me in on various synagogue events, and asked all about me, but when she heard I needed transportation advice to get back to El Cerrito, rushed into the crowd and returned with a congregant who also lived in El Cerrito and could give me a lift. This woman, in turn, introduced me to her friends, told me all about the rabbi, and engaged me in a discussion at her table about what a terrible bat mitzvah portion Ki Tetze is.

The shul is beautiful, with gorgeous old-fashioned brickwork, and beautiful cut-metal artwork illustrating the holidays over the windows. It looks Reform inside--I don't know what I mean by that, except sort of a combo of Edwardian detailing with dramatically modern 50's-ish touches. The doors of the ark are lovely.

I felt very appropriately dressed in dark slacks and a nice sweater. And although many women were bareheaded, and some in the amazingly pink yarmulkes, I was not the only hat in sight.

There seems to be a nice range of generations, and the small kids come up on the bimah at the end of the service to sing/shriek Ein Keloheinu, which I always appreciate.

The cantor has a beautiful voice, and great presence.

From conversation at the oneg I deduce that they have a great deal of congregant involvement in organizing events and leading the davening.

The rabbi looks rather like Matthew Broderick, and seems to be very good with kids, and warm toward the bat mitzvah and her family.

They have a really nice little gift shop. I notice these things. And they have those great old-fashioned seat backs with racks for your siddur and chumash.


Their location is not great for me. The lady who drove me home gave me her card, and offered to drive me any time she was planning to attend shul, but, say that she's NOT going some week, it's nearly an hour's schlep on transit, and once you're out, there's really nowhere to go--they're in a residential neighborhood right off the freeway.

This may have been a function of the bat mitzvah, but the atmosphere of the davening seemed a little cool. I like it noisy and multi-layered, this was more formal, and, like I said, a little more Reformish in style. People seemed quite quiet, and the singing didn't really get off the ground.

The rabbi seemed slightly at a loss as to what to say about Ki Tetze's less savory chunks (not that I really blame him, but).

I really hate it when the chairs are bolted down in the sanctuary.


I really liked the people I met, but kind of wished I'd seen more people around my age. The davening atmosphere does not seem entirely perfect to me--but what's perfect? The location is a point against the place.

I'm not entirely sure that judging a shul first by its Shabbos morning services is the best idea, but that's my most common shul activity.

I shall check out some more places. I still need to check out Kehillah.

I've heard good things about Beth Jacob and Beth Israel. Both are Orthodox, and I'm not sure if that could possibly work out for me in terms of membership, but I figure I might as well visit and see what I think. Even if I don't end up a member at every shul I visit, I figure I'll find out about classes, things that are happening, etc.

I wish there was a Sephardi synagogue in the East Bay--I like services at Magen David in San Francisco--but there doesn't seem to be any.

I'm going to take a nap now.


Anonymous said...
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Barefoot Jewess said...

Wow! I shlep to a shul I don't even like, and it's usually raining, and that takes me 2 buses and 1 hour one way, and 2 hours back because the latter bus runs only every hour so I have to walk 20 minutes up or down the steep hill if the buses don't connect...puff, puff... No wonder the beach was more appealing this summer.

I would kill for a community that made me feel welcome, and where the davenning felt like home, even if there was room for improvement. If I found "home" I would charter a rocket to get there if need be. (But that's me; I'm weird that way and kinda desperate :)).

And you got offered a ride!!!!!! I have to go begging. And this, with 2 sets of people who live 3 minutes away from me and are regulars, who never offer me a ride except for the one time when I was a newbie and you get that welcoming committee dealie that seemed to fizzle out fast after a few weeks.

It's so wonderful you have choices. No, I'm not envious. Shyeeah. :) But I do know what you mean- when there are choices it's like buying a house, and you prioritise your needs. I'm really impressed with your seriousness in this task.

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

I'm in an area where there are a lot of options--yes, I realize I'm lucky! (I save the horrible shlep for work days.)

Granted, I WAS a new face yesterday, so that may account for the amazing hospitality. But they seemed extremely nice.

I realize that if it takes incredible determination, or if I don't feel happy with the shul, I won't use it. I have--uh--baggage--about the Jewish community, so I'm trying to leave myself no excuses. And I have a dozen shuls or more, of various stripes, within about an hour of I keep checking 'em out.

Barefoot Jewess said...

I think it's wonderful that you know yourself so well and are clear about what you want. I hope I didn't offend. I was just jealous :).

And you are right- the problem I find with shuls is the lack of follow-thru. So, they may be nice to you at the beginning.....

Mirty said...

The rabbi looks rather like Matthew Broderick

That would be the clincher for me! ;)

The Blooms said...

I've been laughing hysterically since a friend sent me the blog earlier this evening. Loved the shul shopping post and felt it fairly accurately depicts Beth Abraham.

The hospitality is genuine; it gets better the more regularly you come. The davening could be better. The problems are the size of the room (seats 800 and feels empty when there are 100) and the amount of seniors, who tend not to sing loudly. But the flip side is that they add to the diversity, and they are the most open-minded, kindest, most "with it" seniors in the world.

Diversity and kindness are the strengths, and there even is a nice core of under 30's. Still, Beth Abraham is probably both too far and too uncool for Balabusta.

As for the Rabbi looking like Matthew Broderick, yes, people have been telling me that since the 80's, and, in all honesty, I've never minded a bit.

Still, we hope to see you on a non Bat Mitzvah weekend one of these times, and maybe I'll even tackle the unseemly stuff in a difficult parasha.


Rabbi Mark "Ferris Bueller" Bloom