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  • 27 Nov 2023 2:35 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Anthony Arnello

    Wreaths hang in the mall. The local radio station becomes “Your Home for the Holidays." Wherever we go, we hear people say “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Yet, amidst the Christmas-centered festivity, finding a place for our Jewish identity can be far from wonderful. When December rolled around after my conversion, I was excited for my favorite season, but I was also conflicted. I had devoted so much energy to the exploration of Jewish holidays, theology, and history; so much that was new. When a familiar time came around, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. After all, this year, for the first time, I was a real Jew for Christmas. 

    My family supported me in my journey, but they also celebrated Christmas. They wanted me to feel seen, but their traditions, decorations, and music weren’t going to change. And, to be honest, I didn’t want them to! They were comfortable, familiar, and fun. Thus, I found myself in a two-part December Dilemma. I felt unsure of how to handle Christmas-centered events without feeling uncomfortable or guilty for “wavering” from my Judaism. I wondered how I was going to incorporate my new Jewish identity into the traditions and gatherings already formed in our family holiday schedule. Flustered and a little defeated, I moved on and started planning December, trusting that my pathway through the holidays would become clear.

    As we decided on party dates and menu items, I began to separate Christmas as a religious experience and Christmas as time with my family and friends. I saw that the focus of these parties wasn’t so different from the Jewish holidays I had worked so hard to grow accustomed to. Food and family– It was as simple as that! 

    It’s a mitzvah to honor our parents, and by extension our family. Becoming a Jew, we enter The Tribe, but we cannot forget our own tribe. We bring with us traditions, food, and family. While our family may not become Jews alongside us, those who support us are a part of our tribe and in that, they become a part of the Jewish story. In honoring where we come from and where we have chosen to go, we honor our heritage and our truth. So dare to dreidel with Dasher and Dancer! Incorporate Jewish traditions and Hanukkah into your family events and establish yourself as a new Jew.

  • 15 Nov 2023 9:02 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    by Arlene Chernow

    As we enter December and upcoming holidays, I want to share some thoughts from my 25 years working in congregations. The December Dilemma was the most requested program that I offered to congregations. My takeaway is this: so many of the hurt feelings happen because it is hard to talk with members of an interfaith extended family about expectations.

    The topic that came up again and again was wrapping paper. The story that I heard was that the members of the extended family generally accepted the family’s choice to not celebrate Christmas in their home, but then presents to children came wrapped in Christmas paper. This was interpreted as a passive aggressive gesture.

    Let’s take a closer look: Many of the experiences took place before the internet made shopping as easy as it is today.  If you live in an area of the country where there is a Jewish population, it may be easy to get Hanukkah wrapping paper in your local store, but there are many parts of the country where the Hanukkah and the Christmas wrapping paper are not next to each other. One woman shared that she sent Hanukkah wrapping paper to her mother well in advance of the December holidays with a note asking her parents to use it.

    If they are open to the idea, I suggest having a discussion within your family. Together, you can decide whether to wrap gifts in the paper of the holiday that the gift giver celebrates or the paper of the recipients holiday. If it is the latter, prepare in advance by buying your family members the appropriate wrapping paper for them to use on you or your children’s gifts. Either decision gives parents a chance to have a positive, proactive discussion of love and respect for cultural differences. 

    Another solution we’ve come up with is silver wrapping paper. After many years of leading these discussions, one of my daughters married a man whose family has a tradition of  exchanging Christmas gifts among adults in addition to buying gifts for children, which had not been our tradition. I was then faced with the question of how to wrap the gifts. I chose silver wrapping paper. Why? It shows respect for my daughter’s in-laws. It looks pretty under their Christmas tree, and it is still true to who I am. 

    Am I reading too much into wrapping paper? Maybe, but I think that silver wrapping paper can be a useful model for the critical question:  How can I be true to my new identity as a Jew and create a warm extended and loving interfaith family.

  • 17 Oct 2023 10:46 AM | SCBetDin Admin (Administrator)

    My brothers and sisters in the Jewish community from an Israeli American Rabbi,

    Peoplehood, for me, is the essence of Judaism. Peoplehood bears with it the sense of brotherhood, the sense of “I see you” and “I’ve got your back,” as was the case in the months and days preceding the 1967 war when the Jewish world rallied for the safety of Israel. Today, because of the technological advancement of weaponry and its destructive power, Israel is in a much more dire strait.

    We, the people of Israel, need to hear and feel: "I’m your brother" – from you.

    We need your support now more than ever before. There is a lot you can do right now and, in the future, when we rebuild all the places devastated by the furious fire of hate.

    Here is what you can do:

    1.    Donate - please donate directly to Israeli organizations. This is the most practical, hands-on you can do now–to help with acquiring medical and safety equipment.

    2.   Help with explaining the situation, especially on social media. This is a war we tried to avoid for decades, many concessions were made, which consequently, allowed Hamas to gain power. This is a war against pure evil that finds satisfaction in brutality and killing, exploiting their own people.

    3.    Kaddish – As of now we have 1,300 people dead and we estimate the numbers will rise. Please adopt one person from the list to your heart and say Kaddish for them when you are at services or at home. Please try to contact their family, so that they know that their brothers and sisters abroad are with them. Here is a list of names:

    4.    Pray - Pray and spread awareness about the many civilian hostages, among them young children and elderly who were abducted from their homes. Here is a list of names: 

    5.    Peace - Peace is a noble aspiration that we, the Jewish people, always strive for.  But right now, we are still fighting for our survival and burying our dead children and loved ones.

    In reality, Hamas killed any chance for peace, deliberately, on October 7, by brutally murdering and torturing 1,300 people, among them babies.

    Peace means normalization, and there is nothing normal about neighbors who come to your house to kill you, burn your home down, and abduct your children. Would you trust such a neighbor?

    The army estimates that there were about 2,500 “neighbors” who came viciously, motivated to do their atrocities, and many more “neighbors” came to loot the homes of the dead people.

    For this, we are at a loss for words, not to mention trust.

    In these very difficult, traumatic days, the people of Israel need all the support they can get from the greater “People of Israel”- Am Israel.

    To help us feel connected as one people, please let us hear, see, and feel you Stand with Israel.

    In peoplehood,
    Rabbi, Dr. Belle Michael  

  • 28 Sep 2023 1:06 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Henry HollanderSukkot is my daughter’s favorite Jewish holiday. It might be mine too, but I don’t like to play favorites.

    Like Passover, Sukkot (Hag Ha-Sukkot in Hebrew: The Festival of Booths, or Sukkos in Yiddish) is a holiday we celebrate at home. Well, not exactly at home; sukkahs are usually home adjacent. You can build them in your yard or on your deck or on a balcony - any place where you have open sky above you. A Sukkah needs three walls, and it needs to be covered with fresh greenery – enough to give you a bit more than fifty percent shade.

    My daughter likes Sukkot because it combines so many of the things that she calls fun: being together with family and friends, making meals with comfort foods, a construction project, and an opportunity to decorate.

    You are supposed to "dwell" in your Sukkah during the holiday, but how do you know that you are dwelling? You dwell where you eat all your meals and where you sleep. We used to eat all of our meals in the Sukkah, and my daughter and her best friend once tried sleeping in ours, but they came inside after getting spider bites. Blu Greenberg, in How To Run a Traditional Jewish Household, reminds us that if it is pouring rain we are required to come inside, as the mitzvah of sitting in a Sukkah is only fulfilled when the holiday is a time of our joy.

    Sukkot is a great time to get together family and friends, have some fun, and indulge your creative side. If you don’t have the space or the time to build your own, make sure to visit one at a local synagogue, JCC, or at a friend's house.

  • 18 Sep 2023 5:53 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    A young boy blows a shofar on Yom Kippur

    As we approach Yom Kippur, the challenge of fasting from sunset to sunset is likely on your mind, especially if you recently converted to Judaism. While fasting can be challenging, it's also incredibly spiritually rewarding.

    Whether this is your first fast or your fiftieth, here are some tips to make sure you have a tzom kal (easy fast). 
    1. Start cutting back on caffeine.

      • Fasting means no coffee, and for many of us, no coffee means a major headache. Start cutting back in advance so you can minimize your withdrawal symptoms.
    2. Hydrate early.

      • On the days preceding Yom Kippur, drink plenty of water. While you will undoubtedly still feel dehydrated later in the day, you want to give yourself a head start. Also, avoid heavily salted foods, as this may make your thirstier down the line.
    3. Dress comfortably.

      • Fasting is meant to be a challenge. It’s meant to be uncomfortable. But if you are spending all day at services, there’s no reason for your outfit to be uncomfortable too. Dress in layers so you can adjust throughout the day. Your body may react strangely to fasting, which means fluctuating body temperatures.
    4. Move around.

      • It’s easy to assume that the best way to get through fasting is to sedentary. While it’s important not to push yourself, fresh air and *extremely light* exercise can be beneficial. Many congregations have light yoga or stretching sessions throughout the day.
    5. Break your fast right.

      • Once fasting is done, your brain might tell you to rush out and eat something dense and high-calorie, but that can be a disaster for your stressed digestive system. Start with fluids, progress to light carbs like challah, and once your body has adjusted, enjoy a delicious meal with friends and family.

    Remember, Jewish law prevents people from fasting if it could negatively affect their health. If you’re pregnant, ill, or have any pre-existing condition that makes fasting dangerous, talk to your doctor and rest assured that you are not obligated to fast.

  • 8 Aug 2023 12:35 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    Historically, Jewish-American and vegan foods haven’t mixed. While Sephardic and Mizrahi cuisines have long offered delicious plant-based options, the heavy influence of Ashkinanzi culture on Jewish food in America means meat often dominates the menu. But that’s changing with restaurants like Ben and Esther’s in San Diego. 

    Named after the founder’s grandparents, this 100% vegan deli serves up plant-based versions of the classic sandwiches you’d find at places like Canter’s, as well as a variety of Jewish staples like latkes and matzo ball soup. If you’re lucky, you may catch one of their amazing specials like a challah “egg” and “cheese.”

    The number of people eating vegan and vegetarian diets or just trying to cut back on meat has skyrocketed. Given Judaism’s commitment to environmental issues and mindful eating, it’s no surprise that the trend pertains to our community as well. But that’s no reason to give up the foods that are such a major part of the Jewish-American experience. Ben and Esther’s also has locations in Portland and Seattle, and the owners have expressed interest in opening a location in Los Angeles. 

    Check out their menu here:

  • 24 Jul 2023 8:33 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    The Western Wall, an important locations in JudaismTish'a B'av is often not taught in Introduction to Judaism classes, but if you've recently finished your conversion to Judaism, it's an important way to get in touch with our people's history. It is a Fast Day, a day of mourning in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. We mark this day through fasting and prayer on the 9th day of Av. 

    While the main focus of the day is on the destruction of the temple, Tish’a B’av goes beyond that. It’s a communal day of mourning for all of the tragedies and losses of the Jewish people, including expulsions from countries and the Shoah. Tish’a B’av is a way for us to honor the victims of these events and reflect on how we have struggled and thrived as a people.

    The day itself, we fast from sundown to sunset. During this time we read from The Book of Lamentations. Traditionally we read it at night, sitting on the floor, with our books lit by candelight. The chanting is a unique nusach (melody), minor in key and haunting. We break the fast with a meal that does not include meat or wine. Other traditions may include visits to cemeteries or other places of mourning. 

  • 18 Jul 2023 12:45 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    San Diego Center for Jewish CultureAfter converting to Judaism, many new Jews embark on a quest to connect with their newly adopted identity. If you reside in Southern California, it's easy to focus solely on Los Angeles, given its status as the city with the second-largest Jewish population in the US. However, Southern California's Jewish culture extends beyond the city of Los Angeles, particularly into the greater San Diego area.

    One notable way new Jews can immerse themselves in their newfound identity is through engagement with Jewish arts, a grand tradition that stands as a focal point of our people’s identity. A perfect starting point is the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, located in La Jolla. Historically affected by Antisemitism, this area now proudly hosts the Center for Jewish Culture, a hub for Jewish theater, music, art, and more. The Center's youth theater program offers an array of performances, ranging from Jewish classics like Fiddler on the Roof to modern pieces like Spongebob the Musical. This provides a splendid opportunity for parents of young Jews to engage with the Jewish community's longstanding influence on American theater.

    The Center for Jewish Culture also hosts the annual Jewish Film Festival, a major event in the Jewish cultural calendar. While the festival officially kicks off in January 2024, early screenings begin as soon as September.

    The Center operates as part of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. While synagogues are often seen as the central spiritual and social hubs, particularly during and after conversion, JCCs play a crucial role in nurturing community engagement, especially among new members of the Jewish community. If you live in the San Diego area, the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture offers an excellent avenue to explore your Jewish identity more deeply.

    Visit their Website

  • 13 Jul 2023 10:41 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    The Skirball Cultural Center, a museum of Jewish culture in Los AngelesOne of the first struggles and joys of converting to Judaism is connecting to Jewish culture. This can be hard if you live in an area without much of a Jewish community, but we’re lucky in Southern California. One organization working to showcase our culture, both abroad and in Los Angeles, is the Skirball Cultural Center.

    Located on a beautiful campus in the hills just north of the Getty, the Skirball Cultural Center is a museum with plenty to offer. They have a massive collection of Jewish art and cultural items that tell a story of how we came to the US and built a home on the West Coast.

    While their permanent collection is enough to demand a visit, their featured exhibitions make this a must-see destination for both local and visiting Jews. The genres of these exhibitions can range from showcases of LA Jewish artists like Peter Krasnow to deep dives into impactful eras of Jewish history.

    While adults reflect on our people’s struggles and triumphs on the West Coast, children can have a fun, hands-on experience exploring their culture. The ongoing Noah’s Ark exhibit brings the story of the flood to life, letting kids climb, build, and explore. Families can also visit the art studio, enjoy story time and music jams in the Amphitheater, and more. Just be sure to check the schedule ahead of time, as some of these activities only run on specific days.

    There is no shortage of options for exploring Jewish culture in Los Angeles, but whether you’re just beginning your conversion to Judaism or a long-time new Jew, the Skirball Center is an excellent way to spend the day connecting and reflecting. Start planning your trip at

    Image Attribution:
    Hughwa, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

  • 3 Jul 2023 2:41 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Kevin Masterson

    I feel like I’ve had an inner conflict about God since I was a small child, long before my conversion to Judaism. I remember my first grade nun, Sister Justina, telling us that to question or disobey a nun or priest was a mortal sin, which meant we go to hell with no chance of redemption. I remember how frightened that made me. I didn’t want to go to hell.

    The conflict in me was born when I began to see things that made me question their actions. I would see nuns and priests beating children, and I always had an uncomfortable feeling when a priest would come to visit. However, I didn’t want to go to hell, so in my confusion I figured their behavior must be a ‘mystery' that I was not worthy enough to understand.

    My conflict grew even greater in Civics Class in the 5th grade. Sister Augustine had us take a true or false quiz about prejudice. We reviewed the quiz as a group, and there was a question about white people being superior. I raised my hand and said “that is false, sister. In God’s eyes everyone is equal.” Sister Augustine then asked me again. I repeated my answer. She said “no, the answer to that question is true. You are prejudiced.” I tried to explain again, and she told me to sit down. I was so confused and ashamed. What she was saying was against everything that I had been taught to believe by my parents, the priests, and all my other teachers. However, I was also taught that I couldn’t question her, so I assumed there must be something wrong with me.

    Several months later, I started puberty shortly before my 11th birthday. I was told nothing as my body began to change and my testosterone kicked in. Having been so repressed by my family and my faith, I rebelled with a vengeance. I was given the message that I was “bad”, so I set out to not disappoint my critics. I knew that there was something wrong with my religion, but I wasn’t allowed to question it. I was too afraid. I didn’t know what hypocrisy meant.

    I joined a Jewish fraternity in college, as I had many friends there and I fit in really well. All of my brothers were very smart and ambitious like I was. Their families valued education like mine did. The only real difference that I can see now is that they did not have the deep level of shame that I did. When they felt bad it was from their conscience, not the fear of going to hell. They made mistakes and learned from them. I made a mistake and was to be punished by God for eternity. They gently taught me to question how irrational many of my beliefs were.

    I fell away from the faith that I was born into due to several very traumatic experiences, and I felt lost for many years. I felt that I was being punished for rejecting my family’s religion. Eventually I found my way to a 12 step program and a spiritual church. However, I still felt so much confusion and shame. My “faith” wasn’t strong enough. I often made very bad choices for that reason.

    I never forgot the comfort & clarity that I got from the fellowship of my fraternity brothers. At the encouragement of Rabbi Sarah Horonsky, I began an intro to Judaism class at American Jewish University. I remember the first thing that Rabbi Morris Panitz said in class: “In Judaism we believe that all human life has value.” It felt like I exhaled fully for the first time in my life.

    In the past three years, I have learned the value of questioning. I’ve heard many other people express their opinions, ask questions, and admit it when they didn’t know the answer to something. That’s what has resolved my conflict in my journey into Judaism. I am encouraged to be authentic and continue to seek out truth. For me, that seems exactly what the purpose of this earthly journey we are all on is designed for.

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