Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Shul Search Continues--Beth El, Berkeley

A year and a half after moving to the East Bay, I still don't have an East Bay shul. I realize that this is my own damn fault. I am still waiting for--oh, I don't know what I'm waiting for. I'm waiting for an absolutely perfect shul to open up down the street from me, and send a delegation to tell me that I can be their first president or something.

Anyway, I got to thinking, how about returning to my roots in Reform? Or at least giving my roots in Reform a chance? So I checked out Beth El, in Berkeley.

There's Torah study at 9:30, Shabbat Shacharit at 10:30. I decide to give myself the benefit of the extra hour...unfortunately the buses are not running perfectly, but at almost exactly the right time I am schlepping up Oxford Street, keeping an eye out for the shul.

And then I see the shul.

It's big. Ummm...yes, it's big. It's modern. And it looks more like part of a college campus than a shul, but I'm pretty sure it's got to be Beth El, not least because there are huge signs up on the fence all around it explaining that Beth El is using green building techniques.

Then I discover that I can't find the service.

Clearly, Torah study was happening in the small chapel that is now full of people talking and laughing, but where the hell the davening is happening, I cannot ascertain. All the doors to what looks like the main sanctuary are locked, and there are signs telling me that due to heightened security, I should go in through the North Gallery doors, but these seem to be locked too.

I meander around for a while, and eventually figure out how to get into the building from the other side, and drift up, until I find the sanctuary. There I discover this:

1. Davening is happening.

2. Davening is happening with a VERY SMALL circle of people.

3. Davening is being led by an ex-employer of mine.

4. I knew she worked there of course, but had forgotten.

5. I don't have warm feelings toward this person.

6. She has noticed me, although I don't know if she recognizes me. She is making eyebrows at me.

7. Possibly because they don't have a minyan.

I tallised up. I joined them. Maybe next week I try the Torah study.

It was distinctly weird, though, davening in such a small group with Ex Employer. It has been nearly ten years. I can't say I was comfortable, but I wasn't that uncomfortable either. More uncomfortable that I didn't know anyone. Maybe it would work out. I found myself thinking that if we didn't have bad blood, I would be fine with what she was actually DOING and SAYING as a leader of the congregation.



1. Not too hard to get to.

2. They appear to have a really good social action committee, with projects I can get behind.

3. The building is weird, but kind of pleasant.

4. The Torah study seems to draw a crowd, and enormous energy.

5. They have a great gift shop. I realize that this is not exactly the most important thing, but...

6. I like the way people dress.

7. It's near Saul's Deli. I had lox and scrambled eggs for brunch.


1. Someone who I really don't want to talk to or see is a spiritual leader there.

2. They got a minyan plus one for the Torah service on a Shabbos morning.

3. The affluence might kill me.

4. They don't have much of a welcoming committee in place. Granted, I could have asked for help.

Does anyone know if there's a way to get to Beth Hillel in Richmond on public transit? transit.511 can't find them.


Tia said...

Give Beth Israel another try. The mehitzah/ separation barrier (apartheid wall?) is an annoyance to some, but its straight down the middle and there are many equal opportunities for female leadership. (One of my single women friends used to say that at Beth El or Netivot, when everyone was sitting with their families, she felt very alone, but at Beth Israel, she felt like she was "just one of the girls"
The new Rabbi is about 7 years old, but he seems promising. I don't know about you, but I've always liked my Rabbis and my gynocologists older than me. Thats getting harder and harder, though.
Lots of little kids, everyone dresses Berkeley style, and its hamish. No event happens without the ritual moving of furniture.
Don't let the label "Orthodox" fool you. Its more "Post-Modern Orthodox" .

dan said...

For Beth Hillel, I think the synagogue rabbi lives in Albany. Perhaps you can ask for a lift. The contact info is on their website.

Tia said...

The Beth Hillel rabbi lives in El Cerrito- he attended Beth Hillel as a child. Nice guy.
Beth Hillel isn't far from Hilltop Mall- so any bus that gets you to the mall will get you pretty close.
In the past, their politics ranged from "Israel is usually wrong" to "Israel is always wrong", but that is slowly changing. The new Rabbi is much more centerist

Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

I had thought the rabbi at Beth Israel was at least twelve...I did great enjoy his drash, though.

Barefoot Jewess said...

From my most recent experience, affluence kills souls. A not impersonal statement, I know. I would suggest somewhere where you don't have to deal with such an element (the culture of wealth); just sayin'. Follow your gut instinct, anyway, and no matter what.

I'm really moved by your drive to find a haimish shul, and not to settle.

Good luck!