Opening Day – Play Ball and Happy Passover

By Rabbi Mark Melamut

Matzah everywhere. What is your favorite Matzah recipe?

Matzah everywhere. What is your favorite Matzah recipe?

Can you smell it in the air?  Not the peanuts and cracker jacks, the freshly raked field or even the shouts of “play ball,” but the signs of the other Opening Day.  The Opening Day that smells of matzah ball soup, which takes over the air like a thick San Francisco fog, and that covers us and most possible surfaces with matzah crumbs.  The Opening Day which highlights the important of the Jewish questioning process by formalizing those four questions, along with sealing the lyrics and melody of dayenu, into our hearts and souls.

Pesach, or Passover, if you prefer, is our Opening Day.  It is the day that opens a new season, and one that requires us to literally open the doors of our home to those who are hungry and to Elijah.  It opens our memories, our hopes, and our hearts and minds.  In short, Passover opens us up to the wonder and joy, and even to the tzurres and hardship of life, to which we can only say, “Play Ball!”  In order to even get a hit though, we have to first stand in the batter’s box, to risk the chance of striking out, and to face the infinite field of possibilities before us.

The wisdom of the rabbis teaches us that “In every generation, each of us is to view ourselves as having personally escaped from Egypt.”  Passover is not a spectator sport, to be enjoyed from the bleachers or the sidelines, or even from the radio or TV.  Instead, each of us invited to participate in the action by pulling up to the table, by grabbing a comfy pillow on which to recline, by noshing on our symbolic foods, and by asking not only the four questions, but any questions that we have.  In our family seder, before we sit down to begin, we take a few moments to ask everyone to write down any questions – silly, serious, wondrous, dangerous, marvelous – on multi-colored sticky notes.  We place them all in a bowl and after we chant the four questions, we then delve into our own questions.

Opening Day, as defined by Wikipedia, is the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season. For fans, Opening Day serves as a symbol of rebirth.  I learned that writer, Thomas Boswell, in Why Time Begins on Opening Day, suggests that many feel that the occasion represents newness or a chance to forget last season, in that the 30 major league clubs and their millions of fans begin with 0–0 records.  On this Opening Day, what are we open to?  Can we imagine what it is like to personally experience freedom for the first time?  Are we open to new things, emotions, perspectives, ideas, habits, customs or rituals?  Are we open to moving on?  Can we really begin again in our lives, as if our record is 0-0, or are we stuck in last season?

For this Opening Season, what else can I say, other than, “Play ball (and Happy Passover!)”

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A Passover Short Story by Martin Lindauer

Photo of passover table with ritual foods

Passover table

With Pesach approaching soon, the following short story by Martin Lindauer may evoke memories of parents and grandparents around the Seder table.  (originally published in the Shofar Literary Revew, March 2009 

Three Languages, Four Questions
“Mah nishtanah…?”
“Fa voos is die nacht von Pesach…?”
 “Why is this night different…?
      My parents and I took the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan’s lower East Side, a rare trip prompted by the Passover Seder at my grandparents cold-water flat on Delancey Street, near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.  As the youngest, I would say The Four Kashas, or Questions, in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English, a trilingual performance that honored my family’s European heritage, demonstrated my competency in Cheder, Hebrew school, and showed-off my successful Americanization.  Zaydabubba, and my parents understood Yiddish and read Hebrew, but hadn’t yet, as new immigrants, learned English.  To enhance my linguistic prowess, I would not consult theHaggadah, the guide to the Seder, a feat of memory comparable to reciting by heart the introductory Brachot prayers before the Torah reading, a deed that, luckily, would take place some years from now at my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13.  I rehearsed my lines, accompanied by their sing-song lilt, while feeding sticks of wood into the bulky cast-iron kitchen stove that did double-duty by cooking the meal and heating the apartment.
      Fortunately, my recitation of the Four Questions was at the beginning of the Sedar, before the sweet wine, droning prayers, and heavy food made me too sleepy to remember my lines.  My parents watched me nervously, fearing I might stumble over a word, overlook a line, or switch the order of a paragraph.  
“…but on this night we recline,” I finished with a smile and a flourish in my voice.  A perfect performance.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw mom flash a look of approval at me and dad send a nod of pride.  Zayda, though, was busy looking over the next segment of the step-by-step procedure, reviewing instructions, in Yiddish, in his yellowed Haggadah, and then reading aloud, in Hebrew, the prologue to the parable of the Four Sons:  rebellious, simple, ignorant, and wise.
I followed in the English section of my Haggadah, my head buried in the translation, but stole a look at zayda as he read the section on the son, the wise one, who knew the meaning of the Four Questions.  Perhaps he would glance my way. 
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Not My Life – Movie presentation about Human Trafficking

By Sharon Bleviss

On March 30th, 2014, Congregation B’nai Emunah, a member of the  San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT),  hosted an important screening of the film, “Not My Life”, followed by a discussion of human trafficking. The event was cosponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women SF/The Jewish Coalition to End Human Trafficking and the US Fund for Unicef. Following the dramatic film, a panel of speakers including Unicef Global Citizenship Fellow Helen Cawai Liang, Antonia  Balkanska Lavine, president of NCJW/SF, also a member of SFCAHT,and Federal Administrative Judge Marianna Warmee, fielded questions from the engrossed audience.

Not My Life movie presentation at B'nai Emunah.

Not My Life movie presentation at B’nai Emunah.

Not My Life is the first film to depict the cruel and dehumanizing practices of human trafficking and modern slavery on a global scale. Filmed on five continents, in a dozen countries, Not My Life takes viewers into a world where millions of children are exploited, every day, through an astonishing array of practices including forced labor, domestic servitude, begging, sex tourism, sexual violence, and child soldiering. “Human traffickers are earning billions of dollars on the backs and in the beds of our children,” says the film’s director, Academy Award nominee, Robert Bilheimer, “and yet no one knows this is happening.” We have a huge responsibility, right now, to learn the truth and act on it. Challenging though it may be, Not My Life’s message is ultimately one of hope. Victims of slavery can be set free and go on to live happy and productive lives. Those who advocate for slavery victims are growing in numbers, and are increasingly effective. At this crossroads for the defining human rights issue of our time, Not My Life tells us, as the late Jonathan Mann said, “We can no longer flee, no longer hide, no longer separate ourselves.”

As a founding organization of the Jewish Coalition to End Human Trafficking, NCJW-SF members have been instrumental in bringing the issue of trafficking to the forefront of our community’s thoughts and actions. The Coalition is an educational, advocacy organization that also supports direct service providers in the area of anti-trafficking work.

The speakers advocated bringing the issue of human trafficking in the Bay Area to people’s attention and to consider assisting in the NCJW SF Center for Women and Girls Mentoring Program for Young Women and Girls. The program urges volunteers to become mentors for young women who may be vulnerable to human trafficking or other victimization. Mentors offer guidance, share fun experiences, and act as a positive role model while helping to prevent future trafficking.

Please watch the trailer here.

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PASSOVER 2014/5774 – Cleaning out the Chametz

By Rabbi Mark Melamut

Cleaning the house before Pesach is an ancient tradition.

Cleaning the house before Pesach is an ancient tradition. Need some help? Sell your chametz to Rabbi Mark and make it a mitzvah.

A crumb here, a crumb there, chametz seems to be everywhere. We recall that not only do we eat matzah on Pesach, as we read in Exodus 12:20, “you shall eat matzah,” but we are also advised to “eat nothing leavened (chametz).” And, the wisdom of Jewish tradition teaches us that the best way to avoid eating something, is to simply not have it around. Thus, we learn, “No leaven (chametz) shall be found in your houses.” (Exodus 12:19)   One of our spiritual tasks is then to try to remove all chametz from our homes. What is chametz? It is any food made of grain and water that has been allowed to ferment and rise. When we remove chametz, we are also said to be ridding ourselves of pride, materialism, and envy – those things that unnecessarily “puff” us up.  Since it can be a physical and financial hardship to completely rid our homes of chametz, Jewish law permits food to be stored away. It is to remain tucked away in a specific place, unseen and unused. This is the Jewish version of “out of sight, out of mind.” The ownership of chametz can then be “transferred” to a non-Jewish person by the rabbi through the authorization of another document.

At B’nai Emunah, we are continuing a tradition begun several years ago. We re-introduced this ancient custom with a new twist – making this a mitzvah by asking you to “sell” your chametz by completing this form and returning it to our office, along with a suggested donation of at least $18.  The money we collect will then be split between Mazon, a Jewish organization that feeds the hungry, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, to which we donate in memory of our dear friend, Rabbi Cyndie Culpeper. Please help us again this year to perpetuate this tradition by completing the form below and sending it in to the office, or by emailing your authorization at (subject: selling chametz).  If you email it, please send your check to the office and note “email chametz authorization” on the memo.

Thank you and Happy Passover!


I hereby authorize Rabbi Mark Melamut to sell my chametz. Name_______________________________ Address_____________________________ ___________________________________ Signature____________________________

Please return this form no later than Friday, April 11, 2014 to:

Congregation B’nai Emunah
3595 Taraval Street
San Francisco, CA 94116


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Purim 2014 – A Joint Affair

By Sharon Bleviss

Members of B’nai Emunah, Beth Israel Judea, Ner Tamid and Or Shalom gathered on the eve of March 15th to celebrate Purim at BIJ. Costumed crowds gathered for dinner while the four rabbis in their clown outfits entertained. Then the Whole Megillah unfolded in various ‘tents’ with a fire-breathing megillah in one room while a juggling megillah unfolded in another. Macaroni and cheese groggers (for donation to the Food Bank) resounded with each mention of Haman as the story of Esther was told through humor and music. All reassembled for Havdalah and dessert, followed by dancing to the strains of Klezmania.

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Judith Edwards Bat Mitzvah Drash

Judith Lange Edwards was called to the torah as a Bat Mitzvah on March 1, 2014

Pedukei – Exodus 30:11-16


Judith Edwards of congregation B’nai Emunah became a bat mitzvah on March 1, 2014.

Imagine a desert; wind tearing over sand dunes; ‘lone and level sands stretch far away’; a single cactus stands guard over his domain; *camera zooms in and starts turning*; a field of gold, silver and copper, and crimson yarns, and sheepskins and precious stones that glitter in the harsh light of the sun. Little ants crawl around erecting poles of metal that hold cloth strung, end to end on this platform the size of a football field. There is a big courtyard with a wall and then another courtyard and then another courtyard and within that there is a Tent that houses the Ten Commandments. Such was the Tabernacle.

You might be asking yourself where all these former slaves, and current nomads got their loot. Well, I was at service on December 21, 2013, the opening chapters  of the book of Exodus. At the beginning of the Torah reading I was getting bored, and decided to read along in the Torah, of course in English. I was soon entranced in the story and the warbling voices of the congregants faded out. When I reached pg. 332 section 3:20 of sh’mot, several pages ahead of everyone; I saw this passage end with “And I will dispose of the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and the clothing and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians.” If this were a test: Which word does not fit in this passage? Answer: borrow. The idea of ‘stripping’ the Egyptians seems brutish, and from it I took a lesson that I am trying to remember in 2014. I learned that forgiving was the best thing you can do, especially when fighting with a brother. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” Though I still think that forgiving someone for stealing all your gold and clothes would be, a bit hard, to say the least.

After the plagues and crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites wandered in the desert. Eventually they came to Mt. Sinai and Moses went up the mountain. The Israelites were scared and confused and made a golden calf and worshipped it like an idol. When the LORD saw what they had done, he was very very mad. When they received the Ten Commandments, God said that they should build the Tabernacle or a home for the commandments.

What is the difference between the Tabernacle and the golden calf?

After all, they are both golden structures that were made by the Jewish people. So what’s the difference?

On New Year’s Eve, my dad and I talked about it for a bit and figured it out; but I couldn’t seem to find a way to phrase it right. The next morning, he helped me find this;

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Shelley’s Ozymandias

You see, the golden calf would have remained a golden idol. But in the end, it would have been the face of an animal stamped on this lifeless thing. We would have no idea why it was here, and what people had worshipped it. The Tabernacle, is not really about the gold, or the instructions from LORD, and not even the coming together as a community to donate the gold. No, I believe it is the about the Ten Commandments, and the protection the Jewish people wanted to give to their history. And unlike that unfortunate statue, the Jews are still around. I finally understood why Judaism is so much different than other religions. When there are laws that can lead us, we can know our boundaries. But unlike other religions, when you are Jewish, you get to carve your own path. You can ask your own questions. You are not unconfined, yet you are not bound to a certain path that someone else chose for you. We can be our own individual and still belong to a community that has kept its history and traditions alive for thousands of years.

The way I was asked what portion I wanted to do was somewhat like this: colors and wonders of the Tabernacle; or skin disease. So I made a quick decision because I thought it would be that simple. I spent at least 4 or 5 months wondering about the colors and wonders of the Tabernacle, and I soon realized that it was more like precious stones and gold of the Tabernacle.

I watched a documentary at school which was about hunger in the US. There was a teacher in the movie who offered all of her students in elementary school a slice of melon, they had never tasted one before. All they usually had was chips. When she asked who would choose melon over chips; every one of those third graders raised their hand. This is a lot like the Tabernacle because the Israelites were in the desert, where everything is very bleak. When they were given this colorful structure it was so special. To us something like a melon is normal, but when you give someone something that they don’t expect, something out of the usual, they will be amazed. And just like the way I make strangers smile, the melon makes the children smile, the world makes us smile everyday. Just small things. Just like the lady in front of the cafe I pass everyday in the car on the way home from school; the one chair that used to be in the hall here and had a missing a rod; the one view from the parking spot at Costco that gives me a view of 3 trees on a hill (past the passers by, past the food trucks, under the overpass). And now we have this moment of sitting here together around the Torah. I hang onto these small moments that weave their way through the chaos of life.

I am dedicating this service to both my grandmothers. My dad’s mom, Marjorie Edwards, died 4 days and a year ago on March 5, my birthday. Before she died she did her taxes, paid her bills, and wrote me a birthday card. From her I got my enthusiasm to talk to adults, my bossiness, and the control freak inside me. I also remember when it was Chanukah and my mom had brought a chanukiah to her apartment in New York. My mom wanted to light the candles, but my grandma said that she didn’t want her brick building to burn down. I am just the same way around fire. My mom’s mom, Margaret Lange, who still lives Germany, has short hair like I do. We both like to help the community and go out with friends. But, then after that we still want some alone time to read by ourselves. Both grandmothers are extremely important to me, even if I don’t and didn’t know them very well. I am dedicating my service to them because they both can’t be here today.

When my family received napkins and silverware from my grandmother, Edwards, apartment, I saw all the E’s that were embroidered on them. Later, when I was contemplating this, I realized that the napkins are like the statue. They are words stamped on these lifeless things. What really matters is the memories I have of my grandad and grandma. I always heard my dad talking about them, saying that they were so athletic; and she walked so fast he couldn’t keep up. I wish I had known the lady who went on a run every morning instead of the one who made the trek from her room to her armchair with her walker.

I have to tell you, I must have written this first part of the d’var Torah at least 4 times. I would like to add that the reason why my actual maftir is not in the Pekudei is because it is Shabbat Shekalim.

People for the last 6 months have been asking me what I’m going to do for a Bat Mitzvah Project. I used to always avoid answering the question. And now, to all of the impatient people sitting here; I can finally answer that question.

Through Hebrew school, my parents, and school I went to the Food Bank lots of times. I am working on a blog about hunger at school with recommendations for games and simulations, also facts, and youtube videos. Through the blog I can raise awareness about hunger in the US to people that sit around on their computers all day. This blog is low maintenance and I will definitely continue working on it. I work on the blog with a few friends here; Emilia, Maya Claire, Aliza, and Lily Boyd, could you guys raise your hands?

Although this is not really a mitzvah project; making strangers smile is a weekly goal I make for myself. This is also like the Tabernacle because if everyone smiles they do a small part to make the world a better, happier place. The Tabernacle was made by the people that each donated a half-shekel to make this holy place. I would like to challenge all of you here, to make at least 3 strangers smile next week.

I would like to thank Cantor Linda for teaching me all the prayers and the haftarah and torah portions.

Also Sima for teaching me to read Hebrew;

Rabbi Mark for answering my questions and working on the drash with me;

My mom for organizing everything, my brother for being my brother, and my dad for reading torah when I begged him;

Thank you to the Torah readers, who sacrificed their time for my especially long portions,

Thank you to the people that booked hotels, and arranged flights. You are all amazing friends and family.

And lastly, thank you for everyone that knows me, for coming here and understanding how much this means to me.

But wait! I haven’t actually told you what this means to me yet! Ok here’s my best shot at it;

Becoming a daughter of good deeds just connects the puzzle pieces of my life, I get to see my friends and family and I learn more about Judaism and I get to consider what I want to do in my new life as a “woman”. I get to look back on the things that I have done, and decide what is important to me, and the qualities I don’t like in myself that I need to change.

I would like to conclude my drash with this quote; The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises. – Leo Buscaglia

Shabbat Shalom, and may your day be one of many smiles.

Posted in B3 Sunday School, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Jewish Learning, Members Achievements, Sermons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Martin Lindauer’s story published in Tikkun Magazine

photo of Martin Lindauer

Martin Lindauer

Member Martin Lindauer, in addition to writing academic books,  also writes and publishes fiction.  In the latest issue of Tikkun Magazine, his short story “At the Gravesite” is featured.  In this story the narrator, standing at his father’s gravesite, remembers and imagines his father’s past life.   Humorous and poignant.   Read the story at:

Tikkun Magazine is a progressive magazine dedicated to healing and transforming the world.

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