Press About Congregation Bet Haverim
Congregation Bet Haverim celebrates 50 years
From the Davis Enterprise, Thursday, September 29, 2011
Special to The Enterprise
Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis will launch a 15-month-long celebration of the synagogue’s 50th anniversary during Thursday night’s Rosh Hashanah services, which mark the Jewish New Year. It is the only synagogue in Yolo County.
Seventeen families founded the congregation as the Jewish Fellowship of Davis in November 1961; many moved here to work on the UC Davis faculty. Services took place in private homes or at the Girl Scout Cabin on A Street; there was no rabbi or other clergy.
Today, Congregation Bet Haverim includes 280 member families who gather at a 6,000-plus-square-foot campus at 1715 Anderson Road.
“Fifty years of Jewish living and learning is a milestone, not only for Bet Haverim as an institution, but also for the entire community of Davis and Yolo County,” said Rabbi Greg Wolfe, spiritual head of the synagogue for the past 16 years.
“Just as our congregation is richer for having been influenced and nurtured by the larger community in which it exists, I truly believe that the larger community has benefited from having a thriving Jewish congregation in its midst.”
To celebrate the jubilee year, the clergy, staff and lay leadership of the synagogue are working to create a series of events and activities, both on site and in the larger Davis community.
At the center of the festivities will be the “Tree of Life” Project, to write a new Torah — the parchment document that contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy — for Bet Haverim using the skills of a soferet (a female scribe), who will help every member of the congregation write one of the letters in the new scroll.
The effort will begin with a special ritual event on Oct. 30, and conclude in December 2012 with the dedication of the new Torah at Hanukkah, a Jewish festival of religious freedom and national survival.
In addition, plans are under way for a speakers’ and workshop series open to the public, congregation-wide art and social action projects, a gala 50th anniversary dinner and auction event next May and a Jewish Food Faire at Central Park in Downtown Davis on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.
“It is thrilling that our 50th year presents this unique opportunity to reach both more deeply within our own membership, as well as beyond our campus, to share the history, the culture, the fun — and the food — that have come together to make Bet Haverim truly a ‘House of Friends,’ ” said Andrew Newman, president of the congregation.
“I hope over the course of the next 15 months we will not only get to celebrate with our membership, but will have opportunities to meet, celebrate and share our success with the larger community that has embraced us all these years.”
Malka Sansani, head of the synagogue’s Jewish education for nearly 15 years, Executive Director MK Menard, a dedicated staff, and many volunteers have made Congregation Bet Haverim the center for the Jewish community of Yolo County.
“House of Friends” is the translation of the Hebrew words bet haverim, which inspired the name of the congregation.
For more information about Bet Haverim’s 50th anniversary or the Tree of Life Project, contact Joy Cohan at Congregation Bet Haverim, 1715 Anderson Road, Davis, CA 95616; call (530) 758-0842; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Daily Democrat by Jim Smith, January 29, 2009
Forgiveness comes hard for people. If we don’t learn how to forgive, then like a stone, our hearts become unyielding, resistant to anything but the desire to hold onto that which ultimately hurts us.
But if we learn to let go of that stone, to forgive; we radiate a light of warmth that spreads and overwhelms our souls and those of others with the love of God.
This message of “forgiveness” was the theme of the 6th annual Celebration of Abraham held Sunday at St. James Catholic Church in Davis. The two-hour, interfaith event, brought together nearly 300 people of the Muslim, Catholic and Jewish faiths to share their commonalties of spirit and belief.
Host of the event, Father Loreto Rojas Jr., of St. James, who was born and raised in the Philippines on the island of Cantanduanes, welcomed those attending, marveling that where he came from such a gathering would not be possible.
“I grew up in a culture where something like this would be unimaginable,” Rojas said. “I should be the one saying thank you. Here as one people, as one community (we can) demonstrate that God is always with us. Please accept my personal gratitude to all of you … ” for being here.
Asked later to explain, Father Rojas said that on Cantanduanes there was a constant competition among the many religions and mutual suspicion among members of each faith.
Michael Hirsch of the congregation Bet Haverim, who spoke first, offered perhaps the most powerful illustration of how unforgiveness consumes people.
“Our faiths tell us to forgive but not how to forgive,” Hirsch said.
Then he asked people to pick up a stone from their table setting and to hold it, to squeeze it, harder and harder and harder.
He asked if people could feel the pain in their hand, their arm that was tightly squeezing the stone? He asked if people could use their hand or their arm? And then he told people to ease up, to relieve the pressure and feel the warmth returning to their hand and arm.
Unforgiveness is similar to that stone, Hirsch said. As long as we hold it, it will consume us, harden our hearts and leave no room for warmth for understanding of others.
Rabbi Greg Wolfe of Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis continued on the theme of Hirsch, saying that forgiveness offered a beacon of hope and a possibility for hearing because it “opens our hearts to the insights of our various traditions and the power of our hearts to forgive.”
Noting his name had been left off the program, Wolfe smiled and said simply, “I forgive you.”
Wolfe said that in the fall, the celebration of Yom Kippur “serves as a sacred model for forgiveness, and reminds us that it is never too late for forgiveness or to be forgiven.” But, it is up to each individual to exercise that power.
“There are no miracle cures, no magic wands to wave to fix what’s broken,” Wolfe said. “Our traditions teach us that each of us is responsible for repairing our relationships and the lives that are wounded. Each of us is given the responsibility to ask one another for forgiveness, and we must also be willing to forgive those who have forgiven us.”
Forgiveness is hard, Wolfe said. “It feels good sometimes to hold onto it … and if we forgive, aren’t we just letting that person off the hook? Doesn’t that forgiveness sometimes say that what they did was OK?”
Wolfe referred back to Hirsch and the squeezing of the stone, to remind people how they hurt themselves.
“Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the bad actions, as our exercise with the rock shows us,” Wolfe said. “Forgiveness simply allows us to put that rock, that burning coal, down; to let it go and to disconnect it so that we’re not consumed by it.”
Wolfe offered his own illustration of how a rabbi once told his students that they must seek and grant forgiveness on the day before they die.
“All the students shook their heads in agreement,” Wolfe said, “but one brave soul asked: ‘But, rabbi, how do we know what day we’re going to die?’ And the rabbi says, ‘Ah!’
“So you see our days are too short and fleeting to be consumed by anger and hatred and an unforgiving heart,” Wolfe said. “And so every night before you go to sleep you should examine your day and forgive those who may have hurt you.”
The intent of the Celebration of Abraham, which began just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is to connect as neighbors no matter their spiritual belief or cultural differences.
The design of the program is the same each year, beginning with representatives of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths expressing their perspectives on a specific theme.
The afternoon ends with a ritual of washing each other’s hands individual tables, and breaking a loaf of bread together as symbols of respect and connection.
The topic of forgiveness was selected this year because it was the most requested topic on evaluation sheets filled out at last year’s gathering, organizers explained.
“Forgiveness is mentioned in all holy books,” said Hamza El Nakhal, who is part of the Celebration of Abraham Organizing Committee and a board member of both the Islamic Center of Davis and Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations.
Sponsors of this year’s ceremony included the American Muslim Voice, Center for Spiritual Living, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Congregation Bet Haverim/Jewish Fellowship of Davis, Council on American Islamic Relations, Davis Community Church, Davis Lutheran Church, the Islamic Center of Davis, Lutheran Church of Incarnation, Muslim Mosque of Woodland, St. James Catholic Church of Davis, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church of Davis, United Methodist Church of Davis, Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, Cal Aggie Christian Association/CA House, the United Methodist Church of Woodland, and the University Covenant Church.
Article provided courtesy of The Daily Democrat, used by permission.
From the Davis Enterprise, December 22, 2008
Fifth-generation cantor at work in Davis temple
By Jane Seo | Enterprise staff writer
Growing up, Brian Reich doesn’t remember ever owning an alarm clock.
Brian’s father, the late Israel Reich, was a nationally renowned cantor. He would wake up at 6 every morning and vocalize in the shower. His father’s stentorian, operatic voice would resonate through the house and disrupt young Brian’s sleep.
“(My father being a cantor) affected every part of my life as a kid,” Reich recalls.
A cantor is a member of Jewish clergy who works side by side with the rabbi and leads the congregation in prayer through songs and melodies.
The duties of a cantor include composing music; giving sermons; teaching the rite of passage; preparing children for bar or bat mitzvah; and training adults how to chant, read and pray in Hebrew.
But most importantly, Reich believes a cantor “inspires prayer, inspires thought, inspires emotion and inspires goodness.”
“The rabbi is the intellect of Judaism, whereas the cantor is the heart and soul,” Reich says.
His childhood was immersed in cantoring. At his house, cantorial music played in the background all the time. Dinnertime conversation often involved discussions about the synagogue. All of his friends were sons and daughters of cantors.
It seemed inevitable that Reich would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a fifth-generation cantor in the family.
Yet, when Brian was a kid, he never thought about becoming a cantor.
“My father never paid much attention to me,” Reich says, remembering how his father was often too busy with his cantorial duties and training Brian’s older siblings, 12 and 10 years his senior, to become cantors.
Against his father’s approval, the young Reich expanded his musical repertoire in his teenage years. He listened to rock and roll and The Beatles.
“My father would make nasty faces or sing louder to cover up the music,” Reich recalls.
In his early 20s, Brian made living as a rock and roll musician. When he was 26, however, Reich had an epiphany watching his father lead a choir of 15 people.
“The whole room lifted,” he said. Since then, he knew he wanted to pursue cantoring.
A cantor is traditionally trained by another cantor. When a cantorial program was established in the 1930s, students were able to attend schools designated to cantorial teaching. Reich benefited from both types of teaching, as he received training directly from his father as well as education in Los Angeles.
In 1988, Reich signed a contract with a synagogue in Berkeley. He had two goals in mind: Teaching the community about what he does and encouraging women to lead services. After 20 years of facilitating individuals in their journeys toward spirituality and training thousands of students for their bar and bat mitzvahs, Reich said, “That’s a wrap.” He accomplished had his goals 110 percent, and realized it was time to move on.
Then, Davis came into the view.
Compared to Berkeley, Davis is a “calmer, warmer community,” Reich says. On his first day as a cantor at Congregation Bet Haverim on July 1, he remembers immediately feeling at home.
In Davis, Reich plans to develop more skills as a cantor and focus on being a clergy member. At every service, he plays his guitar and creates music, which he describes as a mix of traditional sound and country rock.
“(Bet Haverim) is a smaller congregation (than the one in Berkeley),” he explains. “I can touch people in different ways.”
Reich is already reaching out to the community by organizing a community candle-lighting ceremony for Hanukkah. He hopes the event will encourage interfaith families to incorporate the Jewish part of their lives into the holiday.
“A cantor brings the ancient into the day in a very wonderful way,” Reich says. “I’m proud to bring this tradition to Davis.”
Article courtesy of the Davis Enterprise, used by permission.
From the Davis Enterprise, Monday, January 14, 2008
A memorable bar mitzvah: Flashlight illuminates ceremony
By Elisabeth Sherwin | Enterprise staff writer
Sometimes the weather just can’t be allowed to get in the way. During the big wind and rain storm of Jan. 4-5, rural mail carriers in Woodland wore individual headlamps to sort the mail, an evening Mass at St. James was celebrated by candlelight, and a young man at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis said his prayers by flashlight in front of 130 family members and friends.
Mark Rutheiser and Jenny Rutheiser watched their son, Jacob, 13, celebrate his bar mitzvah (‘one who is responsible for the Commandments’) on Saturday, Jan. 5. Judaism regards age of 13 as the benchmark of religious maturity.
‘The power went off on Friday morning and we had a rehearsal at 2 p.m.,’ Mark said. ‘The power was still off and the sanctuary was completely dark even during the day. We have a small social hall next door (on Anderson Road) and we decided to move it there.
‘Sure enough, on Saturday morning we arrived with the photographer and the power was still off. So we set up chairs and held it there.’
He said the Torah, or holy book, was carried over to the hall in a portable ark.
The service began at 10 a.m. and continued to 12:30 p.m.
‘So we read the Torah by flashlight as 130 people sat in the dark and cold,’ he added. ‘A lot of people were very impressed and said it was a beautiful and memorable service.’
Jacob, a student at Holmes Junior High School, said he wasn’t exactly worried by the change in plans but he was a little surprised.
‘I knew it would be rainy but I didn’t expect a blackout,’ he said. ‘The rabbi (Greg Wolfe) and I took turns holding the flashlight and reading the Torah.
‘I will always remember that day anyway but now there’s something really making it stand out,’ he said.
Mark said his son studied Hebrew for four years and prepared for his bar mitzvah for four months. It was a big day, and the prayers his son memorized were specific to that calendar day so it would not have been easy to have rescheduled the event.
When it all came together, Mark and his son agreed that it was pretty cool.
‘It will go down in history at the temple,’ Mark said.
- The Enterprise’s Monday feature, ‘Off the Beaten Path,’ offers snapshots of life in Yolo County. Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at email@example.com
Article courtesy of the Davis Enterprise, used by permission.